At the end of every year someone as interested in books as I am should love looking through all those pages of “Books of the Year” featured in late December’s weekend papers. But I don’t. I see the columns of separated paragraphs, each introduced by names that I respect, but my eyes glaze over and I can’t be bothered to wade through so many recommendations. Is it because most of the recommendations are for the same old, same old, the books I saw reviewed earlier in the year, several times over, the lucky few among thousands published, the lucky few that by some strange alchemy are selected by paper after paper for review? Thousands of others, of course, the vast majority are ignored, utterly and completely passed by. How do they manage it, these lucky few? Why them?
The one “Books of the Year” list that I did read through was the Guardian’s “Readers’ Choices” selection – because here, at last, were different titles, a wider selection, personal selections, quirky, particular and often unknown to me because, had it not been for this one chance for ‘ordinary readers’ to get a word in, these books too would have languished among the vast majority that fell silently to their grave. With all the other pages of same old, same old selections I had already made my mind up – back when those books were initially reviewed.
A case can be made for running them together again as a great end-of-year aide memoir but, for me, I was wearied not so much by the sense of déjà vu as of not again. Here, in that selection by ‘ordinary readers’, I was introduced to books that I hadn’t known existed – and, in the small space permitted, I was shown why I should care about them. Of course I didn’t care about all of them – though, more often than not, I was at least interested – and of course this selection, like those by better known names, contained some of the same old, same old choices, books that had already been thoroughly reviewed and sold at me, but overall I had the feeling that here I was reading something fresh, by people who meant what they said. And cared.
Next year I guess the papers will stick to their tried and tested coverage, and again I shall skip past, looking for something new. Or I shall turn to the one place where I can find masses of idiosyncratic and passionate personal recommendations – the fan pages on the internet. See you there.