Best Books of 2011


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No matter how expertly anyone explains or justifies their lists representing the best books of the year, there must always be an element of subjectivity. It’s why these lists are so different: our selections are influenced not only by excellence but also who we are and -- let’s face it -- by what we like.

It’s possible you won’t see a better living example of that than in January Magazine’s best of the year lists. Every year. That’s at least in part because we bite off such a big mouthful. Not just fiction. Not even fiction and non-fiction. But also art & culture. Crime fiction. Biography. Cookbooks. Books for kids. Science fiction and fantasy. There’s a lot of room for subjectivity in these lists. We aren’t trying to impress anyone. We don’t need to show you how erudite and well rounded we are. We’ve been doing this a long time now. This 2011 Best of the Year feature represents the 13th time we’ve done this in our 15 year history. It took us a couple of years to think of it. Back then, best of the year lists were not a matter of course. We helped make them be.

Let me tell you how the subjectivity is applied. We contact all of our writers. Honestly? We don’t have to: they know it’s coming, but we do it anyway so they can be prepared. Most of us have been reading with half a thought for this all year. I know that there have been years where in hte month of January I’ve read something so fantastic I started my best of compilation right then and there: writing it up so that over the course of a wonderful year of reading, I wouldn’t forget. Everyone is told to send reviewlets of the three to five books they liked best over the year. They don’t have to have reviewed it for us, but if they did, that’s okay, too. Such is our group here -- our passionate reading and writing group -- that almost no one ever sticks to only five choices and the maximum word count we allot is overshot about 90 per cent of the time. But it’s hard to rein in passion, isn’t it and -- honestly? -- who would we be to try?

When the smoke clears and the dust settles, we have a group of books that our writers and editors liked better than all of the other ones they read. That’s it: no mystery and no technology; no playing favorites. And, as much as possible, we try to make sure that no one has a horse in this race.

Although in some regards, we all have a horse in this race. Because we love books. All of us. And we all have a vested interest in making sure that the love of them continues from here until eternity. That’s not a comment on digital versus analog. That’s not a crack about battery free books as opposed to the kind you plug in. That’s not a race we need to get into. And why? Because it does not matter to us. The format must always be second to the content. Did the story transport me? Did the author make the characters live and breathe? If so, the delivery method does not matter. Paper or electronic? Those are your details, not mine. Is it a book? Is it a good book. It’s a book.

Thank you for joining us for another entrancing year of books and reading. It’s been a year of transformation and growth in the industry. And there’s a sense of dust that’s beginning to settle after a few that have been filled with confusion and flux.

There are whispers that 2012 is going to be fantastic year for reading. As I write these words and help put the final editing polish on our January Magazine Best Books of 2011, I’m already itching to tell you about the books I’m reading that will be published next year. I won’t yet, though: because there’s still this excitement to be dealt with. With pride, the editors and contributors of January Magazine once again present our selection for Best Books of 2011. | December 2011

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.