Saturday, May 03, 2008

How much list could the Booklist list if the Booklist could list books?

Quite a lot of list, actually. Bill Ott's list of 2008's best crime novels includes his ten best of the year plus six best crime-fiction debuts plus five best new installments in long-running series. That last item especially should earn Ott an award for creative list-making.

What really makes his lists stand out, though, is that he states his criteria at the outset. This seems like an obvious thing to do, but most list-compilers never do it. That failure, more than anything else, accounts for the endless ear bending, bandwidth consuming and time wasting that follow the publication of most top 10, 50 or 100 lists.

Ott's predisposition is for the darker regions of crime fiction. At the same time, he is not dogmatic, nor is he condescending about other kinds of crime.

"(L)et’s face this issue squarely," he writes. "As crime fiction continues to attract more and more writers of a distinctly literary bent who want to use the genre to build multifaceted characters and to explore sensitive social issues and address questions of profound moral ambiguity, it is almost inevitable that darker worldviews and less formulaic plots will come to dominate `best' lists. ... But don’t get us wrong: sometimes a good cozy hits the spot just perfectly. Just not this year on this list."
That's a thoughtful assessment, and it lets the reader know exactly where Ott stands. One can't ask more than that, which is why Bill Ott's tops my list of best lists.

What about you, readers? What's your favorite list, preferably but not necessarily of crime fiction? And what makes a good list? Novelty of conception? Of content? Agreement with your preferences? Careful thought on the list maker's part?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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4 Comments:

Blogger Kerrie said...

I'm not sure that I really understand Ott's criteria Peter. Such a lot of new books left off, and I also think it rather depends on when published in UK.
Funny to create a 2008 list in May- is it for the last 12 months? Some of the books listed, e.g. THE REDBREAST, were available in Australia for example prior to the date he's given (2007) - in 2006.
I think his publication date is influenced by country and format (hardback vs paperback - trade size, small size??) But then THE REDBREAST was actually first published in 2000.

May 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I probably should have said that I understood his tastes rather than that I understood his criteria. I meant that he was clear about what kinds of crime novels he likes, about the direction he thinks crime fiction is taking, and about why he thinks it's taking that direction.

That's more than I can say for most list makers. If a book winds up on Ott's list, I understand why it was there.

May 03, 2008  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bill Ott writes for Booklist and sometimes does a nice crime fiction roundup for American Libraries. He is looking at US publications solely and I gather is operating on an academic year - overlapping 2007 and 2008.

Though that sounds US-centric, he's writing for librarians who chiefly buy hardcovers and TPBs through US major distributors and are looking for recommendations, so that's probably why he's not looking abroad (or considering original publication date, only US dates). That said, his list to me signals a big shift in US tastes and publication trends, away from US settings toward the rest of the world.

I'm all for it!

May 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's why I liked his list so much: for the thought that lay behind it. I've cited him here from time to time, and I ought to make myself a regular reader.

May 03, 2008  

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