It’s that time of the year again, and I’m not talking about the festive season. I’m talking about the end of year musing that gives us the parade of ‘Year’s Best Books’ lists or ‘Holiday Reading Guides’ that are starting to feature in the arts pages and corners of the online world.
I must admit a certain weariness with which I contemplate these lists, for I’ve read them for years forlornly hoping that one of them, one day, would feature a genre title.
And by genre, I’m talking here about Fantasy and Science Fiction. Occasionally, the compilers of these lists let a Crime title creep in, probably because it lends the compiler a touch of raffishness, hinting that they could sidle out onto those mean streets if they needed to.
What I look for so vainly is a ‘Year’s Best’ list that understands that quality comes from all aspects of literature. Instead, I see repeated year after year a narrow, blinkered selection that excludes a wide and rewarding range of literature.
I’ll go out on the limb and guess that the compilers of these lists haven’t read lots of Fantasy and Science Fiction and then said to themselves, ‘Well, really, none of these measure up’. I stick my neck out and claim that they haven’t read any (or much at all) in these fields. It’s like they’ve eliminated these books from contention even before the contest has been announced.
They’re not even considered.
Yes, I know that I’m guessing and that I’m possibly traducing thousands of ‘Year’s Best’ list compilers, but my view has been formed after seeing decades where NO genre books have appeared on such lists.
So what we’re really getting is a list of the best books of the year selected from a narrow, pre-determined field that is deemed, ahead of time, as worthy of featuring on such a list.
For those naysayers out there who are rolling their eyes at my reasoned and articulate case, I’ll acknowledge that genre books do feature on some ‘Year’s Best’ lists – but they are the lists with a specific genre focus. Year’s Best SF. Year’s Best Fantasy. Year’s Best Horror. Places where they’re shuffled off to one side and neatly contained.
The best of these books should feature in every purported Year’s Best list, but they don’t.
Sour grapes? Much ado about nothing? Perhaps, but every time I see one of these lists it’s a not-so-subtle slap in the face to every writer and reader of genre fiction.
Of course, there are those who think that genre writers and readers deserve a slap in the face, but that’s another matter.
Yes, I’m probably being naïve in my suggestion that genre fiction should be included in these ephemeral lists. No serious reviewer would compromise her/his reputation by such an action. In fact, I’ve been so disappointed, over the years, that I’d crack a smile if Fantasy and Science Fiction were even considered for selection, let alone actually appearing. I’d count that as a win – of the small variety.
And here’s the point where I acknowledge that the sidelining of Fantasy and Science Fiction is shared by Romance, which suffers from the same blindness (or contempt?) that its speculative genre cousins do. I share your pain.
So, right now, I’m shining a spotlight on every compiler of a ‘Year’s Best Books’ list or a list of ‘The 10 Best Books of 2020’ or even ‘A Holiday Reading Guide’. Either consider and include genre titles (and wouldn’t it be a sight to see nine out of ten books on such as list as genre titles?) or rename your list as ‘Year’s Best Books From a Narrow and Pre-determined Selection’.