This week—the third installment in our four-part roundup—we come to the Top Ten Books of 2003. (In fact, as sometimes happens, "the Top Ten" includes 11 titles.) These are not necessarily the best books of the year. The two newspapers we get at home, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, published their lists of "best books" on the same day, December 7. By then, my list was already made, barring any late discoveries or last-minute second thoughts (which didn't come about this year, except in the case of The Worst Book of the Year, about which more below). None of the nine titles selected by the Times appears on my list, nor do any of the dozen titles on the Tribune's list. Only one book—Edward Jones' novel The Known World (Amistad/HarperCollins)—appears on both of their lists. So: three lists, a total of 32 titles, and that is the only instance of agreement. I haven't read—really read—a single one of the Times' "best books" for this year, and I've read only two of the Tribune's dozen. I've nosed around a bit in several other titles from the two lists but wasn't prompted to settle down for the long haul.
What do these discontinuities suggest? First, of course, that there are simply too many books for any one editor or team of editors to keep track of. (On this theme, see Jody Bottum's wonderful piece in the December 8 issue of The Weekly Standard.) Anyone who doubts this need only visit my office. Second, as we've already noted, that there's an irreducible element of taste in our response to books, which is one of the great glories of reading. And finally, that the choices are informed by different hierarchies of value.
It's striking, for example, that four of the 12 titles on the Tribune's list have as their primary ...1