Picking the Best Books of 2009

The December issue of LJ went online today with our best books of 2009, which LJ‘s BookSmack subscribers got to see in advance last month (click here for the lastest BookSmack, with a new one coming on Thursday). 

In the online intro to the best books piece, LJ book review editor Barbara Hoffert offered some words on how we arrived at our choices, noting that we "look for a little risk that sets a book apart and makes us sit up and see things anew…."

A best book is one that stays with you, gets into your conscience and takes root, but what of the candidates on our long lists (not shared with our readers), which ultimately fell from our favor? Speaking for myelf, looking back now at my process, I see the power of small things to move a book out of contention. After all, had there been big things that were troublesome about a contender, it likely would not have been under consideration. 

At first, it worried me that I could grow grumpy about a potential best book merely because of an anachronistic simile (e.g., 1920s U.S. Department of Commerce lobbyists described as using "Glengarry Glen Ross-like aggressiveness") or an unsuitable adjective (exactly how can living conditions in the Amazonian jungle—even for humans—be "Dickensian"?), or getting the decade of a person’s age wrong (a couple of weeks before Castro’s 80th birthday, he was not "inches from his eighth decade," but from his ninth), etc.

But I came to understand, especially after being transported by the marvelous workmanship of my final contributions to the best books list, that the point of those minor quibbles is not that they themselves are of earthshaking importance, but that they can make a reader lose faith in the rest of the book’s authority.  

We’re just finishing editing our big January 2010 issue of LJ.  The book review’s social sciences section (the part I know best, along with religion, sports, and gardening!) is filled with some powerful and highly praised books. I look forward to journeying through them, and discovering those magical best ones of the coming year.

Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.