Friday, November 26, 2010

Best of List - Personal Opinion (Social Responsibilty)

Best of List are starting to come out now. I like some more then others, in the end it comes down to personal opinion. Yesterday, I said its "Thanksgiving, no computer". I did last half the day before I logged on. At NPR, YA author Gayle Forman lists her favorite YA reads of the year. At first glance I didn't like this list. After sleeping on it, I liked it even less.

I am just going to go ahead and say it, its too White. If this list was on Forman's personal blog, I still wouldn't like it, however everyone would know its her personal opinion. Under the title of Oh, To Be Young: The Year's Best Teen Reads. It has much more influence on buyers. Some customers treat NPR suggestions like gospel, especially best of list.

I've read two of these titles and thought both were over hyped. Overall, I was not impressed by this list. If I was going to do a YA best of list with only White female authors it would be
Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe
Heist Society by Ally Carter
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

I would never make such a list. If I did I would call it what it was Favorite Teen Reads by White Female Authors. Chances are great 6 of the lets say 30 people who read this ( it's a holiday weekend) aren't going to like one or more of my five. A few more will love Forman's five picks. That's the great thing about personal opinions-,we are all allowed to have them.

Though, when someone's opinion will influence many there's a social responsibility that comes with that. I don't want a rainbow coalition or a United Nations best of list. However a broader selection of gender and race would be nice, and should be expected when the list is featured on a site like NPR.

I've referenced the title of this best of list, at least twice. So, I don't want to put this out in the world without saying I know NPR probably selected it, not Forman. To that end, NPR should take more care in choosing the title for this feature in the future. "My Favorite Teen Reads" would be more appropriate.

NPR should consider having more then one person submit their favorite YA reads of the year. I think this will allow for more inclusiveness. It would put less pressure on the submitters, knowing their five aren't the only five. It will also let readers know "best of" is relative.

I am going to end with two question.

Do you notice when Best of Lists feature authors/ protagonists of one race, one gender or all are straight?

If you do, does it matter?

I hope no thinks this NPR list is just one of many and this doesn't matter. One homogenous list can quickly turn into more. In April I did a post at Color Online called Would We Forget? I linked to four best of list. There were only nine female authors of color featured.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love this post!

I *do* notice race and gender in lists, although while putting together *my* top ten books of the year, I have to say I didn't pay the slightest attention to characteristics of authors or protagonists - just what books made me happy to read. BUT, there is DEFINITELY that factor coming into play in terms of WHICH books I ended up reading.

Oh and Doret I was practically in tears yesterday. I went to Barnes & Noble with my list of books wanted by my Reading in Color Holiday Swap Partner, and out of the TEN books on the list, I could only find ONE, and it was a Latina author not a black author. In our little black ghetto section of the bookstore there were only two shelves, and in the bookstore NO section for gay/lesbian, NONE. (After searching and searching through any possibilities, I found one non-fiction book on "homosexuality" in the sociology section, but I was too frightened to open it and see what was in it!) If I had more time for the Holiday Swap I would have ordered from Amazon, but still, so many books are found by browsing in actual mortar and brick stores, and it was just awful!

Same old problem....

Charlotte said...

I notice. I think it's incredibly important to notice--and thanks for doing that on a regular basis!

I think you're right, in that there's a big difference between saying "these are my personal favorites of the year" and saying "these are the best books of the year."

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the reminder. I'm usually so careful about booklists, building my syllabus to guarantee a substantial chunk of authors of color in a field dominated by white authors. Yet when I made my recommendations to various others for my Best of 2010 to contribute to official Best of 2010 lists, it wasn't on my mind at all.

Luckily, because of the way I read, I see my list wasn't *entirely* white, but not because of thoughtfulness on my part. And man do I loathe myself that recommending one book by Marina Budhos is something for which I apparently think I deserve a cookie. And there's one, possibly two queer authors on my list. Man, clearly I deserve the whole BAKERY.

(I also noted to multiple people that I assume Sweet, Hereafter is one of the best books of the year, but I haven't read it yet. But again, that's not because I was being thoughtful about representation; that's because I have a mad love for Angela Johnson.)

Luckily for the world, my editor is consistently thoughtful, and her lists reflect that.

Kaethe said...

I absolutely notice. The shorter the list is, the more glaring it is. I read a lot, and keep track of what I think is excellent at the time. If I'm making a year end best list, I'll go back over those and narrow myself down to whatever seems most representative of the gamut of styles, stories, authors, and characters. I can spend the entire month of January agonizing over something like this.

MissA said...

Thank you for writing this! I remember the 'Would We Forget' list. It does matter to me though if a list has dviersity. I can't take it seriously because it tells me that the reader's vision might be skewered.

I'm currently reading The Duff an I actually think it might be one of the best books of 2010 by a white female author (not that I've read that many this year....)

@rhapsody-I'm so sad that you could only find one of your books for the swap :(

Anonymous said...

This makes me think of feminist Dorothy Smith's standpoint theory. The folks who write most of these best of lists forget that they do not have a concise perspective and they take for granted that they have a limited scope. It's almost dangerous because, as you stated, some treat "best of" lists from professional outlets like gospel.

It's yet another tool that perpetuates the marginalization of POC literature.

Great post Doret!

Anonymous said...

What I noticed is that Finnikin of the Rock wasn't there. All the books are "the kind of book Gayle Forman writes." So, before I even considered the race of the authors of the books, I'd dismissed the list as way, way, too narrow to interest me.

I don't know if I would push for your kind of list, though, Doret, or if I would be okay with the really narrow lists, as long as they were accurately labeled. They really should have called this Gayle Forman's Picks for People Who Like Gayle Forman's Books.

Do I want Doret's list of what you really think are "best" or do I want you to list the best of those books I come to your site to learn about? I'm not sure. But I'll settle for better labeling.