All these "Best Books of the Year" lists make for nice weekend reading, great Christmas shopping lists, and the occasional snort of incredulity, but they have one insidious message: YOU MUST READ THESE BOOKS.
It's not like reading reviews, which I could do (and do) all day. It feels more like getting your high school text book list for the coming term.
I hate that. If anyone tells me there's a novel I simply must read, I don't. Won't. Haven't read Tim Winton for years because I'm sick of the sound of his name. The poor man hasn't done a thing to deserve it, but I hate it when people drool. If everybody raves about a movie and insists I simply must see it, I refuse (silently, but implacably). It's especially true of people who wouldn't know me if I stood up in their porridge, who have met me six minutes previously at a party, and say, "Oh you must read this - I just know you'll adore it".
Word of mouth is very good for everyone else, and for book sales, but on me it has the opposite effect.
This doesn't seem to happen with non-fiction, partly because nobody I know ever says things like, "Oh you simply must read Stalingrad, it's divine". Instead, wise friends slip me a copy and understand that they won't hear from me for a few hours. But for some reason, novels and independent films make people blurt out these desperate pleas to share their passion (I'm sure I've done it myself, but that was in another country and besides the wench probably stole my copy).
There may come a day when I'm stuck on a plane for thirty hours and there'll be nothing to read but Tim Winton and no movies showing but Jesus of Montreal and I'll hang on every word of Dirt Music and watch Jesus of Montreal twice and wonder what I've been missing all these years.
On the other hand (sorry Tim) I had to read The Da Vinci Code between Dubai and Singapore a few months ago and if I could've opened the plane window either one of us would have been out of there. And four million people rave about that.