Best Books of the Year Countdown: 100 to 81


Ranking books is crazy. This is art after all, right? How do you decide which is better between two novels, much less between, say, Steve Jenkins's 32-page picture book, Never Smile at a Monkey, and William T. Vollmann's 1,344-page personal and social history of the California-Mexico border, Imperial (see below)? Nevertheless, rank books we do, at least around here. For one thing, it's fun (both to choose and to see what other people choose), and for another it really is a useful way of focusing. Overwhelmed by all the tens or hundreds of thousands of new books each year? (We are--you should see my cubicle.) When we choose a few (or a hundred) as "the Best," all we're saying is, here's where you might want to start.

We have been choosing Amazon's Best Books of the Year for the past 10 years, and year after year it's both our own favorite project and the most popular among our customers. (Each year, at some point in the summer, we say, "Time to take those Best of [Last Year] links down?" "Nope, people are still clicking on them...") We have the list in mind as we read all year, and much of October ends up being consumed with extensive internal balloting, discussions, and more reading, all with an eye toward putting together our list of the Top 100 editors' picks and our Top 10 lists in nearly two dozen categories. (Sometimes those discussions get pretty contentious--I've been known to get a different kind of headache in October than I do any other time of the year--but I must say this year they were the most efficient and amicable I've ever experienced. Either we've been doing this for a long time, or we had a lot of agreement at the top this year--I think it was a little of both.)

As usual, we'll be launching our full Best of 2009 feature on the first weekday in November (next Monday), including all those editors' picks lists as well as lists of our customer bestsellers in the same categories and our favorite author videos and book covers of the year. But this year we're jumping the gun a little, and we're going to be posting the Top 100 ahead of time, counting down part of the list every day this week. Today it's #100 to #81, and then we'll post twenty more each day until Friday, when we'll post #20 through #11. (We're saving the top 10 for next Monday, when the whole thing goes live.) We'll have a lot more to say next week, but until then, since I don't have a link yet for our Best of 2009 page to send you to, feel free to poke around our Best of 2008 page (plenty of customers still are).

[Shifting into my Casey Kasem voice] And now, let the countdown begin:

100. The Interrogative Mood, Padgett Powell

99. The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia, Mike Dash

98. The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker

97. Imperial, William T. Vollmann

96. Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, Christopher Payne

95. The American Painter Emma Dial, Samantha Peale

94. Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon

93. Nobody Move, Denis Johnson

92. The BLDGBLOG Book, Geoff Manaugh

91. American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson

90. D-Day, Antony Beevor

89. The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, J.G. Ballard

88. The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt

87. Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls

86. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher

85. Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

84. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly

83. American Rust, Phillipp Meyer

82. Never Smile at a Monkey, Steve Jenkins

81. The Jazz Loft Project, Sam Stephenson

Tomorrow: #80 to #61. --Tom

More Best Books of 2009:

#80 to #61

#60 to #41

#40 to #21

#20 to #11

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'Half Broke Horses' should be in the top 10.

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J.G Ballard stories! Definitely a must-have - and I hadn't realized Norton had released a collection. Good choice, Tom!

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