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Achieving a Nearly Impossible Task: Choosing the Top Ten Books of 2020

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

The best of the best

choosing the top ten books of 2020

Oh, the Editorial Stress!

It happens every year, this task that must be as difficult as a tropical ant hiking to Antarctica. How would you ever choose the “Best” books of 2020?

The New York Times does it every year. This year, it was a little different from previous years. Subscribers could watch a virtual announcement before the list was released. (If you’re a subscriber, you can still see it.) The event was produced by Mindy Kaling and featured Pamela Paul, the Editor of the New York Times Book Review along with other editors who discussed their choices.

Criteria for the editors choosing a book doesn’t depend on whether they agree with a book or not. It doesn’t depend on how they feel about the author. What DOES matter is that it stands on the merits of prose and storytelling and that the book transcends “the moment” to stand the test of time.

Choosing One Hundred Is Easier

Before the top ten best books are selected, the NYT staff chooses 100 Books of 2020. Still a gargantuan task, but not as hard as narrowing it down to just ten books.

If you’re a reader, you know how hard it is to respond when someone asks you about your “favorite” book. So many at so many different times of my life! But choosing the most notable one hundred books from the four million that are published in a single year in the United States would be daunting. Granted, the NYT looks at commercially-published novels, but still, there are thousands and thousands of them.

The Best Ten Books of the Year are culled from the 100 Notable books of 2020.

How I’d love to be a fly on that library wall of literature when the editors were choosing the ultimate top ten. I would listen to the debates that ensued, the insights into what makes a book great, the differing perspectives of how a book will transcend time.

We Need More Readers

Gore Vidal, an American writer and intellectual who impressed me when I was a young adult with his book, Lincoln, said in a television interview I saw. He said something like,

“We have millions of great writers. What we need is more great readers.”

So true. So many great books waiting to be read. So much to learn. Never enough time.

The editors of The New York Times Book Reviews are already working on the list for next year. Kudos to them for tackling an almost-impossible task year after year!

Infographic NYTs 10 best books of 2020


Read more about the world of books in Book Talk.


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