Courtesy of The Week: A Useful Year-End Wrapup

Normally, I don't read year-end retrospective columns. For one thing, they tend to come out during the week between Christmas and the new year, when I'm reading my new Christmas gifts. And for another, writing my own retrospective is more interesting to me, since it's all about me, and no, I don't share that. You're welcome.

But here is a retrospective "done right," in my opinion, courtesy of The Week magazine.* It is available in the December 24 - January 7 print version (it prints 48 issues per year) and is not available online. The feature is called "Books of the year,"** and it lists the five top fiction and nonfiction titles from 2010, as ranked by Many Big Name Media Outlets.

What's great about their two-page spread is this: they devote approximately 3.5 column inches to a thumbnail image of the cover and two positive comments the book generated, and then another 0.75 - 1 inch to a caveat. So you get two extended and thoughtful "here's what's particularly interesting about this book"s (along with a sense of "what the book is about"), and then one "yeah, but."

This format is useful generally, because it compiles a meta-list of the books that have tended to appear on the "top 5" lists. But it's also useful because the "pro pro con" format helps me decide which books are worth at all considering further. (Room, probably; Freedom, probably not. Plus, I knew should have read Henrietta Lacks before giving it to my sister. Phooey.)

The wrapup also makes a particularly useful point for writers.

Among the "top books" in the year, not one generates only positive comments. Someone has always registered, and in print, no less, a dissenting opinion. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising when you (meaning I) receive conflicting or contradictory feedback from readers--say, from members of a critique group. After all, Big-Name Reviewers from The Atlantic and The New York Times disagree, too. (Specifically, about Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.)

And that last thing, about conflicting feedback, is important for me, because I'm still practicing the art of revision and learning the delicate balance between trusting myself vs. trusting feedback from readers. Somewhere in all these drafts of this story is the story I want to tell, and I will find it.

Thanks, The Week. (And thanks for the "Best properties on the market" feature, too, which always leaves me feeling thrifty and a little smug, here in paradise.)

*If you are unfamiliar with The Week, you shouldn't be. It comes out, uh, weekly, and is a cross between an online news aggregator and a regular magazine with original content. It's useful for someone in Canada who's interested in a round-up of news from the U.S. and international news outlets (hi!). (My favorite "huh, that's interesting" features aggregator, as long as I'm sharing: Arts and Letters Daily,

What The Week in print is not so good at is breaking news, especially when you live in a country that doesn't deliver any mail (like magazines) on Saturdays, but that's what online news sites are for (including The Week's own website). The short pieces are also handy for wee windows of time, like commercial breaks.

And, no: (sadly), I don't write for them.

**Their title style, not mine. I happen to like caps-and-lowercase titles.