24 December 2005

The Arse-about-faceness of Bests Lists

This is the time of year they proliferate, watered by fascination. Disagreeing with any Best list is as easy as shooting a concrete duck, but my particular disagreement today concerns 'Best' when attached to books. Books are categorised like food in Bake-offs, but just as in food judging, books are judged wrongly. I'm not going to get sucked into the tarpit fight of genres, not because of my cowardice, but because I think that the genre of a book is as arse-about-face a way to consider Best reading as pie or main, Best eating.

For what do you do when you want to eat or read? Do you think first, about which division the thing you are about to consume will fit into? Do you think first of all: Pie or Cake or Main Meal, Science Fiction or Romance or Interstitial? Or do you think first about how you feel? Or more likely, you don't have to think about how you feel because you just feel it, and what you want to consume is based upon that.

In that case, Best is entirely based on your state of mind.

You're on your back spaced out on anything that's strong enough to take your mind away from the fact that your back is one recently zipped-up mess and you look like something badly repaired from the doll hospital. You're just conscious enough to want to escape this world. Your vote for Best book at this moment? Your vote for Best food?

Packing one book to take on holiday.

One book to read in jail.

Your last book, last meal.

A book for when you think that if you just kill yourself everyone you know will think that finally, everyone's wish for you has come true.

A book to read when all's right as right can ever be.

And then there's Public Best, and Private Best.

Each Best, to its mood, time, and place; knowing that it would fail utterly at others, and knowing full well that some foods are just plain horrible to many but never all, like fried Mars bars, and liver and onions, and 'Better than Sex Cake' .

Oatmeal and cream and salt, raw oysters and seaweed, lime pickle that sears wrinkles into your lips; anothermotherly kasha, dripping butter; the gazes of a stargazy pie . . . Books with beautiful plots and no artistry in words, books that are art-on-a-plinth. Pull out your box of comfits, knowing that to some people at some times and moods, if the salt water has gotten to those comfits, they're all the yummier.

As with food, here's to many delicious books — the pies of them, the main meals of them, and even the packet cakes of them — remembering that even the Best chocolate on a day when the sun melts the sky is as welcome as Death tapping the wiggling arse of a roué .


Anonymous said...

I have to agree about best-of lists being rather pointless because it's extremely difficult to compare books. That said, the only reason I started the thread was so that I could find out about any interesting books that I missed. :-)

anna tambour said...

Spencer, this isn't a dig at you. If I thought that it would read that way, I would not have said anything. I think your motivations are spot on, and in that spirit, I posted on that thread, too. You, on the other hand, inspired me to say something that has bothered me for some time.

anna tambour said...

and you're right, Spencer. It reads like a specific criticism of your thread, so I've removed the link. Please forgive me for my thoughtlessness. I linked to your thread for two reasons: an example of the 'Best' quest, but more specifically, so that people could see the diversity of books recommended there, and so get ideas for their own reading, just as you intended.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind at all that you linked to my thread, and I didn't misinterpret it as a dig at all. Also, I've started writing about my cricket cookie experience...

Anonymous said...

Curses, I just realized that I used the phrase "at all" twice in the same sentence. Apologies to everyone.

anna tambour said...

Spencer, I'm so glad that you weren't offended. It is hard sometimes to know if something reads as a dig. I'm glad you're writing about your cricket cookie experience, though all night long here, the crickets in the billabong sang, "Kill chocolate chips instead." And as to your mortification for repeating yourself, you inspired another blog entry, for better or worse! I admire your attitude immensely.