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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book That Most Surprised You?

As you have seen on the blog all week, I have been out of town working with NoveList and library workers in the Raleigh-Durham area. It was a great trip and I will be sharing things I learned, stories from people I met, and new projects in the future, but today I wanted to highlight a question I received in my "Ask Becky anything" session we had to end my day at NoveList HQ: "What is a book that most surprised you?"

I was thrilled to get this question because it allowed me to talk about how and why I have completely changed the way I compile my year-end, person best reading list. In 2017 I switched from just listing 10 books, with a list of categories. From that December 2017 post:

It's my annual list of the best books I read this year, regardless of what year they were published. But, I am changing it up this year and putting my“best” books into categories. Why? Because as I was going through everything I read this year, I kept identifying favorites with caveats like, “that was the best historical fiction I read” or “that was my favorite audio.” Also I realized that grouping them in this way didn’t only make it easier for me to make choices, but it also made the list more useful to you as you help readers. 
For example, knowing that I have River of Teeth on my list because it is the “Most fun I had reading a book this year,” means much more than simply listing it as a favorite.
It was really the categories of "The Most Fun" and "The Biggest Surprise" that drove me to create this list. I realized that sometimes the books that I enjoyed reading the most and those that surprised me [in a good way] the most were getting lost when I was capturing the books that were "the best" for me in a given year. I would inevitably leave them off the list because I could not articulate why I liked them so much except for those reasons.

With the artificial limitation of 10 "best" titles, I was ignoring my reading experience as part of the criteria. And when I really thought about why I was trying to capture my "best" reads, it seemed like my personal reading experience should be considered as equally [if not more] than the "quality" of the book as a piece of literature.

So answering that question over the last three years was easy for me to do, but I bet it is not for many of you. I want to use this post as a chance not only answer the question I received, but also, remind all of you that when you are considering your "favorites" or "best" books, you need to consider all of the reasons why something rose to the top of the heap for you.

Your enjoyment of a particular book matters so much more than its "literary merit," its genre, or its overall standing in the wider literary world. Capture and record your "best" moments, all of them because let me tell you, it is those titles that I list as the "most fun" and "best surprise" that I end up suggesting to readers more than others.

When you are writing reviews or noting the appeal of a book you have read, don't forget to capture the reading experience too. Below are my last three year's "best surprise" titles with links to the entire year end list and a full review on why this book surprised me. I hope they inspire you to keep track of this information too.

Becky's "Best Surprise" reads:

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