• gwen

What Makes a Book Notable?


What makes a book notable? This question comes up about once a year and it's always near the end of the year when articles like this one from the New York Times start showing up on my social media feed. I always take the bait and read through the article, comparing books I've read and enjoyed throughout the year to the list provided. This particular list really got me thinking about what actually makes a book notable and worthy of making it to lists like these.


I wanted to reach out to the person(s) who compiled the list in question, but the editors of The New York Times Book Review are quite a hard bunch to get a hold of. So I'm left doing my own research and that's just fine.


According to Books Make a Difference "A good book is one that makes the reader feel. It takes the reader on a compelling journey. If a book is written well and tells a great story, it has more of a chance of making a difference in people's lives. However, a book need only be good to the reader to make a difference in his life." This is the answer. A book needs to "only be good to the reader". So these lists we see at the end of the year are not the be all end all best of the best. They're a glimpse into what the author of said list has been reading and enjoying, simple as that.

I'm not bashing books that make it on these lists I'm sure they're all incredible. What makes something notable is more complex than liking the finished product. It's a combination of vision + context + technique.


Just looking at the top three books on their list:


The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

Onda’s strange, engrossing novel — patched together from scraps of interviews, letters, newspaper articles and the like — explores the sweltering day that 17 members of the Aosawa family died after drinking poisoned sake and soda.


The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir by Michele Harper

When Harper was a teenager, she drove her brother to the hospital to get treated for a bite her father had inflicted. There, she glimpsed a world she wanted to join. “The Beauty in Breaking” is her memoir of becoming an emergency room physician. It’s also a profound statement on the inequities in medical care today.


The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

In the Chicago suburbs, a gunman opens fire at a school for Palestinian girls. Mustafah rewinds from the shooting to the principal’s childhood as a newly arrived immigrant. Hers is a story of outsiders coming together in surprising and uplifting ways.


These would not have been my go to reading choices for 2020. This year was depressing enough without subjecting myself to reading about dying from poison, hospitals and medical care, or a school shooting. According to the 300+ comments I'm not alone. People are reaching for "happiness, fun, lighthearted" or "...light reading/mysteries/comedies. PLEASE consider a wider range of choices. During the pandemic, I need something lovely." So suffice it to say these list aren't everyone's cup of tea, especially this year. I challenge you to make your own list of notable books of the year and share it with family and friends instead. And if you feel like sharing I'd love to know!