Most Enjoyable Books of 2009 for Reasons Other than the Story

by Rachel Baker on November 14, 2009

As Amazon so eloquently put it, “ranking books is crazy.” At Old Musty Books, there may be the occasional “this is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year,” but ranking any of the books read and reviewed would be incredibly difficult.

One reason for not ranking books on Old Musty Books is one year I read the complete list of top 10 books from two sources and I rather disliked most of them. This experience was pre-Old Musty Books and had a lasting effect on me and the books that wind up in my bookstacks. I realized then so many people probably only read the books on the best seller and top picks lists. On the one hand, Yay! People are reading; on the other hand, what about all the other really great obscure books out there that will never get a reading by a majority because they didn’t make it on a list?

After that experience, I sought out the oldest, musty-est (used) bookstores and started a journey into buying used books that weren’t on the bestseller lists. I would pick out 10 books, leaf through them and look for the telltale signs that someone had poured through the books, meticulously. Ink marks, worn away unrecognizable words written in pencil, dog eared pages and the ever faithful coffee and tea stains. Though not very scientific, these were the requirements and I was almost never ever disappointed. I would leave a used bookstore with five books, spending less than $30.00 and have enough reading to last me about three weeks.

When I was given the opportunity to start Old Musty Books, I made a personal promise to readers that I would never rank the books I’ve reviewed throughout a year. I truly felt, and still feel, I did not want to be responsible for just one person wasting their money because I ranked the top 10 books of the Old Musty Books year. Book ranking is subjective, and is based on the views and opinions of a specific reader, which may or may not be inline with other readers’ views and opinions. Or they are reflective, in some cases, of the best sold books of the year. I’m VERY cynical about these books, because I feel how well a book sells is reflective on the publisher and the marketing firm and not the author’s ability to write a good book. As an example, the NY Times best-seller lists are tabulated from rankings reflecting sales at almost 4,000 bookstores plus wholesalers serving 50,000 other retailers (gift shops, department stores, newsstands, supermarkets), statistically weighted to represent all such outlets nationwide.

At Old Musty Books, reviews are done on books that fall into niche markets – the new author, the obscure genre, and as is somewhat the case this year, foreign or mostly unknown authors. Occasionally, I read the “long awaited” or a “specifically recommended” or a “specific request.” I choose books based on whether the story sounds interesting. Before deciding to read and possibly review a book, I read about the author; I take a look at reviews of other books written by the author; or I read an excerpt of the author’s writing (if available) or an excerpt of the book; and I read the synopsis on the publishers website. I am looking for something interesting in the author’s life that may or may not shape the author’s writing and the story he or she will tell.

I write this today because its almost the end of the year, and the “best of 2009” lists will be coming out.  Amazon’s best of 2009 is already out. I looked through the list – I’ve read one book on the Editor’s Picks; and on the Customer Favorite list, I’ve read and reviewed one and reading another now. The NY Times also already has the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2009 out.

After looking at these, I decided to go out on a limb and make a list. I know, I know, I just said, in a rather long narrative, I dislike these “best of…” lists. We will call this the “Most Enjoyable Books of 2009 for Reasons Other than the Story” list.  The nine books below were my most exciting books for one of two reasons:

1. I enjoyed the reading process, not to be confused with the “story.”
2. I enjoyed the process of writing the review.

Some fall into only one category, some fall into both. Some of these would not come close to a “best of…” list if I were to do one; and some of the books that would, aren’t on the list.

Falling Leaves Review

Don’t Call Me a Crook Review

The Book Thief Review

The Thirteenth Tale Review

The Alchemist Review

The Housekeeper and the Professor Review

To Siberia Review

Deviations Review

Between Me and the River Review

I know I have a month and a half left in the year. If any books left on my 2009 bookstack make it into one of these categories, I will revise and repost.

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