PW's Top Ten
Written by
Amy Friedman
November 2009
Written by
Amy Friedman
November 2009
Striking, that list of the Top Ten books of 2009 by Publisher's Weekly, and startling and amazing and ridiculous to me that not a single book by a woman made the list. But more ridiculous to me, in fact, is the very idea of a Top Ten List selected by a panel. I've been on selection panels; I know how these things work--"I love this book/person/idea so much I want it to win first place/be awarded a grant/be selected as winner," met with "I'll give you that book/person/idea if you give me this one...," And then the compromise. So often Top lists (be they top models, top chefs, top plumbers, or top books) when chosen by consensus wind up reflecting less what is stellar i than what ultimately is probably everyone's third choice. Often when watching a movie or television show I'll try to figure out how on earth the casting directors and directors made thechoice of actor they made (and sometimes of scriptwriter as well). Why, for instance, have so many viewers seen the work of (the forever working) Patricia Heaton while so many fewer are familiar with the astonishing work of Miranda Richardson or Melissa Leo. How did Bob Saget become a household fixture? Vanna White? Why don't more people know the extraordinary actress and director Sarah Polley? Could it be because Polley is Canadian? As a writer whose books to date were all (but one) published in Canada--and thus have quietly disappeared (while in the States, where I was born and raised and currently live, they have never actually existed), I'm aware of thousands of gems buried deep--on peoples' bookshelves and in their brains. Many of these gems have never even neared any kind of top ten or best seller list; and yet many have changed peoples' lives. So I say the idea of sharing with each other our beloved books is brilliant, and I say, Let brilliance reign. To that end I'd like to introduce you to the many exquisite books by Nancy Lord (her latest is Rock, Water, Wild), to the novels of Joan Barfoot who is one of Canada's most brilliant novelists and yet seldom appears on "the lists" (you all know Margaret Atwood and Alice Munroe...), to new releases by my colleagues Amy Ferris (Marrying George Clooney), Hope Edelman (The Possibility of Everything is,I think, at least equal in beauty and power to her Motherless Daughters but likely won't hit the same numbers), to Monica Holloway's Cowboy and Wills, to Helen Benedict's The Edge of Eden, to my own audiobooks, the Tell Me a Story series (for kids). Tell Me A Story reminds me: I've been writing this syndicated newspaper feature of folktales for over 17 years; in those years it has appeared in hundreds of newspapers in countries around the world. I just published story number 989. And yet, if you google "folklore" or folktales, you'll find me and my stories nowhere. They're on the web, but they're buried so deep they're impossible to find. For years how to find an audience stymied me, but I decided finally that instead of waiting for Scholastic or some other publisher to discover the stories, instead of bemoaning the fact that the two book collections went quickly out of print, I would produce, on my own, Audiobook versions. I've produced three so far. I promote them and distribute them and market them on my own. And they're beautiful. They do not smell of "self-promotion" or "self-publication." Few small (half-invisible) books I have read do. And so I thought we ought all also watch for our prejudices, our own disinclination to check out the unknown, to seek out the tiny, those works that haven't reached Best-Seller-dom and that may never. I look forward to hearing of others' found gems. And p.s. Everyone should make it a point of talking to librarians; they often know of amazing secret wonders.

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