By Stephen A. Smith (Guest Columnist)
And the envelope, please… Continuing an end-of- year tradition that dates back more than 15 years, the King County Library System has chosen its Best Books of 2017.
Each year, librarians in the KCLS Selection Department compile a list of their favorite books in each of four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Teens and Children’s. Starting with nearly 400 titles, it takes a lot of reading to whittle the list down to 100, but no one is complaining. The Best Books list is something we bibliophiles look forward to each year. Everyone is curious about what books make the list and enjoy comparing notes on each other’s favorites.
As the KCLS collection has grown over the years, so too has the Best Books list. In 2017, it features 25 titles in each category (at one time, there were only eight per category) and incorporates a balance of topics and genres to appeal to KCLS’ broad audience of readers.
So how do our librarians choose the Best Books? There are many factors. Surprisingly, circulation is not necessarily one of them. For instance, books that may be lesser known but cause children and parents to light up, can and do, make the list. According to KCLS’ Readers’ Services Specialist, Emily Calkins, ‘best’ means something that patrons enjoy. Librarians also consider professional reviews from sources such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, and whether a book has been long-listed for the National Book Award, Carnegie Medal or others.
While only librarians nominate books, for the first time this year, all staff were given the opportunity to vote for their favorites, and more than 150 responded. I personally enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, one of this year’s fiction selections, and am on a waiting list for another, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. Many “best books” from past years are remarkably relevant today. I’ve found it meaningful to revisit The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister, and even those that once were banned, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.
As many patrons know, an award-winning book doesn’t mean it is, or will become, a favorite. But sometimes an author knocks it out of the park and our librarians know it. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which was published in 2014, was one of KCLS’ Best Books for fiction that year and went on to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. It was a Top Five circulated title in print for nearly three years and still ranks among the top five for downloadable or eBook titles.
I hope you enjoy perusing the Best Books of 2017, sharing the list with family and friends, and finding many wonderful books to read, if you haven’t already. Visit www.kcls.org/bestbooks for more information.
Stephen A. Smith is the iterim director at King County Library Systems.