An Alternate Approach to Best of the Year Lists

As I see the best of the year lists popping up, I once again think about another approach I wish critics would employ–namely, instead of identifying the best works relative to other works within a given year, identify the works in a given year that compare favorably with the all-time great works. One drawback here is that none of the works may meet this criterion. For me, I don’t see this as a drawback. Here’s the reason why (and this will explain my overall mindset with regard to this topic).

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How Was Barnes and Noble Able to Turn Things Around?

Barnes and Noble is doing so well financially that they plan to open thirty new stores in 2023. That caught my attention, and I think it’s great news. Why is the store thriving? That’s the question music critic, Ted Gioia, tries to answer in this post. I agree with some of the reasons he cites (e.g., appointing a better CEO who decentralized decision making), but I’m dissatisfied with the overarching reason he offers–namely, that the new CEO loves books.

In this thread, I’ll explain the reason I feel this way, as well as offer an alternate explanation that seems more compelling. (In spite of this slight disagreement, I recommend reading his post.) OK, let’s begin.

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Notes on To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson

This book surveys the development of Socialism by summarizing and analyzing various thinkers, starting with Michelet and ending with Lenin. I became interested in the book after reading about it on NPR’s You Must Read This series, which has provided me several good recommendations over the years. This book, so far, looks like it will be added to that list.

As other threads like this one, I’m going to use it to jot down rough thoughts and impressions.

One more thing, for what it’s worth: Wilson is a good writer, both in terms of his prose and insights.

Notes on The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz

Along with Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, this was one of the books that individuals I respect recommended during Trump’s presidency. I finally got around to reading it.

Milosz, a Polish poet and writer, wrote this in 1950, and he draws on his experience living in a Soviet controlled country. I came into this wanting to learn about authoritarianism and the way individuals psychologically accept or even embrace this. The book does address this by profiling four writers, describing the (mostly psychological) path they took to work for the Soviet-controlled government.

But their journey’s didn’t stand out to me. What stood out more is what I learned about Soviet-style Marxism, which I guess could be described as Stalinism? (Or Leninism?) While I don’t know enough about Marx, Communism, or Socialism to make precise distinctions between them, some differences did come to light, and this interested me the most.

I want to use this thread as a way to crystallize my thoughts and absorb the book.

Notes on The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski

Joe Posnanski, who is one of the best writers about baseball I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a ton), serialized a countdown of his 100 greatest baseball players in The Athletic this past spring. I’ve been meaning to share here the great Phil Niekro story he tells about Niekro’s 300th victory but boiling it down to a reasonable length was a challenge I wasn’t up for.

Here is the whole thing in one book, released yesterday. The publisher describes it as “Longer than Moby-Dick and nearly as ambitious.” Of course I preordered it. The only hesitation was whether I wanted the physical book (I did) or would settle for the ebook for practical reasons (I did; practicality won out this time, which is an odd thing for me to say about myself).

Notes to come. I especially encourage you to wait for #83. Phil Niekro. 🙂