Let’s come clean: who actually reads those endless columns of woeful end of year ‘Best of’ lists on garish backgrounds, so beloved by magazine and newspaper critics alike? I am wondering, because come December they seem to be as punctual as Fairytale of New York coming on the radio (and I love that song, don’t get me wrong).
The subject doesn’t even matter that much, as books/ music/ films/ art exhibitions/ whatever you’re having yourself are squeezed into the smallest fonts readable by the naked eye, packed into column shapes and spread out as a not too subtle attempt to fill pages on days where the editor would much rather be out Christmas shopping.
Not to mention the anxiety-inducing element. Did you miss that retrospective in London? You are doomed for all eternity. That is NOT going to be repeated, NOT EVER. You also missed that Netflix series? Of course you can watch that any stage, but IT WILL BE TOO LATE, as, see?, it stands quite firmly in LAST year’s list. What about that book, don’t you know the second one in the trilogy is already out? By the way, the main character dies.
But it’s mostly the mantle of un-missible-ness that irks me. The claim to be presenting ‘The Best’ of the year when any attempt can only and inevitably be a personal take, at best a reflection of the journalist’s relationship with his cultural surroundings. Laying claim to be anything ‘definitive’ or ‘absolute’ is a truth I think very few people can take seriously.
One final mention has to go to the ‘Best of the Year to Come’ lists, which lay in front of our very eyes our critics’ otherwise unused gift of precognition. Restricted as it is to those few pages a year, it truly is a Christmas miracle.