Best lists aren't just for the end of the year -- and they're not just for professional book critics, either. Right now, NPR has a fun exercise going, compiling a list of the 100 best science fiction and fantasy books ever written. They're soliciting suggestions (five titles at a time) from listeners/readers and in four days they've received more than 4,600 posts. Take that, all you reading-is-dead handwringers! There are a couple rules -- you can suggest a series as one of your entries, as long as that series is written by a single author. And YA is banned, which made it a little difficult for me because Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy would have been high on my list.
Still, even though I would not consider myself a big reader of scifi or fantasy, I managed to come up with five. * Here's my list, in no particular order: Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (always glad to give this one a mention; it's alternative historical fiction, Napoleonic wars with dragons and it's AWESOME). Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, a loopy literary alternaworld to which I will be forever grateful for getting me through the Horrible Hurricane Year of 2005. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis -- highly recommended for people who like medieval stuff and/or time travel. American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which needs no help from me but is pretty cool, and will soon be a major motion picture. And The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, a book about a book that is powerful and strange. Both books, I mean. Just read it.
If you are into books, by the way, and you don't follow or check NPR's books coverage (it's compiled at their website and has the requisite Facebook and Twitter feeds) then you are missing out. And if you prefer to get your radio auditorially but can't listen to NPR all day long, they do a nice podcast of compilations of their books coverage every week or two.
The Guardian, another bastion of book coverage in the popular media, has also compiled a 100 best list recently, their picks for best nonfiction titles. They solicited reader suggestions after the fact; my contribution was The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen. Amazing book about biodiversity and evolution and island biogeography and if those sound like heavy, dry subjects then trust me, in Quammen's hands they are not. If and when I have to do a serious weed of my own book collection, this will be one of the last to go.
* Addendum from 8/18/11 -- Since writing this I have joined the George R. R. Martin Cult and am midway through the third book in his Song of Ice and Fire series -- and they really as addictive as everyone says. Martin didn't need my help -- he still scored high on the final list -- and I'm not sure which of my initial five I'd knock out. Either American Gods or the Thursday Next series, which is loopier than straight-up fantasy anyway.