1. Book that makes you look smart. Repeat for numbers 2 through the end. Obviously.
2. Book by relatively famous author with an active Twitter account that you can tag for at least one like—and, who knows, a (self-congratulatory) retweet. Then a thousand new followers! Instant Internet fame!
On second thought, consider switching this to the number one spot. Authors are vain creatures, unlikely to retweet a second-place finish. Although, they’re also self-doubting, shriveled-up husks, desperate for even the scantest praise after years of rejection from cruel critics and editors. So, your call.
3. Nonfiction book on a depressingly weighty current topic. Like climate change. Or another pandemic. Or the end of the world in any other iteration.
You must have endured at least the first five chapters in a state of at least semi-sobriety for the book to qualify as “read” for this list’s purposes.
4. Classic from the literary canon that you just happened to casually reread recently. Because, you know, as everyone knows, as you’ve mentioned before, you were an English major. You wrote a paper on it in undergrad. And then, of course, in grad school, it strongly informed your thesis, and has since influenced your reading/writing/thinking/eating/drinking/breathing/general existing throughout your entire adult life.
5. Any book that’s not self-help. This list is for flaunting your finely calibrated taste. Your keenly discerning judgment. Keep the utilitarian reading a secret between you and your e-reader, and Amazon and Google and all the targeted advertisers who noticed your recent online purchase of Don’t Worry; You’re Great: 10 Steps for Banishing the (More-or-Less Correct) Belief That Everyone Else Is Better and Smarter and More Successful Than You.
6. Book by an underrepresented author. Review numbers 1 through 5 above, to ensure at least 50% also meet this metric.
Minimum requirement is 100% if you’re a straight white cis-male filling out this template. And yes, this requirement applies to number 4, the literary classic. The Western canon is filled with multiple varied and diverse voices that can easily be located on that one corner shelf in the way, way back down that farthermost aisle.
Correction: Number 4 exempted pending complete overhaul of Western civilization.
7. Historical novel turned into a highbrow surprise hit TV show that you totally watched and totally agreed with the critics was so faithful to the source material that reading the long-overlooked, just-now-getting-its-due literary tour de force seemed redundant.
8. Now, finally, a novel that you actually read and actually enjoyed. And, of course, appreciated for its character development and its experimentation with form. Its examination of the human condition that speaks with astute relevance to the forces at work in our modern world. Its unflinching portrayal of an unlikeable protagonist…
9. OK. Fine. A novel you actually enjoyed.
10. No, just one. Don’t overdo it. Switch this to a token essay collection. Or, even better, one of those hip new memoirs in essays.
Warning: Avoid anything resembling the regular old memoir. It’s time to finally confess that the memoir is just never, ever, ever going to be accepted as serious stuff for a serious reader/list-maker like you. See number 5, above, re: self-help, and apply same best practices re: secret reading.
11. Yes, number 11. If Barack Obama gets to do a 17-book end-of-year list, why should you get any fewer? Sure, Bill Gates manages to keep his list to a concise 5. But, honestly, who’s cooler—Barack or Bill? Point made, or, rather, 17 points made.
12. The final pre-print galleys of your own book. Oh, you haven’t written one? Too busy with all that reading? Just consuming instead of producing? Don’t worry, you can still pull off the appearance of intelligence with some strategic final picks…
13. Book of philosophy. Yes. That’ll do it. Preferably something semi-ancient like Kierkegaard (or the ancient O.G., Socrates). But a recent release will also do, as long as the title contains at least five, five-dollar words, precedes an even lengthier subtitle, and begins with the word “On” or “Toward.”
14. Whatever book all the other smart people (i.e. writers and journalists and academics constantly publishing far more books and articles and top ten lists than you ever will) are top-tenning. Do some research. Use those skills you learned getting that English degree.
15. Quirky, celebrated novella by a small, artsy indie press. See, you’re not just some boring person who stayed at home most of the last year reading books on your couch. You’re a cool, creative, quirky person who stayed at home most of the last year reading books on your couch.
16. Collection of contemporary/avant-garde/experimental/in any other way opaque and incomprehensible poetry. Naturally. You are complex and cultured. And—it just barely bears repeating one final time—smart.
17. Jonathan Franzen’s latest masterful tome. What? You didn’t read it? Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Unlike you, he’s smart enough to avoid social media. So he wasn’t going to retweet your silly little list anyhow.