There’s something artificial about any numbered list of “bests.” Criteria are fluid and subjective. You can cheat by allowing for “ties” and end up with more than the stated number. Or heck just make it the “50 best” say, rather than the 10 best or whatever. My own list of 10 all time favorite novels is constantly changing. I add new ones as I read them. I remember ones from the past that need to be included. But, for what it’s worth, here’s the list as it stands right now, in NO particular order.
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keys
Night Flight, Antoine de St. Exupéry
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Circle, Dave Eggers
The Wall, John Hersey
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
A couple of years ago I entered a short story contest. There were three anonymous judges. Since they were anonymous, I have no idea whether they were editors, fellow writers, agents, writing teachers or other. Even though this was a no-fee contest, each entrant still got a summary of the scores. I did not win. But it was the scores that were illuminating. One judge loved the story and gave it the highest marks on all criteria. Another judge felt the opposite and gave it all low marks on each point. The third judge graded the score right down the middle, halfway between excellent and not worth the paper it was printed on.
I told this to a writer friend of mine and he had the perfect response. “It just goes to show how subjective anyone’s response is to any piece of writing.” It didn’t mean it was a bad story. If it appealed strongly to one person, it will appeal strongly to some other editor down the road. So, as I said in the last post Turnaround, the only appropriate response is to take another look to see if it can be improved, then find another market and send it off.