Skip to content

Back to Notebook

How to Use “Best of” the year Lists

| Pop Culture Hacks

Cribbed from my monthly newsletter The Smoke Signal, your guide to consuming pop culture smarter. 

December is the month of Best of 2015 lists, all 7 million of them. It can be crazy intimating which ones to pay attention to, how much and what to do with the three dozen, “ohh I missed that’s” these lists are meant to stir up. So this issue’s Pop! Hacks! will be all about how to make Best of Lists work for you. 




 NPR Music’s Best of The Year coverage is both thorough, varied and beautifully organized, by genrecurator, by song or album. Their website also has an app which will play their favorite songs of the year in random order. Let it run for a half hour while returning emails and see what new music you discover. Rule of thumb (ear?): Look to discover 2-4 new artists, half in your favorite genres, half in genres you  know less well. If you’re music skews toward one genre, focus there. I usually take 30 seconds and crosscheck the artists I discover with the Village Voice’s legendary Pazz & Jop poll, just to see if I’m being an over-40 white guy cliche’ and swallowing whatever NPR hands me.

Once you’ve found 2-4 new artists you like, stop looking. Explore the other work of those artists on the  streaming music service of your choice. Make new friends not new music you say hello to in the hallway.    

Sit-down meals not snacking. 
If reading 2015’s “big books everyone talked about” is your priority, the New York Times Notable Books of the Year coverage will more than suffice. Again, 3-5 titles that stir your interest. More than that and by the time you finish them, it’ll be March and 2016 bookish temptations will already be clawing at the front door. 

For a more personal  take, Maris Kreizman, who runs publishing projects over at Kickstarter does a magnificent Best Books list that I return to year after year.  

Drilling into genres, the NPR Book Concierge does a great job overall. Paste Magazine usually picks a few categories to dig into each year with great flair. The AV Club’s best of coverage of comics and graphic novels is as dependable as an old friend. The folks at Book Riot do both great 30,000- foot Best-of-Every- Book-You-Can-Imagine reporting and strong by-genre lists as well. I also dig these Best Books by Women lists over at LitHub

Tempting here to just wait and see what gets nominated for your Oscars or Golden Globes’s and catch up on films you missed. Don’t. Award nominations too often focus on movies released after Thanksgiving and whose studios spend a king’s ransom on publicity campaigns. Instead of catching up on great movies, you’ll be wasting time catching up on 2015’s Best Movies at Stuffing the Ballet Box. 
Instead, make a quick trip through Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 movies of 2015 or Roger’s annual  Four Star Reviews feature. Focus on movies you’ve heard of but didn’t get a chance to see. Then for films you haven’t heard of but would like to try, watch their trailer on Apple Trailers.
If you like something, add it to your queue of record (Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, a legal pad) immediately to remember it.