It's sobering to realize that this marks the fifth time we've put a best of the year feature together for our readers. We launched January late in 1997 -- there wasn't enough year left to start judging things. By the time we got to the end of 1998, however, not only had we seen a lot of books, there were enough of us writing for January to offer readers a wide and honest taste not only of what was available, but of what we thought was very good.

We've come to take our annual best of the year feature very seriously. It's proven to be a favorite with readers, and it's a favorite with our writers and editors, as well. It demands that we pause and reflect. For the last few years, I've started making notes for my own best of the year list by the time January or February rolls around. When December turns up again, I have a file full of personal comments. I scan my list, making adjustments. Not everything I've written in as possible best ofs make my final cut, but it's a good reminder. Unlike the Oscars, I don't want anything to get overlooked just because it was published early in the year.

So how does a book get mentioned here? Someone -- a someone in a position to do a lot of reading and a lot of writing about that reading -- has to have loved the book very much. We don't quantify or qualify that love in any way. Because our writers are, in the first place, extremely diverse and, in the second place, highly opinionated, we always end up with a list that shoots all over the book world. It's a pretty exciting mix.

So what's best? Obviously, it's a very different matter for different people. And critics are people, too. But you'll find the books included here to have a certain stand out quality. Something that set them apart and put them in a special place in the heart of at least one of our reviewers. You know the feeling: you love books. You know the ones that move you, or touch you, or make you say: Wow! We'd love to hear about your favorites from 2003, too. Even if they're different than ours.

And thank you for participating with January Magazine throughout this vibrant year. We are proud of our thoughtful, vocal readers. Without you it would all be entirely beside the point.

Pleasant reading and have a wonderful and bookish New Year!

Linda Richards
editor, January Magazine


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