Trick #3: Let "the best" rest
Yesterday, we discussed two strategies for handling the myriad year-end lists with which you'll be inundated in the coming weeks. Those tips were: (1) consider the source, and (2) consider the author. Today, we'll consider two more techniques that will ensure you get the most out of these often overwhelming, occasionally frustrating and frequently valuable lists.
Many year-end lists have misleading titles like, "The Best Albums of 2008," or "Top 10 Best Singles of the Year." Since there's no way that any given critic - or even a gang of 10 or 100 critics - could have possibly heard and judged every single album or song that came out, this is, of course, absurd. I know for a fact that I, as a critic, am prone to hyperbole, and will use words like "best" when I actually mean "really good" or "favorite." When I turn in my list, it is really nothing more than my favorites, out of all the records that I happened to hear in a given year. Of course, there were literally thousands of records that came out this year that I will probably never hear. If circumstances were different, it's quite possible than any one of those could have supplanted one on my "best of" list.
Trick #4: Open your mind
Though I advised earlier to pay closer attention to lists from critics whose tastes you usually share, it is also important to suspend your most deeply held prejudices, especially when reading a list from a critic you truly respect. For example, if you've always thought that Kylie Minogue was a talentless hack, but then Jon Pareles includes her in his top albums of the year, it's time to open up your eyes and ears, and to reconsider the snobbish and poorly considered snap judgements upon which you've long relied. After all, those biases were probably formed right around the same time as your high school identity, and you probably don't want to hold onto that.
Tomorrow, we'll consider a few more tricks that'll knock your socks off and make those year-end diatribes meaningful. --Eryc Eyl