I've discussed before the fact that those retrospective reviews that pepper the media throughout December bear little or no relation to how we actually consume cultural product. The vast majority of them deal only with things that have been released in the past year: this benefits the culture industry (which packs its marketing resources behind the most recent releases) and the reviewers themselves, who get to prove how terribly Zeitgeisty they are.
Of course ordinary consumers are interested in new stuff. But they mix up recent releases with old favourites, as well as books and films and music that have only just come into view, or have been tottering on a to-do pile for several months. Add to this the fact that most general punters are by definition at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with the latest developments (little access to review copies, advance screenings, the chance to read something in proof or even manuscript) and it's easy to work out that for many of us, "the best thing I've read/seen/heard all year" will come from a much broader pool than you might infer by scanning the Sunday broadsheets.
So, the best new book I've read this year was After Dark by Haruki Murakami, although it's only the English translation that was "new", the Japanese original having appeared three years ago. With music I'm on surer ground: The Reminder by Feist, which was definitely released this year, and will doubtless be cropping up in those damned lists, even if Betty hates it. Films? To be honest, nothing with a release date of 2007 has made me sit up and clap my hands. Of course if I'd had the job of identifying the year's best films for and end-of-'07 round-up, I wouldn't be able to write that; at best, I'd have to write a bitter, backward-looking sidebar about how modern film is rubbish. Or, if I'd had that job, I would have got my arse into gear and seen Lust, Caution and No Country for Old Men in time for the end of the year.
But recent releases make up only a small part of what I've consumed. Some of my happiest experiences have come from things I thought I knew, or things I've meant to watch: The Great Gatsby left me gasping with melancholy joy, a quarter-century after I should have read it; and Les Triplettes de Belleville is as weird and funny as everyone said it was when it first came out (in 2003), so I don't know why I left it that long. As for music, the album I've listened to most assiduously this year is a sampler of old Chicago blues and soul stuff that came attached to the front of Mojo magazine a couple of years back. Were I writing a "proper" review, that would be discounted on two counts: too late; and cobbled-together freebie samplers aren't "real" product (in the sense that you can't use them as leverage for selling ad space).
And in any case, by the time you get to my age, categorical "favourites" tend to become fossilised. The best things I've read or heard or seen were my best things last year, and for the decade before that. So that's why the best book of 2007, as far as I'm concerned, is Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies; the best album is White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground; and the best film is Casablanca. And, unless something very peculiar happens in the coming months, these will be the best things of 2008 as well, and of 2009, and on and on until I can't read or hear or watch or blog anything.