Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Top 100 Books of All Time

There is a list making the rounds of blogs that cater to book lovers and readers - the Top 100 Books of all time. It is estimated that the average person has read no more than six of the top books. I counted and I've read exactly 50. That sounds like quite a feat, especially since the list tends more toward the literary than the popular including authors like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Salman Rushdie, F Scott Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, etc.

I don't think my accomplishment is quite as monumental as it might seem because, out of the 100, the 50 I've read are mostly old, many of them read when I was in high school, either as homework assignments or because the shelves in the school library were heavy on the classics. I was a voracious reader even then so I read whatever was easily available. If that was Bleak House, The Tale of Two Cities, Tess of the D'Urbervilles or whatever, then so be it. Once I was out of school and free to choose my own reading material, I moved away from the higher-brow stuff and into the mainstream, much of it never to make any kind of "Important" list. "Valley of the Dolls" anyone?

So, I've read fewer of the later literary works, having lapsed into lighter and, I suppose, trashier fare in my older years (Janet Evanovich, for instance).

I wonder though, who composed this list and what the criteria is for getting on it? Two of the recent books on the list that I have read are: The Lovely Bones by Alice Seibold and The Five People You Meet in Heaven (by I forget who). I enjoyed both books but I would hardly consider either of them great works of literature in the vein of, say, David Copperfield and Pride and Prejudice. By their very nature, lists tend to be snobbish. The compilers always seem to want to convince the world of their superior taste and sensibilities. Lists are created as much to be exclusive as to be inclusive, to shut people out as to bring people in. I would think this list would be intimidating to the average reader who simply isn't going to spend chunks of their precious relaxation time plowing through a ponderous novel like War and Peace just because some pretentious list says they should do so if they want to be considered one of the intellectual people.

If anyone is curious about the "100 Books" and how many they might have read, let me know and I'll reproduce it here.