Recently Amazon posted two lists of top 100 books to read in a lifetime. One was compiled from GoodReads’ users’ input, and the other from Amazon’s editors.
Here are my thoughts on the lists.
I don’t read as much as I used to.
My rough totals were 38 and 21, respectively. I say “rough” because many of the titles were familiar and I think I’ve read them but it would have been so long ago that I can’t be sure. Others were books (not included in my count) that I might have read during English Lit classes (like the several Shakespear plays that made the list).
The other rather shocking discovery showing how I’ve slacked off was that those books on the list which I’ve read recently – say within ten years – is six. (That’s actually stretching it because, although I’ve read the Bible, it wasn’t the KJV translation, which was the one specified.) (And this is not because I haven’t read at all – I guess I’m just not on the same wavelength as the people who composed either list.)
Books I consider “critically acclaimed classics” were underrepresented.
I was very surprised that Atlas Shrugged (or anything by Ayn Rand) didn’t make the list, and, except for The Odyssey, what I’d call “cultural foundational” stories were missing; for example, Beowulf or anything Arthurian (even Connecticut Yankee – there were several other Twain books).
It’s possible some types of books were left off, as other compilers indicated that their lists did not include religious, philosophical, or political books, but the GoodReads users selected only one spiritual text (the aforementioned KJV Bible).
Also strangely absent were any kind of self-help/self-improvement material. I surely expected How To Win Friends… and Think and Grow Rich to appear. I half-expected recently published informational and how to’s like Blink, 4-Hour Work Week to be on the editor’s list, especially.
Only one recognizable poetry title made it, The Raven, and only one dystopia that I knew of, Brave New World.
Fiction – and recent fiction especially – outnumbered non-fiction greatly.
I know non-fiction was included, Anne Frank made both lists. Night was on one, and Man’s Search For Meaning was on the other. (But then, I do favor histories. Maybe not everyone does?)
Twentieth and Twenty-First-century “young adult?” fiction series which have been made into movies were all there: Lord of The Rings, Hobbit, Narnia, Hunger Games, Harry Potter. I was happy to see some of my (very) old favorites, too: Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Where the Wild Things Are.
It seems High School assigned reading has remained pretty much the same.
Catcher in the Rye, anyone? Grapes of Wrath? Great Expectations? The Scarlet Letter? Lord of the Flies? Great Gatsby? To Kill a Mockingbird? All there. I suppose it’s possible that some books on the list were there due the popularity of the movies made from them. The last two I just mentioned would fit this reasoning.
And the “top” book?
I was personally happy to see one of my young adult, I-read-it-several-times-and-saw-the-movie stories on one of the lists, The Count of Monte Cristo. But judging from its appearance and position on both lists – #4 on the users’ and #1 on the editors – the top book to read is:
Recently, I watched The Equalizer, in which the main character is making his way through a list of 100 books. I started this post hoping I’d find which list he was using… Anyone know of other “top 100” lists?