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A List of Book Lists

A friend of mine recently asked if there were any book lists out there that she could look at to try and finding some more good stuff to read. I scoffed a little inside before answering, not because it’s a bad question, but because there are just so many lists to choose from.

Our conversation inspired me to go see if I could find some of the most prolific and popular classic or best book lists and try to put them in one place. This is only the beginning, I’m hoping that all of you can help me add to the list since I’m positive I’ve missed some important lists out there.

The List of Book Lists

1001 Books To Read Before You Die — Peter Boxall: This is probably the list of lists, which comes from a book by the same title. In the book, the author was trying to trace the growth of the novel, so the books on the list go as far back as pre-1700. I’m pretty sure this is the basis for the 1 Percent Well Read Challenge? (Help me out with links if I’m wrong here)

  • Some Cool Stuff: You can download a spreadsheet of the books that will help you track your progress reading them. It’s got a 2006 and 2008 list, I’m not sure what that’s about… can someone explain?

The New Classics (100 best reads from 1983 – 2008)Entertainment Weekly: This is one of my favorite book lists because it’s acknowledges some of the great work done recently. Plus, it crosses genres and does a good job of getting a diversity of authors and topics.

  • And I’ve Read? I’ve read 24 of the books on this list, and have at least two others in my possession right now. Someday I’ll get through the list, right?

50 Books for Our TimeNewsweek: A list that attempts to avoid the traditional classics and instead “pen a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.”

  • Best Picks (IMHO): Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (#44), Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (#37), and Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (#7).
  • Amy (My Friend Amy) started a group reading challenge for this list. I was lucky enough to gret Random Family before it got taken.

Newsweek’s Top 10 Books: The Meta-ListNewsweek: A list that crunched the numbers from a bunch of other lists — “Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John’s College reading list, Oprah’s, and more” — to come up with a lists of lists.

  • Top Five: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1984 by George Orwell, Ulysses by James Joyce, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  That’s quite the powerhouse of a list, right?

100 Years, 100 Novels, One List — NPR: One NPR guy’s list of the best 100 English-language novels he could think of. The list is pretty heavily slanted towards male authors, and don’t really represent much of anything except what this guy thinks, but it’s an interesting list nonetheless.

  • The Updike Bias: Included on the list are three of the Rabbit books by John Updike — Rabbit at Rest (#15), Rabbit, Run (#25), and Rabbit Is Rich (#89).  Where are the other two books in the series?

That’s all I could think of over the last few days, but I’m sure there are others I haven’t thought of yet or even come across. If you know more, leave them in the comments and I’ll update.

UPDATES: Here are some lists suggested by readers in the comments.

For me, the proliferation of “best books lists” begs a number of questions. First, do best of lists do any good? Do they make us better readers? Second, how can you decide on “best books” across generes? I can’t imagine pairing my best fiction with my best nonfiction — they just don’t compare. And third, how well do these lists spread across nationalities and genres? Should there be best lists for that too?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeanne July 13, 2009, 7:08 pm

    The best uses for these lists as far as I’m concerned are to see if someone you admire likes a book you haven’t read, and to argue with people about why they include one book and not another. So I like lists better when they come from someone I know (virtually or in real life). Jackie at Farm Lane Books was just saying that she likes favorite book posts, and I do too. It’s an interesting view of someone, seeing what they like.

  • Teresa July 13, 2009, 7:26 pm

    On the 2006 and 2008 spreadsheeets for the 1001 books, they have to do with the two separate editions of the book.

    I like perusing “best of” lists, but I gave up building my reading lists from them a long time ago. I haven’t found a list yet that has contained nothing but books that I like 🙂 Every now and then I’ll see something on one of these lists that piques my interest, and if a book appears on lots of lists, I’ll pay more attention.

  • kay July 13, 2009, 9:32 pm

    Great list of list!
    I have been following the “1001” for a little while, I love it! I don’t intend to read all of those, but most are classics that I wanted to read anyway, so it’s a good way to keep track!
    I love the EW for the same reason you do. It’s great to have a list that feels more “current”

  • Jodie July 14, 2009, 6:42 am

    On genre I think the Times ran a best 50 crime novels a few year ago where Patricia Highsmith came out top.

  • Rebecca Reid July 14, 2009, 7:15 am

    There are SO MANY lists out there. I just look for ones that have books I’m most interested in. For example, I like the college board’s “100 books to read before college” not because the books are ones to read before college but just because it is such a good list of books to work through during my life (I’ve read about 47 of them by now. Still have a lot to go!)

  • wordlily July 14, 2009, 10:46 am

    I enjoy the lists, partly as conversation pieces. A few other lists: USA Today top-selling books, the BBC list, 50 best cult books, Rory’s book club list, and the Everyman’s lists. The one list I’ve been consistently pleased with the selections of — for me anyway — is the Image Journal 100 Writers of Faith list.

  • Kristin July 14, 2009, 11:22 am

    I cannot believe you didn’t list the Time list of 100 best novels (http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html) — that’s what I’ve been using, but I just added the EW one into my repertoire.

  • Carrie July 14, 2009, 1:01 pm

    i’d love to see some sort of service like last.fm offers for music where it matches up your tastes with the tastes of other users and gives you book recommendations based on that. am i dreaming?

  • Care July 14, 2009, 2:50 pm

    oh wow! I’m contemplating Carrie’s idea… I love lists. I once had a list of recommended college reading but I lost it and mourn it still. Which also reminds me that I’ve been meaning to check out our town high school’s recommended summer reading list. So fun.

  • raych July 15, 2009, 10:44 am

    I am such a suck for these lists. I am going to read EW’s Top 100 if it kills me.

    Also, I’m only on p. 130 or so of Infinte Jest, and I am faithfully slogging. I will take heed of your warning and not expect MIND-BLOWINGNESS on p. 223. I am liking it more than I thought I would.

  • Suey July 16, 2009, 9:56 am

    Great post. This is one of those that I wish I’d thought of doing!

  • Care July 20, 2009, 6:48 am

    ok, my HS list is up. 🙂
    I wish I could remember where I read a similar post and the ‘other’ HS had a ton of classics to read – it was for the upcoming school year and not just summer… If I find it, I’ll come back. sigh.