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 Time — Newsweek: 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-List — Newsweek: 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.
- 50 Greatest Crime Writers — Times Online (Jodie at Book Gazing)
- 101 Great Books for College-Bound Readers — College Board (Rebecca at Rebecca Reads)
- Top 150 Best Seller List — USA Today (Wordlily)
- The Big Read Top 100 — BBC (Wordlily)
- 50 Best Cult Books — Telegraph.co.uk (Wordlily)
- Rory’s Book Club List — Gilmore Girls? (Wordlily)
- The Everyman’s Library (via (Wordlily)
- All-Time 100 Novels — Time Magazine (Kristen)
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?