Hello fellow readers! Looking for something a little heavier than your average “beach read” for this summer? A number of highly respectable sources have been compiling lists of the “greatest” literature in history.
Take, for example, the Library of Congress’ newest list: Books that Shaped America. While the LOC’s librarian emphasizes that this list is indeed not a “best of” list, he does agree that many of the titles mentioned here “also fit that description.” The LOC’s list is meant to start a discussion centered on the influence of American authors’ books which have had a significant impact on the nation as a whole. Interestingly enough, the list runs the gamut: mentioning children’s books (Goodnight Moon) , fictional classics (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Catch-22), poetry (Leaves of Grass; Howl), and non-fiction (The Federalist; Alcoholics Anonymous).
The Christian Science Monitor recently released their bold declaration of The 100 Best Books of All Time. A few differences between the CS Monitor’s list and the LOC’s: the CS Monitor mentions only fictional works and has an international scope, listing books such as Things Fall Apart and Crime and Punishment, among others. The CS Monitor lists several works by the same author, while the LOC chose only one work per author. Both lists are not ranked, but rather listed alphabetically either by title or author.
Of course, each list brings with it a host of questions. How does one compare a novel published within the past, say 40 years, with an ancient text which has survived for thousands? What criteria did each list use? Who were the judges? Is the “best” determined by the quality of the writing (and if so, what does that mean), its content, political statement, social commentary, emotional impact, memorable characters, etc? How much consideration is given to the diversity (ethnic, gender, time period, genre) of each author? How much weight should be given regarding each of the aforementioned variables? Should the author count at all when it comes to determining the best books, or should the work rest solely on its own merit?
Each “best of” list brings a wonderfully subjective set of criteria, perfect for stirring up controversy and conversation amongst your friends at the beach or over a delicious dinner. What are your top ten “best books of all time” and what criteria do you use?