December 4, 2010

Reading list: 10 "best-of" lists

December is the month of the "year's best books" lists. I'll post several of my own later. Meanwhile, here's a short list of lists of the "best _____ of the _____."

There are many canonical lists out there, but the ones here are popular ones. All attempt to rank or list books according to merit or comprehensiveness or their being essential/important. At least some try to cover an international range of books. The recent spate of publications and translations of neglected and forgotten works being brought out by progressive publishers, usually independent, ought to shake up most of these lists.

I've provided ratings for each list. Can I do that without reading most of the books in a certain list? Well, why not? It's a world swirling with ratings.

1. Books of the Century (New York Public Library)

My favorite list from among here. Mainly because of its great presentation. I like the categories they used to group the books.

Rating: 4/5 bookmarks

2. The top 100 books (fiction) of all time (Norwegian Book Clubs)

Released by the Norwegian Book Clubs. Based on the votes by 100 noted writers from 54 countries, so this may be fairly representative of international literature.

And yet every list with The Old Man and the Sea in it makes me wary.

Rating: 4/5 bookmarks

3. Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century

English-language novels only. Voted by Modern Library editorial board. (Don't bother with "The Reader's List" on the right side. The selection of some books there are indicative of malign imaginations amongst us.)

Rating of The Board's List: 3/5 bookmarks
Rating of The Reader's List: 0/5 bookmarks

4. Radcliffe Publishing Course's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century

An alternative to the Modern Library list. It falls short.

Rating: 1/5 bookmarks

5. TIME'S List of the 100 Best Novels in English (1923-2005),29569,1951793,00.html

English-language novels only. Chosen by two TIME critics. Not as solid as Modern Library’s (#3). Some entries are really just popular. It's obvious the two critics are not reliable taste makers.

Rating: 1/5 bookmarks

6. The 100 greatest novels of all time (The Observer)

They've listed some unusual titles in it.

Rating: 2.5/5 bookmarks

7. 100 novels everyone should read (The Telegraph)

A bit of an international selection.

Rating: 2.5/5 bookmarks

8. 110 best books: The perfect library (The Telegraph)

Various genres – classics, poetry, biographies, romance, sci-fi, crime, children's books, "books that changed the/your world", history

Rating: 2.5/5 bookmarks

9. Newsweek's Top 100 Books: The Meta-List

Derived from other lists. Newsweek is too lazy and unoriginal to make their own. They include lists from Oprah's Book Club and Wikipedia, so highly questionable. I can't find the link at the Newsweek site, but here's a blog that typed it up.

Newsweek also has its own Top 50. Can't find the link to that one.

Rating: 1/5 bookmarks

10. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

A killer list, so I'm not providing the link. You can search out for it. A list with such a stupendous number of books defies any rating. But I don't want lists playing safe. The whole enterprise is an exercise in futile inclusiveness.

Rating: 1.5/5

11. Reading list of St. John's College

Pages of great boring stuff. From the site: "The first year is devoted to Greek authors and their pioneering understanding of the liberal arts; the second year contains books from the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods; the third year has books of the 17th and 18th centuries, most of which were written in modern languages; the fourth year brings the reading into the 19th and 20th centuries."

I'm stupefied by this list.

Rating: 2.5/5 bookmarks

Image from A Journey Round My Skull.

(Posted earlier in Shelfari)


  1. You got good stuff here. I'm actually looking for books about environmental issues. Does anyone know a good book about this topic?

  2. I'm actually reading one right now. It's called The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson. An excellent book so far.