Harvard Bookstore Elite

I added a Top 100 List published by the Harvard Bookstore. One might expect a venerable list of the classics with those fluffy modern entertainments that mar so many other lists being relegated to the BC Bookstore. But when you review the list, surprisingly it appears to have more fluff than the average Top 100 list. I believe part of this is because the list is a compilation of favorites, possibly wiggled around a bit by sales data with a decided undergraduate slant. How else do you explain some of the entries?

The first question I had was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but since I was one of the few that considered Murakami’s novel severely lacking, I’ll let it stand as a matter of difference of opinion. For the most part we’re rolling along with Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlotte Brontë, Dante Alighieri, Homer, Dostoevsky, and all the usual suspects but tucked in between the safe titles are some real clunkers.

Anna Karenina is in the 26th position but A Prayer for Owen Meany is number 20 … John Irving:  the world’s most overrated author with his most despicable novel even being included on a list with Tolstoy is an insult. Anna Karenina even is forced to give way for Harry Potter. We may be seeing the end of civilization starting at the Harvard Bookstore.

There are many titles on this list that do not belong and certainly cannot be considered Top 100 literature:  Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Little, Big by John Crowley, etc. But then as you scan the list realize that there is no Ulysses, no Remembrance of Past Things, no Man without Qualities, no Brothers Karamozov, … far too many excellent titles missing and certainly not made up for by including Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The only Shakespeare on the list is Hamlet; where is King Lear or The Tempest?

A sad list for some but others might be interested in the recommendations of the venerable Harvard Bookstore.

One response

  1. Hi Mike,

    I actually helped create this list a couple of years ago, so I thought I’d give a little perspective. Although we called it our “Top 100” list, it was really more of a staff favorites. The text below is from the “About” tab on that page of our website:

    “In early 2010 Harvard Book Store employees worked together to come up with a list of our favorite books. Each staff member submitted a list of their favorite books of all time, in (rough) order of preference. Their selections were then weighted according to the order and the results were tabulated. It was by no means a perfect system, but it was the best way we could think of to quantify opinions that are in no way quantifiable.

    Now, we read a lot, so it was hard to narrow it down. What we came up with are the books that moved us, that changed the way we think about the world, and that we will happily read over and over again. We hope you enjoy them too.”

    There are definitely books on the list that won’t stand the grand test of time, but they were the favorites of our staff at the time the list was created. Some of them are the all-time greats, and some of them are the ones that hit us at just the right times in our reading lives. You’re certainly welcome to disagree (isn’t that always one of the best parts of these lists?), but I just wanted to give a sense of what we were going for.

    Happy reading!


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