Amazon Knows Good Books?

CaterpillarSnooping around I discovered that Amazon has published its very own list of the top 100 books you must read before ordering anything from Powell’s. Of course, it is a true saying that top 100 lists are like assholes: everyone has one. One of the recent lists that made a lot of press is the Modern Library Top 100. This list, it has been noted, tends to favor authors published by Modern Library or Random House and shows a preference for old dead white men. Flawed, for sure, but still a good list to follow if you’re out to read the top novels in English.

Interestingly, Amazon sells books. Is it possible that their list of the top 100 books might encourage reading certain titles that are easily ordered from Amazon, especially when most of the books are available for the Amazon Kindle and ordering your copy is only a click away? Actually, the correct question, sadly,  is: Would you be surprised if it didn’t? Let’s see; here is the list:

  1. Meet Big Brother: 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Explore the Universe: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  3. Memoir as metafiction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  4. A child-soldier’s story: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  5. Wicked good fun: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition by Lemony Snicket
  6. The 60s kids classic: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  7. A short-form master: Alice Munro: Selected Stories by Alice Munro
  8. Go down the rabbit hole: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  9.  Unseated a president: All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  10. An Irish-American Memoir: Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
  11. The angst of adolescence: Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  12. A literary page turner: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  13. The ghosts of slavery: Beloved by Toni Morrison
  14. Why and how we run: Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
  15.  A journey from Haiti: Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
  16. Launched its own catchphrase: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  17.  Vintage Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  18. The timeless classic: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  19. Ambitious and humane: Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
  20. Vulnerability breeds courage: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
  21. For reluctant readers: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney
  22. A science fiction classic: Dune by Frank Herbert
  23.  “It was a pleasure to burn.”: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  24. Gonzo journalism takes flight: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson
  25. Marriage can be a real killer: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  26. First published in 1947: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  27. Dickens’ best novel: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  28. Understanding societies: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond
  29. Meet the boy wizard: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  30. True crime at its best: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  31. Award-winning short story debut: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  32. A literary milestone: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  33. A brilliant graphic novel: Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
  34. Don’t eat while you read this: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
  35. One of the best of 2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  36. Childhood on the frontier: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  37. Print Nabokov’s triumph: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  38. A Latin American masterpiece: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  39. A saga set on the reservation: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
  40. A life-changing book: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  41. Funny and poignant: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  42. A beautifully-written novel: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  43. Rushdie’s breakthrough: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  44. Lewis hits it out of the park: Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  45.  A writer’s writer: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  46. The essence of the Beats: On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  47. A remarkable woman’s story: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  48. A groundbreaking graphic novel: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  49. Roth at his finest: Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  50. The perennial favorite: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  51. The birth of ecology: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  52. The absurdist WW2 novel: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  53. How Lincoln led: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  54. 19th Century high society: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  55. Chabon’s magnum opus: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  56. A classic modern autobiography: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  57. The international sensation: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  58. The trials of a “ghetto nerd”: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  59. Meet Holden Caulfield: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  60. Exploring a mother’s past: The Color of Water by James McBride
  61. Great, but divisive: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  62. A triumph of narrative nonfiction: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
  63. Moving and eloquent: The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
  64. A soulful young adult novel: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  65. Classic dystopia: The Giver by Lois Lowry
  66. Pullman’s fantasy classic: The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  67. The rich are different: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. Feminist speculative fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  69. The House At Pooh Corner: The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
  70. Reality tv writ large: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  71. Race, ethics, and medicine: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  72. A darkly funny memoir: The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr
  73. Monsters, Mythology, and a boy: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan
  74. Unique and universal: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  75. First-rate Chandler Noir: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  76. The history of terrorism: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
  77. One ring to rule them all: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  78. A deeply human account: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
  79. The origins of food: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
  80. An odd and original journey: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  81. Missionaries in Africa: The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
  82. The Enforcer: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
  83. The inner life of astronauts: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
  84. This way to the apocalypse: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  85.  A modern classic: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  86. Chilling and thrilling: The Shining by Stephen King
  87. Existentialist fiction: The Stranger by Albert Camus
  88. Meet the Lost Generation: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  89. The best book on Vietnam: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  90. Baby’s first book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  91. Mole, Toad, Rat, and Badger: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  92. From the modern Japanese master: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami
  93. Beware the “Undertoad”: The World According to Garp by John Irving
  94. Life, Love, Death: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  95. Tradition vs. change: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  96. A beloved family story: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  97. An American inspiration: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
  98. Addictively entertaining: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  99. The joys of imagination: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  100. Let the wild rumpus start!: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

If you think about this list, it has little value because it is obviously an advertising tool to sell more books at Amazon. Oh, there are a few classics but most of the list was written since I stopped wearing cowboy boots and switched to diabetic brogans. Just a few observations: some entries should never receive any kind of recommendation; some entries are still on the front rounder at Barnes & Nobel; I never heard of some entries; I never want to hear of other entries; it includes Jacqueline Susann … Spock will be pleased.

To be fair, Amazon did not title their list with any words suggesting that these were even good books: just that your lifetime will have been empty and meaningless if you haven’t read all these books before taking a dirt bath. From the other side, this list is insulting to those readers that actually are trying to read as much great literature as they can before their personal Mr. Joyboy moment. This is a nice list, for the most part, recommending books many will enjoy reading; but Amazon’s hubris damns the list simply because Amazon tried to pass it off as THE 100 Books To Read In a Lifetime.

Still, how many have you read? (I marked mine in Blue).

One response

  1. I have to question Book 35 on this list. First there’s the Amazon description of it being “One of the Best of 2013.” Should I assume that the other “best” books of 2013 are also included on this list? Besides, I thought there could only be one “best” so wouldn’t it be correct to say “One of the Better of 2013.” And since this is a lifetime list, doesn’t “one of the best of 2013” almost singlehandedly declare this list to be, as you say, an advertising ploy designed to fool readers into buying these books. Maybe Amazon over-ordered Book 35 and now is trying to unload the unwanted stock before it goes on remainder in a warehouse outside Boston.

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