Literary Pissing Match

BooksBook lists perform many functions. Primarily they provide a shortcut to reading some very good books. But if you are thinking critically about the list and have some experience in reading and literature, you know that any list is just an opinion (and in some cases has a hidden agenda favoring a certain publisher). But lists can be fun too. I find that I can take any list and mentally reorder it, removing some titles and adding others and then, what is endlessly fascinating, I can take the same list I created last year and rethink it, making an entirely new list.

Yes, our opinions change, our literary tastes vary, even the books we once considered great have faded from memory only to be replaced by new novels we’ve read recently. I think this is the most telling thing about lists: they represent our opinions for only a relatively short time. How many times have you been told the best book is some popular story that still sits on the front-rounder at Barnes and Noble? Look at most of the lists and you’ll see a definite bias towards newer works. Take the venerable 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: You would think that the predominance of great literature was published in the last half of the Twentieth Century.

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