The Library Journal recently asked librarians across the country to send in nominations for the century's best fiction titles. The journal then published a list of 150 most popular titles, which turned out to be mostly American and British male writers.
People seem to love book lists. Perhaps they want to compare tastes, see if they have read the same titles, argue about rankings. Many people also are looking for tips on good books to read and in that regard this list is useful if not groundbreaking. Here are the Top 20 starting with what was described as the far and away top choice:
1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (1960).
2. "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger (1945)
3. "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien (1956)
4. "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
5. "Beloved" by Toni Morrison (1987)
6. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker (1982)
7. "1984" by George Orwell (1949)
8. "Animal Farm" by George Orwell (1954)
9. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding (1954)
10. "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller (1961)
11. "The Good Earth" by Pearl Buck (1931)
12. "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White (1952)
13. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
14. "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1969)
15. "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1970)
16. "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry (1986)
17. "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
18. "Farenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury (1952)
19. "Rebecca" by Daphne DuMaurier (1938)
20. "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (1939)
I was pleased to see the children's book "Charlotte's Web" included on this list but then decided it was ranked too high. "Little House on the Prairie" should have had its ranking.
I was delighted to see "Lonesome Dove" in the Top 20, too. I found it difficult to start but absolutely riveting once the story got going.
I'm sure "The Good Earth" will be replaced in the years to come by a Chinese writer, not a European who lived in China. Amy Tan's 1989 "The Joy Luck Club" was listed at number 51. I predict she will trade rankings with Buck in the years to come.
And I look forward to the day when "Animal Farm" and "1984" fall back on the list as we become a society less fearful of Communism and conformity.
I'd like to see other, less predictable, titles on the Library Journal's list. The most recently published book on the list belongs to James McBride for his 1996 memoir "The Color of Water." It was wonderful to see this title listed, even if it only came in at number 146.
Marion Zimmer Bradley's 1983 book, "The Mists of Avalon," came in at number 69. Her retelling of the Arthurian legend was an unabashed feminist fantasy. Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler made the list, too, with Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees" at number 84 and "Breathing Lessons" at 120. Both books were published in 1988. "The Stone Diaries" (1994) by Carol Shields came in at number 49.
I will admit that there was one book on the list that I never heard of before: Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," published in 1959, which was ranked at number 133.
Other children's books on the list include "Little House on the Prairie" (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder at number 32 and (yawn) "Winnie the Pooh" (1926) by A.A. Milne at number 34.
Wallace Stegner's 1971 "Angle of Repose" came in at number 42, which I found a little surprising. I like Stegner's work, but had a hard time reading that book.
I was also surprised to see a favorite of mine, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" by Katherine Anne Porter, published in 1939, make the list. It came in at number 55, which goes to show that librarians are a romantic lot.
And I frankly look forward to the day when all of Henry James' books fall off these lists. "The Ambassadors" of 1903 was listed at number 107, "The Golden Bowl" of 1904 at number 102. I start screaming in frustration before I finish one of his long, leaden paragraphs.
Give me Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres" (1991) at number 123 or "The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene (1951) at number 145.
As for Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain" (1924), I would like to know how many librarians really read that novel in order to place it at number 111. 'Fess up.
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