The Book Coop’s Top 100 List
A few days ago I came across this article about Robert McCrum’s list of the best novels written in English. McCrum in case you don’t know was the editorial directory chap of Faber & Faber from 1979 to 1989 (according to Wikipedia) and has written a few books including P. G. Wodehouse: A Life and co authored The Story of English with William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Personally I know as much about him as I do about these books (nothing). Anyway – he spent two years coming up with this list. Here are the top ten:
1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
The list has already been criticised for its lack of women, lack of fantasy and general diversity. The trouble with these lists also being that no one is going to agree with them. We all have our own opinions as to what should be there and what shouldn’t. I haven’t read a great deal of these I admit and the ones I have I didn’t even like very much apart from Tom Jones by Henry Fielding there. My main problem with this list though is that it is basically just a list of classic English books that anyone could come up with just by picking names out of a hat. It doesn’t say or do anything that hasn’t been done a million times before.
My second problem is – why the Hell should I care about Robert McCrum’s opinion? Until I read this article I didn’t know him. Why does he get to say these are the best books written in English – why him alone? I’ve always been a little sceptical really about lists. The ‘1001 Books Before you Die’ list for example – well why? I’m even distrustful of book prizes like the Booker or even the Pulitzer. (Personally speaking I think the Pulitzer Prise winners are more worthy. I have never read a Booker winner that I liked!) Why should I care about a list, written by a bunch of people I don’t know who are probably a load of book snobs. That’s a bit judgemental right there I guess, but who gets to make a list? What makes a person qualified to make a list official enough to be mentioned by The Guardian?
I prefer the BBC’s Big Read List as it is a list nominated by people and it is by far more representative – and contains good books. From Harry Potter to Ulysses, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Count of Monte Cristo. I may not agree with every book on there, but I feel every book deserves to be there and there are some good recommendations.
Well – all this got me thinking about my own top 100. What qualifies a person for making a list? I may not have a PhD in English Literature or ever be the director of a big old publishing house, or even write for The Guardian. However I read, don’t I? If Robert McCrum can make a list, so can I.
However now I have to think – what will this list be? It’d be too easy to just list a bunch of my favourites – a little too subjective. Of course, it has to be subjective otherwise I don’t think the list will be of any value. Objectively I can say The Book Thief is a good book. Subjectively I hated it.
So will my list be the same – English Language Authors? Or should I do International Authors? Or the Top 100 books beginning with the letter R.
I do like reading foreign authors but I probably haven’t yet read 100 of them. Also, I would then be sad to miss out many a good English language author. Maybe I should just settle with my 100 best of all time. Or I could split it up into categories. I would like to do continents – then I could really say it is the world’s best books. It might take me my life time in which to read enough books from every continent to be able to choose books that deserve to go on a list. And I’m not an organised reader enough to really concentrate on reading from such a narrow specification.
I’m beginning to see why it took this McCrum two years to write up this list. Frankly, I’m a little impressed – I won’t even read 100 books in two years due to my slothlike reading capabilities as of late. So don’t expect to see a list for a while yet – I’m speaking years, not days or weeks – years. By which time no one will remember reading this here blog post and who knows what will be going on in life. Of course – I do have a fair idea of some books already that should be on this list – maybe – if they fit.
This is work under construction. I need to decide on a theme – if there will be one – to my list. Hmm.