Why is it that I cannot resist a list? Anything that's touted as "the top," "the greatest," or "the best" will have me hooked. I want to jump in to see if I agree, or if there is a need to protest loudly (one of my favorite things to do).The Atlantic recently started up the debate again with the greatest books of all time (click here). This is the type of list that really gets me because I contend that people always list books that they think they should say they love, rather than the books that they secretly hold dear.
The list is based on a new book titled The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. In the introduction, David Orr says that the idea of "great" is a very fluid thing. And #2 is the sticking point for me: "'Great' means 'books that would be considered great by the most people over time.'"
So that explains why Ulysses is always near the top of the "best books" and also at the top of the "worst books of all time." Because it is, in my opinion, completely overrated, but everyone feels that they should list it. They don't want to admit that they were bored by the story or didn't understand it.
This list is probably one in which "noted authors" were trying to out-do each other in the intellectual stakes, selecting books by esteemed authors that were forced on them in school, while at home those same authors are secretly reading Tom Clancy, Agatha Christie, or Dick Francis.
I'd like to see what they would really list if they thought their answers would be anonymous. Would Anna Karenina still end up on top?