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A Books of the Century reading challenge

I was so intrigued by Daniel Immerwahr’s creation, The Books of the Century website, that I decided to launch a reading challenge based on it.

Immerwhar has compiled a list for each year of the 20th Century based on

  1. The top ten bestsellers in fiction, as recorded by Publishers Weekly;
  2. The top ten bestsellers in nonfiction, also as recorded by Publishers Weekly;
  3. The main selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, founded in 1926;
  4. “Critically acclaimed and historically significant books, as identified by consulting various critics’ and historians’ lists of important books.”

Given the range and breadth of the books covered, I thought this a particularly good opportunity to combine some excellent and classic reading along with a bit of history. Because it is built on bestseller and Book-of-the-Month club lists, I think it tends to reflect American culture at the time. As compiler Immerwahr points out, the lists reflect that “the books we remember today were often not the books that were most popular in the past (in 1925, the year The Great Gatsby was published, the fiction list was topped by A. Hamilton Gibbs’s Soundings).” That’s why I’ve created a Books of the Century Challenge blog to encourage others to participate.

Given the number of books on the lists, this will be an ongoing challenge, not limited to one year. The books read need not be exclusively for the challenge.

At least for the first year, the levels will be:

  • Popular Literary Culture 101 — Five books from the entire list.
  • Popular Literary Culture 201 — Ten books from the entire list.
  • Popular Literary Culture 301 — One book from any of five different decades on the list.
  • Popular Literary Culture 401 — One book from each decade on the list.
  • Master’s in Popular Literary Culture — Twenty books from the entire list, with at least each decade represented once.
  • Doctorate in Popular Literary Culture — Two or more books from each decade on the list.

Although I’m organizing the challenge, I’m not going to start out shooting for a doctorate. My plan is to take the 400 level course, reading a book from each decade on the list. If you’re interested in taking part, head on over to Books of the Century Challenge and sign up with the Mr. Linky in the inaugural post. Participants will be able to post reviews on that blog.


Does there, I wonder, exist a being who has read all, or approximately all, that the person of average culture is supposed to have read, and that not to have read is a social sin? If such a being does exist, surely he is an old, a very old man.

Arnold Bennett, The Journals Of Arnold Bennett

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