From 50 books for today to 100 books of all time

Newsweek, to which I haven’t subscribed for more than a year, must feel its books coverage is lacking. First there was the Fifty Books for Our Time. Now it’s got a “meta-list” of The Top 100 Books. It’s a meta-list because it is compiled from 10 separate lists of best books, including not only its Fifty Books for Our Time but lists from Oprah’s Book Club to Wikipedia to U.K. newspapers.

I’m not going to repeat the list given its length. I note that will I’ve read the top two (War and Peace and 1984), there’s only two others I’ve read in the top 20 (The Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22). And, surprisingly, that’s fairly constant, as this breakdown reveals:

1-20: four
21-40: four
41-60: five
61-80: four
81-100: zero (that’s right, zero!)

Thus, percentage-wise, I’m just slightly above where I was on the books for our time list. I think my showing here stems from the fact that about a quarter of the books are “classics” from the 19th Century or earlier and roughly another quarter are from the 20th Century but pre-date the Depression. That hits a gap in my literary background because, with most classics, unless a teacher or professor made me read it, I didn’t.

Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason — they made no such demand upon those who wrote them.

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon

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