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In this wondrous age of the internet, we’re never more than a couple of clicks away from some form of ‘Best 100 books ever’ list (here’s a link to one produced by Time Magazine, back in January this year). 

These lists are usually chocked full of ‘classic’ literature like To Kill a Mockingbird, War and Peace or 1984.  Many of the novels listed are required reading in English classes, and (from a ‘classic’ literature point of view) rightly so, but I sometimes wonder whether there’s another test books should have to pass before they can truly be hailed as one of the best, and that’s the number of times folks come back to read them again.

Call me an uncultured numpty, but over the years I’ve read quite a lot of the books on those ‘Best 100…’ lists, and while I don’t doubt their (and their authors’) contribution to the world of literature, a major factor in deciding whether something went on my ‘best book’ list would be how many times I came back to read it again. 

With the exception of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, (both of which I’ve read at least twenty times), and the handful which I’ve read a couple of times in the last thirty years or so,  I don’t think I’ve seen any book mentioned in a top 100 list poll which I’ve wanted to read more than once.

On the other hand, novels like Terry Pratchett's Night Watch (along with many of his other Discworld books) have a permanent place in my tbr pile.

Of course, that’s just me. It’s possible everyone else has read most of those top 100s over and over. In any case, I’m not saying that makes them ‘bad’, I just don’t see how a book can be considered one of the best 100 books ever if folks don’t reread it time and time again.  If multi-reading were a factor, I suspect those lists would look dramatically different.

I’m sure Jane Austen fans re-read all her novels on a regular basis, but I do wonder how many other folks are like me and have only read most of these ‘best books ever’ once, and if they’d have read them at all if they hadn’t been required reading at some point in their academic lives.

How about you?

If you were compiling a 'Best ever' list, would you take into account the number of times folks reread the same book?  

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( 82 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 10th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
While I think that's one reasonable criteria Jon, I've noticed that as I've gotten older, I tend not to go back and re-read books nearly so often. I have so many more new books to read than to take up valuable time re-reading.

Interesting. I've actually read fewer of that list than in other similar lists in the past. Although, to be fair, they set an arbitrary time frame there from 1923 to the present which adjusts a fair amount of my reading of the classics. (I spent a lot more time reading medieval lit in college than anything from the last two centuries.)
May. 10th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
'I tend not to go back and re-read books nearly so often.'

I'm the same. I've also noticed that I'm much more inclined to give up on a book nowadays. In years past, I'd have soldiered on to the bitter end because it didn't seem right to stop.
(no subject) - temporus - May. 10th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - May. 10th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
You're an uncultured numpty.

Well you told me to!!! :) Numpty, huh? Is that a British thing? Or did you make that up. I'm going to make one of my kids name a child numpty. It's awesome.

I rarely agree with those "BEST EVER" book lists. It's so subjective. I rarely read that sort of thing and, you're right--if I do, they're not books I want to read AGAIN, only books I felt I should.

I don't have many books I read over and over again. The Giver, Lolita, LOTR, Till We Have Faces--these are some of the books I read over and over through the years. But the thought of reading Huck Finn or 1984 again? Nothing doing.
May. 10th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
Lol, I think it's a Scottish insult. I use when words like 'twit' or 'nincompoop' or 'berk' might be appropriate.
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - May. 10th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 10th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - May. 10th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 10th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
' I find personal favorite books lists that don't have the ambition to be the most definite best of lists much more interesting'

Excellent! :)
May. 10th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
I think I've read My Antonia a couple times since High School,
when I had to read it.

I recently read The Professor's House a second time,
and hope to read it several more times eventually.

And I hope to read Les Miserables at least once more.

And I've read A Christmas Carol several times.
May. 10th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
I've heard of Les Miserables, didn't he write that French Revolution musical? ;)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 10th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Probably not. I almost never reread anything -- I always want something new.
May. 10th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
'I almost never reread anything'

Lol, I hope your editor doesn't see this :P
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 10th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 10th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 10th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 10th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 10th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
I've always got a bone to pick with these kinds of lists. This one is especially Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, and John Cheever heavy. And seriously, I don't doubt the impact, but Jack Lewis's "Til We Have Faces" blows the doors off Narnia. And "Tropic of Cancer"? "Naked Lunch?" Really?

I was surprised to see Philip K. Dick, but I still think High Castle is a better book than UBIK. My personal fave of his is Valis, and Electric Sheep, fwiw.

And for Graphic Novels, The Crow didn't make the cut? Persepolis? Maus? 1602? And Watchmen is on the list for both graphic novels AND books?

For books, what about A Confederacy of Dunces? Black Sun? Age of Innocence? Heart of Darkness? The Good Earth? The Awakening!

And for re-readability, what about "The Shining"?
May. 10th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
On a slightly different tangent, what did you think of the movie version of The Crow?
(no subject) - wendigomountain - May. 10th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 10th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
Which reminds me
-You know, I couldn't put Stacy's latest book down.

-That good, huh?

-No, but she had the foresight to make the dust jacket out of flypaper.
May. 10th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Which reminds me
Oh dear, oh dear. That was bad :)
Re: Which reminds me - msstacy13 - May. 10th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 10th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
I read LoTR every year or so from when I first picked it up in about 1973 to when the second movie came out (which I think would be about 2002). I've only read it once more since then, Peter Jackson did such a great job with the movies that he spoiled the book for me, though I wish he'd added the scouring of the Shire.

I'd say about a quarter of my annual book input is rereading my faves. I'm the same with music and movies, I like to enjoy stuff againa and again.
(no subject) - wendigomountain - May. 10th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 10th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
No, I wouldn't take that into account at all, really. At least, I wouldn't concentrate on that. I would look at the way the novel in question changed or elevated the literary world. That would be one criterion. I certainly would not take into account how "popular" the book was.

Bridges of Madison County was popular. Need I say more?
May. 10th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean, but just as there are 'fad' books, I believe there are also 'Emperor's New Clothes' books, which we're told are great, but when you read them, they've either lost their magic in the years since they appeared or never had it to begin with.

May. 10th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
I rarely read a book twice, and if I do it is usually because I forgot I read it. :) I don't always agree with those best books list but there are books on that list I have read and they (for me) are impossible to forget. I noticed Revolutionary Road is on that list too,
which I'm reading now and its pretty much a "best book" in my opinion
when it comes to portraying characters.
May. 10th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
' and if I do it is usually because I forgot I read it'

Lol :)
May. 10th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
I found just five books on that list that I have read. All but two of them were required reading in English Literature and I would not dream of picking them up again. The two I read by choice were LOTR and Gone with the Wind. I don't possess a copy of the later, but would not hesistate to reread it. That said, I would never reread the dreadful continuation of the story taken up by someone else and made a thorough mess of.

My copy of LOTR is so worn through rereading that it is almost disintegrating. I have other books in this state, none of which appeared on the list. I agree with you about what makes a book great, and that is the wish to revisit despite knowing the outcome. I think it is the twists and turns along the way and how the thing is layered that makes a difference. Well they do for me, anyhow.
May. 10th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
About ten years ago, Senior Management bought me a hardback illustrated edition. I don't know what paper they used, but it even feels magnificent :)
May. 10th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
Wow. I've read a whole six books out of this list. Of course, I recognized most of them, but I never had to or chose to read the rest. Considering I've probably read more than a thousand books in my lifetime, that's not many.

When I was young, I re-read a lot. Now, not so much due to time restraints. My favorite on the list, and forever more, is To Kill a Mockingbird. The only other book I've re-read as much was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Where's that one on this list? I see Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, so some juvenile reading made the list (though The Outsiders is really young adult).

Oh, well, I guess I just don't do literature much.
May. 10th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
I hope I'm not coming across as criticizing the books themselves, but I do wonder if there isn't a certain amount of literary snootiness when it comes to how some of these lists get made.
May. 10th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
Interesting list. Is this actually an All Time Best list or rather Books of Importance list? Seems to me to be a bit more of the latter.

As far as books I've re-read more than others, these would go on my All Time Favorites list. It wouldn't mean that I would place them automatically on the All Time Best list but it would not surprise me to do so.

LOTR stands far above the others though as my favorite and most re-read. It would have to top my All Time Best list as well, for the reaction I had to it. Many books have moved me, less than a handful have made me weep. LOTR changed how I perceived story and imagination, how I thought.

May. 10th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
I remember being fascinated with Gollum. I felt so sorry for the Smeagol side of him.
May. 10th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
I think in addition to how many times you might want to read a book is how long the book stays with you, and how much it influenced you or your life or your writing. On my personal list, I'd have both books I've read once and never forgotten and books I've read five times because they're fun. Absalom! Absalom! is one of my favorite books, and I've read it once (it's difficult but worth it and it remains with me); The Hoax is a book I've read three times in one year because I didn't want to give up the characters in it. Both would go on my list of favorites, and they are so different!

When people compile lists, how do they keep it universal? Books that are still around after fifty years? a hundred years? It's interesting ...
May. 10th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
I like this idea of including how long a book stays with you and how it influences you. Sometimes there can be a book that you don't exactly like (or maybe even dislike), but it can have a big effect on you.
(no subject) - clarionj - May. 10th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 10th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I always do wonder how these lists are compiled. Well, I guess it's like what gets taught in English literature classes: there are fads, and they change, and what's considered great changes too. Some things transcend the time and place they were written in; they speak to people for generations. That seems like a pretty high recommendation, to me. I really do feel that way about some of the Russian lit I've read. I think part of my being able to like it, though, was that I came to it myself and wasn't arm-twisted into reading it as part of some course requirement.

But a book can still be awfully good even if it *doesn't* transcend time and place. And a book might be mediocre, and still speak to me at some point in my life, you know? So for "great literature" I tend to look to what's had sticking power over the years and what's read by people in more than one country... but as for what I like, well, that's something else again.
May. 10th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
'I always do wonder how these lists are compiled'

I suspect the publishing companies have more than a little input, but then I'm a cynical old so and so ;)
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