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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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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.
May. 10th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
I know the book that broke me of that habit. I was 200 pages in, and still didn't like what I was reading and finally said to myself: Why am I doing this? What do I hope to gain by forcing myself to get all the way to the end of a book that I'm not enjoying? I put the book down, and have never read anything by that author since.

But I too used to have the soldier on mentality. Not so much anymore. And my time as an editor only reinforces the idea that I don't have the time to waste on books/stories I don't like.
May. 10th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
Same here about rereading! I used to all the time in my childhood but now I know there's no way I'll ever read all the things I want to--but I'd like to read at least *some* of the things I'd like to, so--yeah, that's where my effort goes.

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