View From The Glen

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Book Lists

I noticed the Globe & Mail is getting on board the latest fad - creating a "Best Book List" - in their case, the 50 Greatest Books.

As if.

The problem I have with book lists in general is that they can never be anything but narrow. Whether you like or dislike a book is a very personal choice that depends - as much as anything - on your mood at the time you read it. I have read books that I loved that I would hesitate to call great, and books so well written that didn't really move me at all. And who defines great anyway?

Take any "great" work and you will get two opposing viewpoints on it in a heartbeat. So lists just stir up a whole lot of yays and nays from the two camps who either agree with, or are vehemently opposed to, the author's choices. When I read a list I either: a) agree and feel smug or b) disagree and think the list is obviously flawed.

You could argue that lists at least give readers some new suggestions, but as most lists are just that - a list - with no edifying background or comment as to why a particular book merits inclusion in the first place, they really don't provide much help. Personally, I'd rather read a review.

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