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Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Kind of Readers are Writers?

A few years ago a list made the rounds of blogs that cater to book lovers and readers - the Top 100 Books of all time. It was estimated that the average person had read no more than six of the top books. I counted and I'd read exactly 50. That sounds like quite a feat, especially since the list tended more toward the literary than the popular, including authors like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Salman Rushdie, F Scott Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, etc.

I think my accomplishment was not quite as monumental as it might have seemed because, out of the 50 I'd read, a lot were old, many of them read when I was in high school, either as homework assignments or because the shelves in the school library were heavy on the classics. I was a voracious reader so I read whatever was available. If that was Bleak House, Tess of the D'Urbervilles or whatever, then so be it. Once I was out of school and free to choose my own reading material, I moved away from the higher-brow stuff and into the mainstream, much of it never to make any kind of "Important" list. Valley of the Dolls anyone?

So, I've read fewer of the later literary works, having lapsed into lighter and, I suppose, trashier fare in my older years (all of Janet Evanovich, for instance).

I wonder though, who it was that composed the List and what the criteria was for getting on it? Two of the modern books on the list that I'd read were: The Lovely Bones by Alice Seibold and  The Five People You Meet in Heaven (by I forget who). I enjoyed both books but I would hardly consider either of them great works of literature in the vein of, say, David Copperfield or even Lolita. By their very nature, lists tend to be snobbish. The compilers always seem to want to convince the world of their superior taste and sensibilities. Lists are created as much to be exclusive as to be inclusive, to shut people out as to bring people in. I would think this list would be intimidating to the average reader who simply isn't going to spend chunks of their precious relaxation time plowing through ponderous novels like War and Peace just because some pretentious list says they should do so if they want to be considered one of the intellectual people.

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