Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book List Ballot Box Stuffing

Modern Library, the highbrow imprint of Random House did one of those 100 Best Novels list things that anyone can do. Since such lists are ubiquitous the value lies in the prestige of the listmakers. Modern Library which reprints classic works of literature would seem to have that sort of clout. Indeed, their list is full of the usual suspects. This particular list could have been made any time in the last fifty years and not have been much different.

Say what you want about contemporary fiction, but there is a notable absence of anything written in the past twenty-five years. The literature canon ossified solid about the time that John Steinbeck pushed James Fennimore Cooper off of required reading lists.

Honestly, if you make such a list in this day and age without including at least one book by Toni Morrison, you are setting yourself up for accusations of fuddy-duddyness. Slaughterhouse Five doesn't appear until number 18, but I can live with that, even if I don't recognize a few of the books rated higher.

Where they really made a mistake was in letting the readers vote on their own list. Methinks some folks with a little too much time on their hands and some rather ideological agendas did some ballot box stuffing. Let's compare the top ten in each.
  1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
  2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
  6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
  7. CATCH-22
  8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
  9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
  10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

  1. ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand
  3. BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. ANTHEM by Ayn Rand
  8. WE THE LIVING by Ayn Rand
  9. MISSION EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
  10. FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard
So according to the readers of this site, the greatest authors ever were Ayn Rand and L.Ron Hubbard, followed distantly by J.R.R. Tolkien. Noted horndog and crypto-fascist Robert Heinlein gets five entries on the longer list. I could go on for days about what this says about the internet community at large, but I won't, largely because I dislike death threats from rabid cult members.

But it does make clear to me why Ron Paul is not President in real life and why we better never go to online voting for things that really matter. At least not until the counting software is really, really secure.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this list remarkably like the list that Random House itself put out at the start of the new millennium? I mean the similarities go down to the odd inclusion of Zuleika Dobson. Is this just that old list, now in internet form? Or is this their big moment of sticking to their guns, letting us know that literature hasn't changed at all in the past eight years?

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I wouldn't touch a book on the readers' list with a ten foot pole.

Gatsby is one of my favorite novels.

yellojkt said...

It could easily be the same list. There is definitely nothing newer than 2000 on the list.

I've actually read The Rountainhead, but I will never read any ElRon.

Ed & Jeanne said...

How come Cat in the Hat didn't make the list. I mean, come on!