Friday, February 15, 2013

A literary challenge of note

A blogger has announced an interesting plan. Mathew Kahn's blog Kahn's Corner has a post where he announces his intention of reading and reviewing every year's best selling book since 1900. He's using Publisher's Weekly as his source for the best selling book of any given year.

It's an ambitious challenge to meet, and it also illustrates several facts. First off, many of the older books are ones most people under 40 have never heard of; in some cases, they might not even have heard of the author. Second, John Grisham has sold one hell of a lot of books. Third, a lot of best sellers (especially those from the second half of the list) got made into movies.

On a personal level, it's interesting for me to see which of these best sellers I have read.  Out of 94 books, these are the only 11 titles I have ever read:

1918: The U. P. Trail by Zane Grey
1929: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
1936: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1941: The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin
1952: The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
1955: Marjorie Morningstar  by Herman Wouk
1961: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
1966: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
1970: Love Story by Erich Segal
1975: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

Reassuringly, only one of the above was assigned reading in school. The others were all books I got from the library or the bookstore just to read. On the other hand, there are nine additional books where I at least watched the movie.

The first book is interesting partly because the author's name is Winston Churchill, and although he was rich and famous in his time, he's not the Winston Churchill; he's not even English.

A final observation is that I have not read a book that was a best seller if it was published after 1985. I must be very out of step with the mainstream!  Feel free to check the original post and report your count of best sellers read in a comment. I am wondering how I rate.

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