Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Greatest Book List is Impossible & Faulty

While recently searching for lists of great books and all-time classics, I had to confront a number of concerns and issues, including these:

·         Who got to choose such a designation for a book and what credentials do they have?

·         What criteria was employed to come up with these lists?

·         How did the individual members of a group draw a consensus – was it negotiated, debated or just voted on?

·         How often should such a list be reviewed and edited to determine which books fade into irrelevance in favor or newer, perhaps better ones?

·         How many books did the group members read?  What did they consult to gain insight on books worthy of their consideration?

It’s certainly hard to compare books from one generation to another – and it’s difficult to keep up with the torrent of books produced today (more than 1,000 every 24 hours from traditional publishers).  Further, you have human bias tossed into the equation.  

Is there really a good method by which to truly judge which books are best?

There are some metrics that could be used, but each has its shortfalls.  Let’s take a look:

Do we judge a book based on being a bestseller?  If so, which lists do we look at?  What about total sales of a book – including those that aren’t verified by bestseller lists?  Is popularity enough of a reason to judge a book?  If so, Fifty Shades of Grey would rank very high, but no one is confusing that with the works of Shakespeare.

Social Media
This more recent invention can give us statistical analysis on how often a book is tweeted, liked, or discussed on a platform such as YouTube.  But those could be negative comments or they can be pushed by an assertive author.  Again, such a measurement doesn’t indicate quality.

News Media
Should we rank a book high because it was well-reviewed by traditional or respected media?  Self-published or smaller independent presses produce some great books but the major media doesn’t always give ink to them.  They choose to review books that big publishers produce (perceived bias) or the ones from publishers who tend to finance their publication through advertising.

Which awards – and how many of them – must a writer win or place high in to get a ranking worthy of greatness?  What is the application and selection process like at each award?  Some awards are politically driven. Others select from a pool of paid applicants, thus limiting others from participating.  Further, what bias exists for the judges, and how many books do they have time to read or review?  If a thousand books were submitted to an award, this represents eight hours of publishing’s productivity.  Based on 3,000 books published daily – from traditional to self-published – the award is only looking at a tiny fraction of all books released that year.  Even then, who has time to read all of them in order to make a legitimate judgment?

It’s too soon to judge the socio-political impact a book could have on society during the first year of a book’s existence, so time would be needed to see how a book influences others and touches the world.  It would admittedly be difficult to quantify a book’s global impact.

If a lot of people who are well-known, credentialed experts, and trusted individuals come out in support of a book, should weight be given to them to determine a book’s greatness? How do we rate the testimonial-givers or the testimonials?

Do our intelligent, trained, educated and experienced librarians, readers, editors,teachers – and even other authors – serve best to determine a book’s greatness?  Who has the time to participate in judging and ranking books?

Let’s say each method is faulty, but relevant to be used in combination with one another to draw some kind of limited conclusion about a select number of books from each year’s production of books.  Now take the list of the year’s best books, break it down by genre, and tell me how many books should be on this list.  Now compare one year’s list to another and another and another. After just 50 years you would have thousands of books on the list.  Now look back into the centuries past.  A conservative list of all-time books could easily total 10,000.

If you read a book a week, in 200 years you would get through a list that would by then have likely doubled or tripled in size.  The process, as you can see, to create any list is limited by time, subjectivity, money, experience, training, and politics.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to put such a list together, for something to guide us is better than nothing at all, but we should realize these lists are faulty and need improvement.

However, if you want to see what some of the perceived experts say are some of the best books of all time, take a look at these randomly and subjectively chosen links:

My favorites?  As A Man Thinketh, Man's Search for Meaning, and most works by Leo Buscaglia, Dale Carnegie, George Orwell, Joseph Heller, Norman Vincent Peale , Og Mandino, Stephen Covey,  Ken Blanchard, Tony Robbins, and gosh, a hundred other writers just from this past century would occupy a list by themselves.

What do you believe are the best books ever?


2015 Book PR & Marketing Toolkit: All New

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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