How many different books can be the best book of all time?
Readers of books surely have more than one favorite book. There are different genres and sub-genres that one can break down into a list of personal classics. One could also devise a list of books based on time – not just of the period or era a book was published, but the year or stage of life that the reader consumed the book.
In any given month there are far more books published than used to be released in a year just a generation ago. And in one year there are far more books published than used to exist in all of the book world of all time up until the 1950s. The market is flooding us with books at a time when we have an explosion of content online and more TV available than ever before and more music than in the history of the industry. To make a list of best books seems harder and harder when we can’t even get to a tiny fraction of those available to us.
It seems like up until the past decade or two, making a list of best books was not so difficult. In the 500+ year history of printing books, certain authors and titles hit a classic status and remained there for generations – even for centuries.
We all read Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Twain, and the like, whether we enjoy, understand or value their work. Schools, libraries, museums, and bibliophiles and bookstores push their works onto us. But what books, especially from the last 40-50 years are truly great, significant, and enjoyable?
Plenty, and that’s what makes putting a list together so hard. More often than not, lists will vary from person to person, and over time the variance will increase because as the market provides more choices, more people will read and celebrate different books. We will become a fractured reading public, with no unanimity on what the great books are. Even our definition of greatness will not match-up with one another.
At best, we will have to create more narrowly defined best book lists. There will be many of them. For instance, look at gender. What are the best books by men – or for men? By women or for women? By gays or for them? By transgender – or for them?
We can do it by era, race, region, and other demographics. Who are the best Catholic, Muslim or Jewish writers? Which books are best by a genre, such as romance, sci-fi, or fantasy? Which are the best subs-genres, like erotica, space travel, or lesbian vampire thrillers?
So many books can speak differently to us at different times. Some books have lasting power transcending the tastes of society long after the author has died, and those books ring true because they examine human nature – ethics, love, life-death struggles, power, family, and faith.
I must confess that I’ve not read some of the great books but consumed them as plays or movies. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo would be a good example. Is that a category unto itself – best movie-adaptation of a book?
Books hit best-seller lists, get reviewed, win awards, get ranked in polls, and are placed on a variety of recommended reading lists. But none of this makes a book great. And no book may be able to remain great forever, for times change and even being human gets redefined by technology, medicine, and science. Perhaps one day we are more cyborg-like, filled with gene-altering drugs and computer chips implanted in our brains, mixed in with foods from a lab, and when we attempt to read a book from 1997 or 1697 it will seem so foreign from our world that we won’t even be able to relate to the work that some now refer to as great or best.
A book is great if it makes an impression on you and helps you understand or live your life. Read a book and seek out what you believe to be great.
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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 email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs
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