PBS has compiled a list of the 100 "best" books written in English. The term "best" is loose. Over the course of the summer, in an effort to promote reading, they are allowing people to vote for their favorites to come up with "America's Greatest Read". They are also promoting the books and the great themes of literature with an eight-part television series discussing the books, the authors, themes, and other areas.
The list was complied by a survey and a blue-ribbon panel and, as with any of these "best" lists one can take exception to what is included and excluded. In the end it is probably irrelevant. I, personally, have read 36 of the 100.
The main points are, to me, that we should vote here and that we should contribute and advertise this and other promotional "tours" that encourage reading. I am not one of those who is going to try to read the 64 I have "missed" on the list - many of them hold no interest to me and, though I am sure they are well done, I have other books to read that are more my style.
If you want, drop a comment as to how many of the 100 you've read. We can even talk about which books we wished were on the list but please, vote and encourage others to read more books!
It is now 48 years since the first collection of stories featuring the heroic pair Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser appeared in book form. Fritz Lieber and his friend Harry Otto Fischer created the characters in 1934 and they first appeared in print in 1939 in the magazine Unknown.
Lieber and Fischer created the characters to try to give a more "real" heroes than Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan. Lieber wrote almost all of the stories and, starting in the mid-1960s, organized the many disparate stories published by that time and filled in the gaps in the storyline.
The first collection includes the most highly acclaimed story of the entire series, "Ill Met in Lankhmar", which won both the Hugo (1971) and Nebula (1970) awards. The stories, individually and in their collected form had a significant influence on the creators of the game Dungeons & Dragons. Some of the characters are actually included in some of the guide books for the game.
Lieber is one of the great writers of the fantasy genre and his characters Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser and many aspects of Lankhmar and the world Nehwon are seen in books and stories and characters scores of years removed. There are seven collections in book form but my favorite, for the aforementioned story which tells of the first meeting of the two heroes, is Swords and Deviltry.
I have been digging into some family history recently and find it fascinating to look back at what was and compare it to what is. One hundred years ago the world was still engulfed in the War to End All Wars and, even with that "resolved" would plunge into the great influenza pandemic that winter. One could argue in some sense we are no further along.
Anyway, in 1918 there was no Nobel Prize for literature and a novel called His Family by Ernest Poole won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. I don't know anyone who can remember Mr. Poole or his novel. But, in 1918, a book titled My Antonia was published and is still in print today. Willa Cather's classic is still read in schools and is at the top of the Goodreads list of "Most Popular Books Published in 1918" with over 155,000 people having it in their lists on that site.
The next most popular book is the ubiquitous Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Although less well used in the age of the online than it was in my school days, this venerable book has over 114,000 listings. Not bad for being 100 years old!
After that things fall off precipitously. No other book garners even 17,000 listings. I do recognize many of the authors of the next tier of books from a century past - Kahlil Gibran, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs - though the one I think most poignant is the 10th ranked book, The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen.
Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War. His poetry reflects the grim reality of war and he is considered the foremost poet of the period. In honesty only a few of his poems were published before his death and the full collection of all his works had to wait until 1963. But Goodreads places over 7,000 listings for the original few.
One final interesting inclusion in Goodreads list of the top 200 is Robert Baden-Powell's Girl Guiding. Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes had founded the scouting movement in 1908 (boys) and 1910 (girls) in England and the Scouting Movement quickly spread to the United States and many other countries. Girl Guiding was the second handbook for girls.
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)