Readers love to keep lists. They track the books they have read and maintain lists of the books they want to read. They look forward to the published lists of notable and best books of the year. The New York Times, Amazon.com, Publishers Weekly, Goodreads, NPR, and others publish annual best books lists. There seems to be no shortage in the insatiable desire for book lists.
Books lists are constantly evolving. There are lists and then sublists of the lists. Booklists categories include genre, publication period, author nationality, and author demographics. How does one go about deciding the best books list? Do sales determine the best books? If that is the case, then Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes has the distinction of selling more copies than any other book worldwide. This influential Spanish novel deserves a place on the well-curated bibliophiles’ to-read list. But then we come to the number two best-selling worldwide book, a Chinese-English dictionary. Useful, but not a likely entry for a reading list. Sales alone seem to be an inadequate basis for book rankings. Book reviewers, academics, and readers all rank books and generate lists. No two lists are the same. List making is subject to the prejudices of their makers.
One enterprising blogger has employed an algorithm to generate a best-of list based on, well, a lot of lists. The algorithm searches on and indexes books based on their rankings from 130 published “best of” book lists. Academics, editors, reviewers, authors, and readers contributed to the lists. The algorithm favors experts over general reader rankers but factors them in. So, how does the computer rank The Greatest Books? In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust came in at number one. The work is considered revolutionary and has influenced much of 20th-century literature. Proust’s novel consists of seven volumes. Any reader with In Search of Lost Time on their bucket list should probably start reading it now. Ulysses by James Joyce came in at number two, and Don Quixote also fared well. The computer ranked it third. Readers interested in the computer-generated rankings can find them at The Greatest Books of All Time.