According to Amazon: Books to read before you die

This is a portion of my TBR pile. How many books in your pile make the top 100 cut? (Credit: Alana Joli Abbott)

This is a portion of my TBR pile. How many books in your pile make the top 100 cut? (Credit: Alana Joli Abbott)

The lists come out every year. Sometimes more than once. “100 books to read before you die.” “100 novels everyone should read.” They’re filled with classic books, or just good books—according to the list compilers. Sometimes they come out as memes, and you can check off which books you’ve read (and see how you score compared to your Facebook friends). On February 4, 2014, Amazon released its own list of top books, hotly debated for months by a team of Amazon staffers. Since for Amazon, books are the gateway to purchases on its site for many customers, it makes sense for the online behemoth to choose a number of titles to read—but you might be surprised by some of its choices. Which of these would you include in your “to be read” (TBR) pile?

Not for homework

According to Editorial Director of Print and Kindle Books Sara Nelson, the goal of the team developing the list was to keep the selections from feeling like a homework assignment. In comments made to Dana Sand of CNNLiving, in “Amazon 100 books to read in a lifetime,” Nelson said the team wanted to avoid “’eat your vegetable’ books. There was nothing in there except ‘I loved this book when I was 12 for this reason.’ We lobbied each other.”

She also explained, “In terms of the demographic of the writers, we never sat down and said ‘we need more women’ or ‘we need more books from different cultural groups or countries.’ But overall, when I eyeball that list, it seems to have a lot of variation.”

The resulting list includes fiction and nonfiction, children’s literature and fan favorites, classics and modern novels. Most of the books are from the 20th and 21st century, but Jane Austen’s 1813 “Pride and Prejudice” is also included.

Among the selections on the Amazon list (arranged in alphabetical order to avoid internal rankings) are:

  • “1984” by George Orwell
  • “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1,” by Jeff Kinney
  • “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” by Jared M. Diamond
  • “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J. K. Rowling
  • “Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth” by Chris Ware
  • “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis
  • “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz
  • “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Anne Frank
  • “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
  • “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
  • “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
  • “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein

If you disagree with some of Amazon’s choices and want to recommend your own, a reader-selected poll is available on Goodreads.

Before you die

Dustin Kurtz, writing for the Melville House blog in “Amazon chooses ‘100 books to read in your lifetime, better hurry, why? Oh, no reason, forget I said anything” had a bleak (or, at least, satiric) outlook on Amazon’s list. He noted that Amazon “is working to develop a computing substrate for artificial intelligence. ‘100 books to read before the singularity turns you into a grey slurry’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as their list’s name, perhaps, but might be more accurate.” He also reminded readers of Amazon’s plans for a drone service, covered in Cengage Brain in December, and noted that the online superstore has changed its focus from books to other items, including grocery deliveries, saying that they might have called their list, “100 books to read before you forget what a book was.”

With these lists being released so frequently from so many sources, how can you pick through them? For one blogger, who is also a CPA and quality control auditor, the task became a huge project of analyzing and compiling. She took lists from “Time, NY Times, The Guardian,, The Novel 100, Harvard, BBC and two blogs” and included books that made at least three of the ten lists, she explained in her post, “The Challenge,” on her site 100 Books to Read Before You Die. While her list doesn’t include Amazon’s recent choices, her tabulation shows how many of the lists a book appeared on. “The Great Gatsby,” for example, appeared on 9 of the 10 lists (and, incidentally, is featured on Amazon’s list).

What books do you think everyone should read? Tell us in the comments.

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