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The best 100 books written since 1982.
April 14, 2007 8:55 PM   Subscribe

British bookseller Waterstones asked its 5,000 staff to name their favourite five books written since 1982, the date Waterstone’s opened its first store. These are the results.
posted by unSane (53 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lots of my favorite books are on here, but I'm disappointed to see that the list also includes The DaVinci Code. Hrmph.

Is there any commentary anywhere? Reasons why they picked these specific books? As is, it's pretty neat, but it just reads as a list of "Well, these books were published since 1982 and people liked them!"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:01 PM on April 14, 2007


I'll cut off my right hand if anyone at Waterstone's has read past page 27 of A Brief History of Time. And The DaVinci Code?

That said, Sam Leith's article about this is quite good.
Let's first go through the motions of agreeing that lists of the 100 Best Books are childish, unoriginal, philistine marketing exercises that should be ignored by everyone with the remotest serious interest in literature.

Great. Now we can get down to the fun bit: picking them over and disagreeing noisily with their findings.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:06 PM on April 14, 2007


Unfortunately the commentary in the Telegraph is brain dead. "Unfashionable though it may sound, men write better books than women".. That's the Torygraph's Arts Correspondent. Sam Leith's commentary is marginally better.
posted by unSane at 9:07 PM on April 14, 2007


There are some little crackers in there, though. Amis' Money, the BFG, Perfume, Hawksmoor and so on. A lot of it is standard Sunday supplement fare though, skewed toward the standard 20something Waterstones black-clad drone.
posted by unSane at 9:10 PM on April 14, 2007


To be fair, the Telegraph correspondent (Reynolds) isn't actually saying men write better books. He's just pointing out that there are far more male authors on the list than female, and starting his piece with an attention-grabbing phrase — which he immediately distances himself from by saying "at least according to the experts [at Waterstone's]". The rest of the article is pretty much a dumb press release for the list, though.

I'm not saying the Telegraph is a bastion of enlightened commentary, but your quoting of the article seemed a bit unfair.

posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:15 PM on April 14, 2007


This Cloud Atlas book sounds pretty sweet.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2007


Any list of the best books of the last quarter century that doesn't include a single Philip Roth book is useless, imo.

Isn't Waterstone's the chain that fired that guy for blogging a few years ago?
posted by dobbs at 9:19 PM on April 14, 2007


In answer to my own question: yup.
posted by dobbs at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2007


It's a pretty good list overall--i'd add a Saramago and a Carey tho.

Cloud Atlas is amazing, delmoi--an excellent book.

Anyone who wants a truly incredible and heartbreaking read, go for A Fine Balance--unbelievably strong book.

(i've read 27 of these--not bad--bookstore people are always good recommenders, i find.)
posted by amberglow at 9:32 PM on April 14, 2007


and maybe Perdido St. Station or another Mieville should have been there.
posted by amberglow at 9:38 PM on April 14, 2007


Oh, if you don't like that list, there's a new International Booker Prize list
posted by amberglow at 9:40 PM on April 14, 2007


(i wonder if the list was restricted to stuff still in print or in stock today?)
posted by amberglow at 9:44 PM on April 14, 2007


Never mind Da Vinci Code, why is The Five People You Meet In Heaven on the list?
posted by dw at 9:45 PM on April 14, 2007


(better that schmaltz than Tuesdays with Morrie, i think)

I guess they thought of both beach books and "novels".
posted by amberglow at 9:48 PM on April 14, 2007


Girlfriend in a Coma is the Coupland book that got picked? Really? I had to force myself to finish that one. Yet someone thinks that's better that Microserfs, Generation X and Shampoo Planet (which I loved)? Really?
posted by oddman at 10:08 PM on April 14, 2007


I was wondering that too Oddman. Really strange pick that one.

If I read this right, only three writers had multiple appearances:

Bill Bryson
Nick Hornby
Ian McEwan
posted by dw at 10:24 PM on April 14, 2007


Honestly, I'm with you on the Da Vinci Code. Blecch. I was happy to see Time Traveler's Wife up there, though. I thought The Curious Story of the Dog that does something or other at midnight was good but it wasn't my very favorite.

More than anything I'm just thrilled to not see Geek Love on the list though. I keep running into people that gush about that book but it made me physically nauseous.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:25 PM on April 14, 2007


Haruki Murakami had two (well deserved) as well dw.
posted by scodger at 10:36 PM on April 14, 2007


As an employee of Waterstones USA* eight/nine/ten years ago, I'm sorry to report that none of those 25-years-old-or-less books would be on my list:

1 - Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)
2 - A Demon-Haunted World (Carl Sagan)
3 - Miami Blues (Charles Willeford)
4 - Pacific Edge (Kim Stanley Robinson)
5 - And the Band Played On (Randy Shilts)

* Sadly, I have a very nice Waterstones baseball cap which I have not been able to wear for the last seven years - it's black with a large "W" on the front. :(
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:45 PM on April 14, 2007


goddamn that is a shite list.
posted by vronsky at 11:11 PM on April 14, 2007


I'm just psyched that Ian Banks's The Wasp Factory was on the list.

I would have liked to see Salman Rushdie, Karen Joy Fowler, Lionel Shriver, Alice Munro, and/or Jonathan Lethem, and the Garcia Marquez, Atwood, and Ellroy selections aren't what I would have picked, but the Banks almost makes up for it.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:24 PM on April 14, 2007


No love for Ulverton? For shame!
posted by Abiezer at 11:31 PM on April 14, 2007


I'll play.

1. Infinite Jest
2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
3. Cryptonomicon
4. Smilla's Sense of Snow(listed here as "Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow," different translation?
5. Middlesex

Somehow Watchmen slipped onto this list, but it's so good, I agree they can let it slide. But no, a graphic novel isn't a novel.
posted by Emo Squid at 11:32 PM on April 14, 2007


delmoi: Cloud Atlas is an amazing, amazing book.

If it gives me more street cred in saying this, I work in a bookstore myself!

(My last picks for "Staff Picks" week: Stiff by Mary Roach and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It's actually harder than I thought it would be to come up with decent selections when the rule is "We have to have at least two copies of it, or you have to do a really good job of doing the puppy face so a manager will place an order for it - so you'd better know it's going to sell.")
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:01 AM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


With the caveat that this is a list of favorites, and not a list of The Most Important Texts of the Last Quarter Century:

1. Young Adults (Daniel Pinkwater) (Which includes both Young Adult Novel and its all-important, unfinished sequel, The Dada Boys in Collitch.)

2. My Dark Places (James Ellroy)

3. Revolution of the Mind: The Life of Andre Breton (Mark Polizzotti)

4. Friend of My Youth (Alice Munro)

5. London Fields (Martin Amis)

(And if you asked me another day, you might very well get a different list, possibly including Jeanette Winterson's The Passion, Edward Carey's Observatory Mansions, Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog, or Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:18 AM on April 15, 2007


Sweet Jesus. I hated:

The Historian
Five People You Meet in Heaven and
Magician. I suspect the only reason I don't despite The Davinchi Code is because I haven't read it. I only mildly dislike it.
posted by Jilder at 1:50 AM on April 15, 2007


miss lynnster writes 'More than anything I'm just thrilled to not see Geek Love on the list though. I keep running into people that gush about that book but it made me physically nauseous.'

Funnily enough, I was discussing this book recently with a few folk, and it took us ages to notice that the people who hated it had all read it after they'd had kids. (I'm a huge gushing fan, myself - for a time as a silly teenager, I would put 'Arturist' in the religion section of surveys and questionaires.)

dw writes 'If I read this right, only three writers had multiple appearances:

'Bill Bryson
'Nick Hornby
'Ian McEwan'


Also Margaret Atwood, unsurprisingly.

And delmoi - run, run like the wind to a bookshop to buy Cloud Atlas! Joyous book!
posted by jack_mo at 3:19 AM on April 15, 2007


I'm surprised Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass didn't make the list. That may have something to do with it being sold as Northern Lights in some areas, potentially splitting the vote.
posted by sindark at 3:50 AM on April 15, 2007


Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow? I guess it had a different title.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:32 AM on April 15, 2007


But no, a graphic novel isn't a novel.

Nor are a fair few of the books on the list - Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Frank McCourt are among the non-fiction writers on there. But the fact that Watchmen is the sole graphic novel does stick out like a sore thumb!

Also, Northern Lights did make it onto the list (with the British title, as it's a British list). That series is fantastic.
posted by featherboa at 4:33 AM on April 15, 2007


1 - Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)
Interesting pick - I really liked that book too.
Yes my biggest surprise was Girlfriend in a Coma, too. I thought Shampoo Planet was by far a better read, over G-X too. Maybe it was the title that won over the British readership.
posted by Flashman at 5:18 AM on April 15, 2007


@featherboa,

Northern Lights did make it onto the list (with the British title, as it's a British list).

Right you are. I should have looked more carefully.
posted by sindark at 5:23 AM on April 15, 2007


Carter Beats the Devil was very good, although the end got violent enough to make me a bit queasy even in retrospective.

I've never figured out why people hate the daVinci Code so much; sure, the writing is less than stellar, but the story itself was pretty interesting. It doesn't seem worth hatred... maybe mild dislike, but the book is far from worthless.
posted by Malor at 5:25 AM on April 15, 2007


I'm a bit surprised that Douglas Adams isn't on the list at all. I wonder if The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy would have made it if it had been post-1982 - I might have been inclined to put So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) on my list had I been surveyed.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:29 AM on April 15, 2007


"A Single Shot" by Matthew Jones was an astonishingly compelling read.

I thought "The English Patient" was a beautifully written book. There were about four pages of political ranting (the "brown people" rant) which added nothing to the book but otherwise the prose is remarkable.

And no James Salter? Salter is one author who seems so effortless in his prose that you itch to pick up a pen and start writing the minute you put down one of his books. Then you realize it's harder than it looks.
posted by maxwelton at 5:29 AM on April 15, 2007


Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets - David Simon
Just A Couple of Days - Tony Vigorito
The Sandman Series - Neil Gaiman
and I'd finish it off with a couple on the list.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2007


It seems (and this is from a cursory glance) fairly skewed towards the latter half of the 26 years - I guess people have a limited memory for what they dug 26 years ago.

It's also a little strange that I see a few books like "Girlfriend in a Coma" which, while a decent Coupland novel, ain't the best Coupland novel... nor the most well-known. Weird.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:25 AM on April 15, 2007


Also Margaret Atwood, unsurprisingly.

And Iain Banks, although they incorrectly credit him as Iain M Banks.
posted by ninebelow at 8:01 AM on April 15, 2007


Yay! Adrian Mole made it. A fantastic book about how crap it is being a teenager.
posted by TrashyRambo at 8:07 AM on April 15, 2007


doesn't Banks credit himself differently depending on the type of book?
posted by amberglow at 8:18 AM on April 15, 2007


Oops, I see oddman already noticed that Coupland oddity. Missed that comment.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:19 AM on April 15, 2007


Just finished The Book Thief. It's one of the more moving books I've read; I found myself quietly weeping on the train. It's inventive but not overly contrived. And surprisingly, it's considered juvenile fiction.

There are many books that I've read in the last year on here (I think I've read about 50% of the total).

The standouts for me:
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Shadow of the Wind
The Poisonwood Bible
White Teeth
Holes
posted by kimdog at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2007


Oh, and I hated The Alchemist.
posted by kimdog at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2007


Oh, and I hated The Alchemist.

I found it to be Johnathan Livingston Seagull for a new generation. Maybe it's better not in translation? (or we can blame Clinton--he used to rave about it)
posted by amberglow at 8:35 AM on April 15, 2007


Haruki Murakami had two (well deserved) as well dw.

Also Margaret Atwood, unsurprisingly.

And Iain Banks, although they incorrectly credit him as Iain M Banks.


Obviously, didn't read it right.

1 - Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)

Because of that book, I changed my major in college (environmental studies) and briefly considered a career in water law.

(I've never used my major in any of my jobs. My excuse is I've spent most of my working life doing web design/development, a nascent field when I graduated in the mid-90s.)
posted by dw at 8:36 AM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


dw, i love it when a book has that power. : >
posted by amberglow at 9:12 AM on April 15, 2007


Ms. S. and Her Vague Recollection of Frozen and Crystallized Rain.
Sorry I can't let it go.

As an ex-bookmonger myself, I found a few pleasant surprises and a few disappointments. But, this is a popular chain of stores we're polling. Not surprising it runs the gamut.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2007


doesn't Banks credit himself differently depending on the type of book?

He does: the M comes into play for the science fiction novels, which these aren't. I might well have two Banks novels on my list but they would be Use Of Weapons (M) and The Bridge (non-M) rather than these two.
posted by ninebelow at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2007


thanks, ninebelow--i had thought so. (The Bridge left me cold, personally. I'm not a big fan of either of his types of books.)
posted by amberglow at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2007


Off-topic, but related: I miss the Waterstone's shops here in the U.S. -- particularly the one on the corner of Exeter and Newbury here in Boston and the one on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on April 15, 2007


Blech. Awful list. That's not a list of good books, that's a list of bestsellers with genre fiction weeded out.
posted by painquale at 10:32 PM on April 15, 2007


Come on, Telegraph, Stephen Hawkings? Such a little typo, so informative. No one was paying any attention to this list at all. And no one should.

Aloysius Bear, I agree with you and Leith. Dan Brown? Why not Terry Pratchett? Eggers? Why not Wallace? Rowling? WTF is John Grisham? It seems Waterstone's should stick to selling books instead of reading them.


plus something about how many of them have already been made into films...
posted by headless at 2:30 AM on April 16, 2007


What!! No Vonnegut? They must consider him pathetic and an idiot.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:22 AM on April 16, 2007


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