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Best Books
July 13, 2008 7:12 PM   Subscribe

The Worlds Best Books (1909), One Hundred Best Books (1916), One Thousand Books for a Village Library (1895), The Book Lover, a Guide to the Best Reading (1889), The Choice of Books (1905), A Thousand of the Best Novels (1919), Comfort Found in Good Old Books (1911), A Guide to the Best Historical Novels (1911), A Guide to Historical Fiction (1914), and lots more..
posted by stbalbach (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Disclaimer: I would not expect anyone (without a masochist streak) to actually use these books as they were intended, as a reading guide, except perhaps for the last few about historical fiction which are still useful. Antique "best of" books are curiosities unto themselves, the format is both familiar yet hauntingly remote in the selections - many of the authors and works are now almost extinct from public awareness, while even among the best known authors, established canonical classics are missing while the recognized duds are given top billing. In the early days of the Modernist movement, with its emphasis on the uncertainty of 19th century morality, there was a sense things were changing in a fundamental way, that "human character had changed" (Woolf); encyclopedias and canonical lists had become all the rage with a longing to find order in a seemingly increasingly scattered culture.
posted by stbalbach at 7:13 PM on July 13, 2008


Your list of lists sucks.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:29 PM on July 13, 2008


One Thousand Books for a Village Library (1895):

Darwin (Charles) Descent of Man
Origin of Species
Journal of Researches into the Natural History of the Countries visited during the Voyage of the " Beagle " round the World . .
Life and Letters of : edited by his Son . .

Hopefully still in your Village Library another hundred years from now.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2008


Your list of lists sucks.

Can't be as bad as Scotland in August.

This lists of lists is interesting. The first book recommended in A Thousand of the Best Novels is titled Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams. I'd like to read it.
posted by ageispolis at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2008


So it's like the Internet, except that the lists aren't divided artificially to inflate hit-counts?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:40 PM on July 13, 2008


The first book recommended in A Thousand of the Best Novels is titled Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams. I'd like to read it.

You can download a PDF at manybooks.net, free of charge. It's from Project Gutenberg.

"As a narrative of cowboy life, Andy Adams' book is clearly the real thing. It carries its own certificate of authentic first-hand experience on every page." - Chicago Herald
posted by fireproof at 9:44 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Guide to Historical Fiction remains the best starting point for finding pre- and early-twentieth century historical fiction, despite its age; Baker is very good at turning up obscure books, children's lit, etc. It's nice to have it digitized.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:53 PM on July 13, 2008


In the second link, One Hundred Best Books, all the links seem to go to a book called One Hundred Dante Books by one Ernest Hatch Wilkins. I see archive.org is still up to its old shenanigans :)

That said, these books are charming, especially the marginalia notations in The Worlds Best Books. I like to think of whoever it was who had the copy and followed its strictures to the utmost. I wonder what became of him or her.
posted by Kattullus at 9:54 PM on July 13, 2008


Better link to One Hundred Best Books (with correct PDFs).
posted by gubo at 10:04 PM on July 13, 2008


uh, I'll try that again.
posted by gubo at 10:06 PM on July 13, 2008


Hah, one of the lists in The World's Best Books (by "that noted scholar" sir John Lubbock [wikipedia page vandalized at the moment]) ranks Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii as one of the books of contemporary fiction "best worth reading."
posted by Kattullus at 10:11 PM on July 13, 2008


Oh, and one Benjamin R. Davenport also chooses The Last Days of Pompeii for his list of "Best Fifty Books of the Greatest Authors Condensed for Busy People" and, for good measure, another book by Bulwer-Lytton, My Novel (in comparison, Homer only gets one, The Iliad, not the The Odyssey). Hamilton W. Mabie chose Bulwer-Lytton's Harold for his list of "high-grade" historical novels. I never realized that Bulwer-Lytton hadn't always been considered a joke.
posted by Kattullus at 10:23 PM on July 13, 2008


Echoing that maybooks.net plug, I would also note that the "true true factual diary and TRUE" subgenre of nineteenth-century publications has been a real winner for me over time. I've read sailing memoirs, Twain's Innocents Abroad (and lots more - the guy is really and truly a genius), pirate narratives... it's really a remarkable genre.
posted by mwhybark at 10:45 PM on July 13, 2008


I never realized that Bulwer-Lytton hadn't always been considered a joke.

While B-L's reputation for being overwrought is of long standing, he was considered a major novelist well into the twentieth century, and on both sides of the Atlantic. IIRC, you can find his name somewhere near the top of the Grand Staircase in the Chicago Cultural Center. If you're a literary historian, he still is a major novelist: he influenced the development of a number of nineteenth-century subgenres (historical fiction, Newgate novels, silver fork fiction, horror, science fiction, the philosophical novel, etc.).

"The Haunted and the Haunters; Or, the House and the Brain" still works pretty well, IMHO.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:18 AM on July 14, 2008


Today's lists are similarly packed with selections that people will wonder and chortle over in a hundred years. "Don DeLillo? Really?"
posted by pracowity at 4:56 AM on July 14, 2008


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