A bit of British vs American literature crap

by Rachel Baker on May 11, 2014

Over at the Guardian, there’s an article by Robert McCrum re: Amazon’s 100 books to read in a lifetime list and how its completely full of gaps.

Its not the best article I’ve read from the Guardian’s book section, but I thought I’d share it. It is interesting to look at the differences between the lists, if nothing else. But rather than focusing on the lack of intellect that American readers have, maybe its more important to focus on the phenomena that is Amazon.

It seems like some tech companies right now, are throwing things at the wall to see what sticks – Amazon right there with it. I would bet that within this list, the price of some of these books has gone up while other, better, more intellectual books that should have been on this list, have had their prices decreased. I suspect if I looked hard enough, I’d see more than a few Amazon published books on this list (even if they are reprints).

In my humble opinion, this list is nothing more than an experiment – and maybe that experiment is nothing more than seeing if the sheep will buy the books they say are the most important to read in a lifetime, or maybe its just seeing how much ruckus they can stir up between the UK and the US regarding who has the best literature.

Ever since George Bernard Shaw mischievously declared that America and Britain were two countries divided by a common language, there’s been a steady cultural commentary exploring the nuances of difference.

And now the British and American “editors” of Amazon have generously supplied two lists of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” to provide, as it were, a long footnote to Shaw’s witticism.

The American list, predictably, sells each title with a mini-blurb, so that, in case you didn’t know, Alice will send you “down a rabbit hole” and Harry Potter will introduce you to “the boy wizard”. From the off, this American “bucket list” touches only the most unsurprising bases: Orwell, Morrison, Vonnegut, Roth and Salinger. And it appears to think that virtually no books were published before 1850.

On both sides of what it insists on calling “the pond”, Amazon rarely goes off piste from the well-travelled slopes of contemporary literary fashion.

American Amazon appears never to have heard of Henry James or Mark Twain or Edgar Allan Poe, and to be only on nodding terms with Charles Dickens (Great Expectations) and Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice). Theirs is a list for the Game of Thrones generation.


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