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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
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2010 Reads > TMIAHM: Heinlein RULES the Modern Library Reader's List of 100 Best Novels

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message 1: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
One of the obsessions of the thief in The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is 'acquiring' rare books named in the Modern Library's List of the 100 Best Novels. So I decided to check out this list online.

The Modern Library's official list is about what you'd expect. The companion Reader's List (based on online votes) had some surprises, though. For instance, Heinlein kicks serious ass all over it. Sure, Tolkien, Herbert and (ugh) L. Ron Hubbard beat him for some of the juiciest, highest rankings, but Heinlein books take up SEVEN of the 100 slots, with our current pick The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at #15. The only other author close to that many titles on the Reader's List is Ayn Rand with 4 titles. (Stephen King gets a paltry 2 titles!)

Of course, it's obviously an older poll, because there's no Harry Potter, no Da Vinci Code, etc on it. But for a poll that wasn't even targeting a sci-fi audience, I still find Heinlein's dominance pretty amazing, even given his known popularity.

The site says the reader poll "opened on July 20, 1998 and closed on October 20, 1998, with 217,520 votes cast." Knowing the dates made Heinlein's prominence make a little more sense to me. In 1998 the Internet was not the mainstream, everyday thoroughfare it is today, and the set of people who both be online and interested in voting in an online poll would likely tend toward a more tech-savvy, science-fiction-reading crowd. My theory is libertarian sentiments (of various stripes, coherent or not) would also be strong in a fair part of that crowd, which could drive a championing of Heinlein who seems to hold some similar sentiments. That would also explain Ayn Rand ruling the top 10.

I'm not disputing that Heinlein would be popular to that crowd for his entertainment value, but an identification with his ideas could be a big driver as well. It'd be pretty interesting to see The Modern Library repeat the poll now, and compare the results.

What do you think?


message 2: by Will (new) - added it

Will (w13rdo) | 37 comments Jlawrence wrote: "One of the obsessions of the thief in The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is 'acquiring' rare books named in the Modern Library's List of the 100 Best Novels. So I decided to check out..."

I find nothing in your analysis to which I would disagree. I do fear that the poll taken again now would feature too highly the thinly-veiled abstinence porn of Twilight. But again, if online poll results are a reflection of the character of the online and reading demographic, would this be anything unexpected?


message 3: by CJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

CJ (cjstreetcarp) | 7 comments I think that this poll is heavily swayed towards science fiction because of the time the poll was taken. At this time the makeup of the type of people voting on a poll about a book would be even less representative of "the average person" than it is now. There would have been a high level of people into science, technology. I think this is further shown in that Ayn Rand did so well in the poll, I'm guessing she is more popular with the wealthy, which also would have been more highly represented at the time.

Remeber why 1998 doesn't seem that long ago, that is many decades if not eons in "internet time". 1998 was the the first year of big internet IPO's and Google wouldn't have been founded until September.

This link shows some statistics how much "smaller" the internet was at the time, think of the idea that only 41% of adults used the internet. It also gives some links to websites at the time from the wayback machine so I don't have to post those links also

http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary...


terpkristin | 4117 comments I'm always a bit weary of polls of the general public on topics like this because of two reasons:
1) "Best" is a very personal definition. Is it "best" because it was super-engaging and draws the reader in? Is it "best" because it kept the entertainment level high, even if it didn't offer much by way of a story? Is it "best" because it was a landmark novel in a genre? There are a lot of definitions of best...
2) A lot of people seem to vote for books they "should" think are best, not necessarily because they've read them.
So...I always take these types of polls with a grain of salt.

Then again, I also don't really trust publisher "top 100" (or similar) lists because, let's face it, they have a vested interest in selling/creating hype for the books they publish.

Then there's also the fact that I personally don't give much credence to "Top X" web stories (and I actually rarely click through to them), anyway, as they're usually click-bait, and I expect them to contain pseudo-controversy in order to generate more clicks (and in theory more $).

Maybe I'm too much of a cynic...but then, I haven't read many of the books on that list (only about a quarter of them), but of the ones I've read, the only ones I agree should be in the "best" category are 1984 and Catcher in the Rye. I also think that some of the authors on the list have better books than those on the list (for example, I rank Kerouac's Dharma Bums infinitely higher than On the Road).

I also notice that a lot of the books on that list are "older" books, books that were on school reading lists when my mom was in school (so now there's also an issue of exposure). The only books on that list that I had to read in school (I was in high school 1993-1997) were: Ulysses (yawn), Great Gatsby (super bleh), 1984, Howard's End (ugh ugh ugh), Lord of the Files (meh), The Call of the Wild (I liked other London books more than this one), To Kill a Mockingbird (gag), and Beloved (actually quite good but I don't know if I'd put it in a personal "best" list). Maybe I went to an abnormal school system, though..


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Chris wrote: "I think that this poll is heavily swayed towards science fiction because of the time the poll was taken. At this time the makeup of the type of people voting on a poll about a book would be even le..."

Looking at the authors who dominate the Top 10, I think the poll was heavily swayed by $
My method for identifying great literature is simple -- do people still read it fifty years after it was written. A good marketing department can make The Girl with the Noun Who Verbed the Noun a bestseller for a few months, but it can't sustain interest unless the book is good. If the book manages to speak to multiple generations, it's a classic.

Catcher in the Rye was hugely popular with critics and readers, yet its popularity has been declining for years because modern readers have a hard time sympathizing with such an annoying jerk. Lord of the Rings, which was panned by critics and was only a moderate seller, on the other hand, is one of the most popular books on earth 55 years after publication.


message 6: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan (daniel-san) | 101 comments Sean wrote: "... I think the poll was heavily swayed by $

Looks like you forgot a "+" in there... :)

But I agree with Kristin in that while interesting, lists like this should be taken with a grain of salt. It's entirely subjective. You can also see that the general reading audience prefers SF while the Board does not, not even Bradbury. Ulysses and Gatsby would not be in my top 10, let alone top 2. Not a great list.



Stan Slaughter | 359 comments Sean wrote: "Chris wrote: "...My method for identifying great literature is simple -- do people still read it fifty years after it was written..."

By that definition, the Nancy Drew Mysteries would be considered Great Literature. :)


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