By the Book: The top 10 book survey says…

07/18/2011 2:54 PM |

The results are in. Thanks to everyone who took the time to pin down their favorite books. Some of you named 10, many noted three, a few came up with one. One reader broke the bank with 27! Everybody moaned about the difficulty of choosing only 10 — some seemed upset with me for having the temerity to ask that of them. I heard from 32 people, who came up with an astounding 211 different titles.

Several entries were multiple volumes: the “Bounty Trilogy,” “The Lord of the Rings,” the three Long Island DeMilles; these were counted as one. That seemed fair, but then came the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, probably 40 books in all. I loved seeing them mentioned; it spoke of the joy of reading as a kid — my wife admitting to reading Nancy after “lights out” under a blanket, with a candle. Scary.

Authors were named — as in “anything by …” — with James Michener, Robert Parker, Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Leon Uris and many others being cited.

One woman used the term “seared by” when listing “Angela’s Ashes,” “Stones from the River” and “Say You Are One of Them,” perfectly expressing the experience of reading about troubled times, whether in Ireland, Germany or Africa. Most choices were toward the serious side, although Winnie the Pooh poked his head up a couple of times.

My nephew asked if anyone seemed self-conscious over a lack of classics on their list. Well, not that I could see, Huck Finn and “Wuthering Heights” each got three mentions, “War and Peace” two. Assorted single entries brought classics up to 15. Fiction was a hands-down, 86 percent winner; the nonfiction was generally historical or inspirational: presidents, wars, cups of tea and spiritual enlightenment.

There were titles I’d read, enjoyed and, sadly, forgotten. “The Princess Bride” was one, a delightful book. Oddly it recently resurfaced recently, when Peter Falk died; he played the grandfather in the movie. Others in this category were “Trinity,” “Shogun” and “Snow Falling on Cedars.” Murder and mayhem were prevalent, mostly by author rather than individual titles. We seem awfully fond of blood.

A handful of titles got three mentions: “The Poisonwood Bible,” “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “The Killer Angels,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Mists of Avalon,” the Harry Potters and my all-time favorite, “Bang the Drum Slowly.” Three titles had over three: “Pillars of the Earth” (four), “The Grapes of Wrath” (six) and a resounding 12 for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” certainly no surprise.

Everyone out there seems to read anything and everything, with the focus on the delight of following made-up characters through the ins and outs and ups and downs of imagined experiences.

In 1998 The New Yorker featured “My 100 Greatest Books” by Steve Martin. I’ll include four; you’ll get the drift: “Prenup Loopholes” by Anon. Esq.; “Silas Marner” (first and last page only); “Victoria’s Secret Fall Catalogue”; and “Ulysses” (first sentence only).

It’s amusing when iconic 10 Best lists are seen for what they really are, exercises to debate and enjoy, but basically meaningless. Best movies, best restaurants, best songs, best actors —  hey, they’re your own personal lists. Anybody for “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”?

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected]