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There's plenty of lists around compiling some person's or organization's ideas of the "best" books of a time period or genre.  So why build a reading challenge around The Books of the Century?

First, it is the breadth of the list.  I haven't counted how many books are on the lists but if you figure just 20 for each year, which is a low estimate, you're talking 2,000 books in total.  That allows this to be an ongoing challenge, not one limited to just one year.  That aspect also allows new people each year, but also allows participants to decide each year whether they want to continue or resume the challenge.

More important, though, is the content of the lists.  Because it is built on bestseller and Book-of-the-Month club lists, I think it tends to reflect American culture at the time.  As compiler Daniel Immerwahr points out, the lists reflect that "the books we remember today were often not the books that were most popular in the past (in 1925, the year The Great Gatsby was published, the fiction list was topped by A. Hamilton Gibbs's Soundings)."

No one is claiming any of the fiction bestsellers in 1925 are "better" than The Great Gatsby.  And the list recognizes "great" literature by incorporating "critically acclaimed and historically significant books." Yet the bestseller and BOMC lists also allow us to see what the "average American" was reading in any particular year.  When considered in the context of what was happening in the country at the time, I think it's interesting insight into popular American literary culture.


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