Over at the Random House Modern Library website, there are two lists of one hundred books. Random House calls them the "100 Best Novels". I understand the lists are quite old but I'm going to write about them anyway because there's an awesome picture I want to post.
The first list contains 100 novels selected by "the board"; the second list is 100 novels selected by "readers". "Readers", in this case, seems to be a particularly generous term. Obviously Random House doesn't want to alienate their target market - i.e. semi-literates - but a quick glance at the Top 5 suggests to me that something has gone terribly wrong in Literary Land. It's like American McGee's Alice accidentally got out and infected the whole library.
First up on the list is Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's inescapable quasi-philosophical novel. I haven't read it and don't want to, even if the Wikipedia entry does make it sound relatively palatable. I just can't quite get my head around the fact that out of over 200,000 people, the majority of them consider Atlas Shrugged the greatest novel of all time. Of course, the sinister "board" naturally voted Joyce's Ulysses - a book, I do not fear confidently stating, that nobody, least of all any sort of editor, has ever read to completion - Number 1, so probably we can ignore both lists altogether.
But what did the readers vote for Number 2? Surprise surprise, another Rand book: The Fountainhead. I haven't read this one either and Wikipedia gives the impression of it being fairly annoying. I get most of my information about books I haven't read from Wikipedia - try it!
Bored already with this post, Number 3, as voted by 217,520 readers (probably from New York, but certainly from America), is L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth. Holy shit. Battlefield Earth, according to 217,520 people, is the third greatest novel ever in the history of the world.
The Reader's Top 10, incidentally, features a further two books by Rand, and a further two books by Hubbard. 1984 slips in at Number 6 but I reckon that was a problem with the ballot machines. Orwell would have murdered himself before he was seen in such company.
Oddly enough, the list gets a little better the deeper you go. Robert Heinlen comes in at 15 and 16 (and 62), The Worm Ouroboros at 32, Lovecraft at 45. Still, Nevil Shute appears three times, for some reason, and Stephen King appears twice, and then some other shit happens. The "board" says that The Magnificent Ambersons by somebody called Booth Tarkington is the 100th best novel of all time. I've never heard of this book and my guess is the only reason it's in there is because the "board" had only read 101 novels between them, and near the end, it was a toss-up between The Magnificent Ambersons and the adapted screenplay for Anus Magillicutty.
Conclusion: Everybody but me is a god-damned moron.
Fomented by this Metafilter post.
Bonus feature: More Metafilter goodness - Smoking the bath. Probably one of the best things ever. When the wife isn't about, I pour a good bath, and throw myself in there with a beer, some smokes, and whatever I'm reading at the time. It's fantastic. I also smoke in the shower, which is doubly awesome and not as hard as people like to think it is. Drinking beer in the shower isn't something I've ever tried but maybe I'll give it a whirl tonight. I'll let you know how I go, since you're probably keen to find out.