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Worst Book

April 22, 2013

I found one vote in our “Worst Book” poll with which I could concur: “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Twelve years ago in this column, this novel came up in a discussion of the GrtAmrcnNvl—that thing we shall never name.

A simpler measure of a “great” book might be to assess its endurance alongside our other memories. This is a personal measure, but that’s really what matters to most readers.

In that column, I recalled a discussion among Colorado librarians about “books every college student should have read.” I was surprised by the number of people who had put Ayn Rand at the top of their list.

I offered to remove all my suggestions from consideration if we would agree not to include Ayn Rand at all. Well, all #*!! broke loose. Interested parties in disagreement agreed to meet at Il Vicino (that was the late ‘90s; now it’s Amicas) one afternoon for FAARBFest, the First Annual Ayn Rand Beer Fest.

We have yet to hold SAARBFest, but FAARBFest was successful. I gave away a Danish version of “We, the living” as a door prize. Notables in the Colorado library community were present. Speeches were made. I had to leave after four hours, and the table was going strong.

One might have observed that day that Ayn Rand wrote the GrtAmrcnNvl. She certainly had a lasting effect on many readers.

Around that time 12 years ago, the Modern Library had recently released its list of Top 100 Novels. Shortly thereafter, in response to outcry, it also released a comparable Readers Top 100. You might imagine there was limited overlap.

Ayn Rand had four books in the top ten of the Reader list. I still shake my head at this, but if I stick with my preferred measure of a book—endurance in our memories—I’m stuck with Ayn Rand.

Our “Worst Book “poll was interesting. A number of people didn’t vote because, as they explained, they don’t read bad books. If it’s bad, they put it down. Those of you compelled to finish any book you start may by stunned to read this.

Here’s a different challenge: best book. We’re now starting a “Best Book” poll. I know it will be, in part, a “Good Book” poll, because choosing a single title as “best “is almost incomprehensible.

But please try, at least. What would make a book the best book you ever read? You can use the definition mentioned above: What book has endured in your memory, has come back to you time and again in different circumstances, and continues to unpack itself as you mature.

These are essentially the criteria I use for choosing poetry to memorize. Such a poem continues to reward and delight as time goes by.

Which brings up the question. If you choose a title for “Best Book,” should it be one you would read again? I’ve re-read books that would not get my vote for Best Book. And some of the books in contention I doubt I would read again.

A second reading is a very different experience with different motivations. But this brings up yet another matter. Your bookshelves may be full of books you’ll never read again. Here’s a chance to share them while doing some Spring cleaning.

Our next book sale is Saturday, May 4th, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. That’s right: 2:00 p.m. We ended early last Fall, too.

Note the date on your calendar. You may well find the best book you’ll ever read.


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