Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Top 100 Books: what are the best selling books of all time? Tolkein? JK Rowling? Dickens? Or Agatha Christie?

Like football fans dreaming up their first eleven of all time, avid readers love compiling lists of books.

That's why we challenged readers to help us come up with a new list of the Top 100 books that are Must Reads.

We want you to tell us what books have meant the most to you. The ones you'd pass on to your kids. The ones you revisit over and over again or which stay with you for the rest of your life.

So far we've had some stonking suggestions. Many lists reflect just how eclectic modern readers are: a bit of sci fi, a few classics, some modern lit fic. Contrary to what you might expect, few people restrict themselves to one genre or time period. It is clear that avid readers are also adventurous and seek out new writers and titles all the time.

But what if the list was restricted to the best selling books of all time? What would that look like. Actually, that's pretty easy to see because a quick Google search will throw up lists based on sales. These are from Wikipedia and are, therefore, probably pretty accurate.

Top 5 best selling single volume novels of all time:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859, over 200 million
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkein, 1954-5, over 150 million
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkein, 1937, over 100 million
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin, 1759-1791, over 100 million
And Then They were None, By Agatha Christie, 1939, over 100 million

No surprise to see Christie up there. Next to The Bible and Shakespeare, her books have outsold everything else by any other author, over four billion and counting - she wrote over 80 detective novels alone. Rather tragically for her and her family she signed away most if not all the rights to her work in return for a fat cheque in order to pay a large tax bill.

The others are not much of a shock either. Tolkein's bandwagon is huge and will get bigger with The Hobbit films when they are released in 2012 and 2013. Perhaps it is a surprise to see Dickens at the very top, but he was the original literary superstar and his writing was always accessible and readable enough for even a 150 years not to dent its appeal.

As to Dream of the Red Chamber... I must admit that's one I need to put on my Amazon wish list. It is one of China's four classic novels, written in the vernacular. It sounds intriguing and 100 million Cantonese speakers can't all be wrong.

Further down you find Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (80 million) and Catcher in the Rye (65 million). JK Rowling's Deathly Hallows is the top selling Harry Potter with over 44 million sales. Incredible really, for a book that's only been out four years. CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has sold 85 million since it was published in 1950.

Of course, our Top 100 Books list isn't about sales. It's about your judgement as to the value of a book: be that literary, entertainment, originality, the strength of the idea. Also it is meant to be personal and idiosyncratic. The resulting list will and should be a surprise to everyone. If it isn't we'll all have failed.

So what is your list? Leave it in the comment below and I'll integrate it with our master list. Over the next few weeks we'll be running the challenge in The Big Issue and hope to come up with a definitive Top 100. But all you need to do is think of five titles and authors, or ten if you can.

And please share the challenge with friends too. The more lists, the better the final result.

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