Amazon bucket list

Okay, it’s not exactly Amazon’s bucket list– that would probably involve gathering every shred of your personal info while putting every indie bookstore out to pasture… But seriously, folks, Amazon just put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, or as they put it, “a bucket list of books to create a well-read life.” I know we see lists like this all the time, but given that this one comes from a retailer, and the dominant one at that, I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

Right off the bat, it’s really striking how contemporary the majority of the titles are–like, now contemporary, not just the last 50 years. Usually, lists like this are super-heavy on the classics and completely ignore current non-fiction, of which there are commendably a healthy number of entries here. On the other hand, a “well-read life” used to mean a whole lot of philosophy, particularly the Greeks. I know Plato isn’t as fun as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I’d like to think the Republic is a bit more instructive…

Similarly,  as much as I enjoyed them, are Henrietta Lacks and Unbroken essential for a well-read life? Or, to be cynical, is the Amazon algorithm at work, in that contemporary titles sell more than classics? In that vein, I’d love to give them kudos for presenting a good number of picture books, MG and YA on equal footing with the grown-up books… but again, is that a statement of purpose or a sales ploy?

 Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think of Amazon’s list–is it a legitimate syllabus or a clever gimmick? Maybe both? Which omissions particularly get your goat? Discuss, discuss…

3 Responses to Amazon bucket list

  1. Karen says:

    Definitely not a bucket list, for everyone’s bucket list is personal.

    That said, I liked the list. I felt it was a good representation of books from the last 50 years (and some older).

    The classics are a product of the times. How many people nowadays think the Beatles are ‘the’ band? They’re just as likely to think of U2 or Bon Jovi.

    I was happy to see Jared Diamond alongside Judy Blume alongside Jane Austen and Eric Carle.

  2. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I generally ignore book lists as promo gimmicks; I only use Amazon to get hold of things like old-school black magic pulp thrillers by Dennis Wheatley and Basil Copper that are hard to get this side of the UK, otherwise my local bookstore (than I have to drive 10 miles to get to since the corporate book gods have fled this part of northern CA) can fill the bill and are a lot more pleasant to talk to than a PC screen.

  3. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Yikes. There are “must reads”? It is to laugh, ruefully and with tears in one’s eyes. IMHO, all this particular list does is pass the Bellybutton Test: everybody’s got one [a list, that is].

    It seems to me that the purpose of such a list must necessarily be to identify books from which the reader will learn timeless lessons of lasting value: morality; human nature; science; history; philosophy; faith; imagination; good writing.

    Too many of these titles are books that simply reflect the attitudes of their times (“Catcher in the Rye”) or have become popular culture (“Charley and the Chocolate Factory”). Where is Twain? Dickens? Julius Caesar? Churchill? O. Henry? Dumas? Orwell? Hugo? Dostoyevsky? My gosh, no Wodehouse!!

    The only explanation that comes to mind: these are the books sitting unsold in by the carton on the floor of Amazon’s warehouse. Once you can boast that it’s on the list of the 100 “must reads”, watch the sales go up.

    It’s all spin.

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