Reub's journey

29 December 2010


In the attic of my father-in-law's house in Wisconsin there are several shelves of books collecting dust, and one day a year or two ago, my son Ben chose a few to bring back home to Oregon. He chose some very old books, published in the 1800s, their pages yellowed but their embossed covers still handsome and beckoning to a bibliophile like me. 

I sometimes like to read Victorian novels, so I chose Middlemarch, published in 1869 by George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans). Mostly I picked it because of the beautiful cover, and I have been very careful not to damage its delicate paper and spine.  I have been enjoying Middlemarch, but it was news to me when Ben remarked that this book is considered by many to be the best book in the English language. Really! The things that I learn from my children.

This led me to a brief search of "best books."  The BBC has a famous list of the "top 100 books," and sure enough Middlemarch ranks 27th.  But this is a ridiculous list, with JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett listed repeatedly, and barely a mention of Shakespeare or Juan Louis Borges. I have read half of the books on this list, but I don't trust it a bit. Number 1 is Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and while I love that trilogy I doubt that it should top the list. A better list comes from Peder Zane, described in his book Top Ten, where he details the preferences of 125 well-respected writers. Sure enough, Middlemarch shows up again, this time as #10.


I finished Middlemarch yesterday, and I do think it was a good book. The author explores class and marriage, communication and mis-communication, the usefulness of education and research, the progress of medicine, and the staunch character of provincial England.

This is Peder Zane's list:
  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  7. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

Read more:,8599,1578073,00.html#ixzz19TIlSZcx


  1. Middlemarch is certainly considered the best book in Eng Lit. Eliot's masterpiece has driven mad generations of schoolchildren and enchanted countless numbers of literate adults.

    Some of the books on the Zane's list are pretty hard going, particularly Proust. I wonder how many people there are who have actually finished Lost Times?

    I admit, I never have and I haven't even got it on my 'to do before I die' list.

    Like you, I love old books. Sadly, mine come from second hand bookshops.

  2. I haven't read Proust either, but Ben has, my son who knew that Middlemarch is has the reputation that it does. I think it took a looong time to finish, so I don't know if I'll ever get to it.

    I think the rest of Zane's list is a little less heavy, but it certainly does not include JK Rowling or Terry Pratchett. Writers have heavy tastes! Myself, I am as likely to pick up Vogue magazine as I am Virginia Woolf; there is no accounting for what I read.

  3. Yes, I definitely wonder about some of those lists. I think they throw some questionable selections in their lists just to make the masses feel good that they read one or two. Anyway, I do love the binding on you old book.


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