Friday, April 20, 2007

My Take on USA Today's 25 Most Influential Books of the Last 25 Years

USA Today’s book editors and critics recently chose the 25 titles that have made the greatest impact on both readers and the publishing industry over the past 25 years. Here’s their list:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling;
2. The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacqueline Mitchard;
3. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown;
4. The 9/11 Commission Report, by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks;
5. Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield;
6. Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, by John Gray;
7. Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, by Robert C. Atkins;
8. And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts;
9. Beloved, by Toni Morrison;
10. The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw;
11. Bridget Jones’ Diary, by Helen Fielding;
12. Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins;
13. The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren;
14. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser;
15. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie;
16. The Closing of the American Mind, by Alan Bloom;
17. The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe;
18. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan;
19. What To Expect When You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway;
20. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking;
21. Iacocca, by Lee Iacocca;
22. Waiting to Exhale, by Terry McMillan;
23. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier;
24. Backlash, by Susan Faludi;and
25. Final Exit, by Derek Humphry

25 Books that leave a legacy.

I’m a little bit bored at the moment, so I thought I’d give you my opinion of their picks. I haven’t read all of these books. In fact, I’ve read less than half of them. Still, I’ve never let a little thing like ignorance stop me from my expressing my opinion, so here goes.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I actually like the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince remains the only book I’ve ever purchased at a Supermarket (Publix, to be exact).

I give kudos to Ms. Rowling for getting a generation of children and adolescents interested in reading.

I also give kudos to fundamentalist Christians for showing these same children and adolescents that hysteria over witchcraft isn’t just something you read about in the history books.

2. The Deep End of the Ocean

I didn’t read this one. In fact, I’ve really never even heard of it. A friend of mine did see the movie, though, and he’s told me that it is, without doubt the finest movie to date starring Michele Pfeiffer, Whoopi Goldberg, and Treat Williams.

3. The Da Vinci Code

Ah, now we’re talking. I read this one in 2005, and saw the movie when it came out on DVD. I found the book enjoyable, in part because I knew a little bit about the Knights Templar beforehand, and this book enabled me to show-off this knowledge at a few social gatherings. I frankly didn’t understand (and still don’t) all of the hype surrounding it, though. I thought the movie was less entertaining, but similarly overblown, this time in terms of the degree to which it was panned by critics.

4. The 9/11 Commission Report

A point of agreement. I read this one from cover to cover. Thanks to USA Today, I’ve also learned that it’s the only government report ever nominated for the National Book Award.

5. Chicken Soup for the Soul

I read Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul, and that’s close enough, in my opinion. It’s sappy, but the good kind of sappy. There was a market for this kind of stuff even before the publication of this book, so I can’t even blame Messrs. Hansen and Canfield for spawning a cottage industry.

6. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

People (like me) who didn’t even read the book, nonetheless added the phrase to their lexicon. Hell, people who don’t read books, period, added the phrase to their lexicon. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it’s tough to argue that it hasn’t had a tremendous impact.

7. Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution

The book that got America counting carbs instead of fat calories, all while growing more and more obese.

8. And the Band Played On

I read this one as a teenager. It is a very, very powerful book. Shilts dealt with the then-emerging AIDS epidemic in an unflinching manner. It is investigative journalism at its best.

9. Beloved

I admit that I was a little bit Toni Morrison-ed out by the time I read Beloved in the early 90s. The year before, I’d read The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby, To say that I merely skimmed Beloved is to insult legitimate skimming. I knew enough of the basic plot to be able to participate in the class discussion. I was a history major who’s primary area of concentration was the Civil War and Reconstruction. At that point in my college career (second semester of my junior year) I had no problem launching into a monologue about the legacy of slavery. I saw the movie (if Thandie Newton’s in it, I’m watching it), but I plan on reading the book some day.

10. The Greatest Generation

Another book the title of which has become a part of our national vocabulary. I read this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did, of course, hear Tom Brokaw’s voice in my head the entire time.
11. Bridget Jones’ Diary

I did not read this book. I will never read this book under any circumstances. I have nothing personal against Helen Fielding. I was suckered into watching the film adaptation of this novel in 2002. I had seen chick flicks before. I have seen chick flicks since. This movie is to chick flicks what “The Fast and the Furious” is to westerns: the type of movie that makes one question the entire genre. So, since this movie would not have been possible if Helen Fielding had never written the book in the first place, she must accept her share of the blame.

12. Left Behind

Like Bridget Jones’ Diary, I saw the movie in 2002. Unlike Bridget Jones’ Diary, curiosity prompted me to find out if the source material was as bad as the adaptation. The best thing I can say about the film is that it answered that “Whatever happened to Kirk Cameron” question I’d never asked in the first place. As for the book, I’m a traditionalist about certain things. When I want to read about the Apocalypse, I’m staying old school with John the Baptist.

13. The Purpose Driven Life

I have mixed-feelings about this one. I liked parts of this book immensely. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for reading material of the “daily inspiration” variety, particularly when its author describes it as “anti-self-help”. On the other hand, I don’t agree with the overwhelming majority of Mr. Warren’s theological views. Strictly from an “impact” standpoint, though, this is another one that’s inarguably reached millions.

14. Fast Food Nation

Um, I saw the movie “Super Size Me” a couple of months ago. Does that count?

15. The Satanic Verses

Any work the mere publication of which can spark riots and a fatwa calling for the death of the author has had an impact on readers, publishers, and the publishing industry. This book has been on my “I’ll read this one at some point” list for the last 19 years. One of these days I’ll actually get around to it.

16. The Closing of the American Mind

This is another one I read and enjoyed, even though I didn’t really agree with the author’s conclusions. I don’t know if today’s college students still discuss the book, but we certainly talked about it during my undergraduate years. Contrary to popular belief, Bloom’s book is a pointed critique of the manner in which he perceived that American colleges and universities were failing their students, not a statement that “liberals are bad, let me tell you another reason why.”

17. The Bonfire of the Vanities

One of my all-time favorite books. Forget it’s impact on anyone and anything else, this book inspired me not only to purchase A Man in Full in hardcover, but also to try and argue that it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of my friends said. Like Godfather III, I refuse to recognize that the film actually exists.

18. The Joy Luck Club

When the film came out in 1993, I said I wasn’t going to see it until I’d first read the novel. 14 years later, that’s still the story I’m sticking to.

19. What To Expect When You’re Expecting

I’ll cross this bridge when I get to it.

20. A Brief History of Time

I purchased and read this mainly to say that I had. I was surprised to find that I really liked it. It’s well-written and actually understandable, even for this layman/non-specialist. It also shows that truth in advertising is not an oxymoron; the book is only 200 pages or so.

21. Iacocca

This is another one that’s been on my “must read” list for a long, long time. I’ve seen this book on the shelves of numerous Baby Boomer executives for whom I’ve worked. I don’t think most of them have actually read it, either. A part of me thinks this book’s impact has been of the “office décor” variety.

22. Waiting to Exhale

This is another one about which I’m ambivalent. I applaud Terry McMillan for providing an entertaining story and showing the publishing industry that a story about black women can sell. I just wish she didn’t have to bash black men to do it. Oops, did I write that, or just think it? Just kidding, the book was excellent, as was the film.

23. Cold Mountain

Surprisingly, I really liked this book. I say “surprising” because I generally hate novels having to do with the Civil War. This was also an “airport” book for me. I only purchased it when I learned that my flight was delayed, and this was the best that the bookstore had to offer. Cold Mountain is well-written and emotionally stirring. I will not see the movie, though, because Renee Zellwegger must also bear some responsibility for the movie “Bridget Jones’ Diary”.

24. Backlash

A good friend of mine swears this a great book. I trust her judgment.

25. Final Exit

I read this in the mid-90s after a discussion I’d had with someone concerning assisted suicide. I knew nothing about the book beforehand, and was shocked when I read it and discovered that it dealt far more with the mechanics of the act itself than it did with its moral issues and legal ramifications.

So, there you have it: my critique of someone else’s top 25 list. May it do as much to alleviate your boredom as it did to alleviate mine.



Anonymous said...

oh boy, oh boy. (no pun intended !) what a sad commentary on our society. just take a look at the number of self-help and / or pulp/junk type books on that list. is our society at a point where we are incapable of producing LITERATURE ? ? ? granted this list was complied by USA today, but still...

this and greg oden purportedly declaring for the NBA draft today. what a crappy crappy day. plus, it's been raining all day here so far in la-la-land. how often does that happen ? ? ?

signs of the apocolypse (sp?) ? ?

chadwin, who is more disappointed in humanity today than most others...

oba said...


I agree with you that the list says more about our society/culture than it does about the works themselves.

I'm happy that Greg Oden declared for the draft, though. I've heard rumors that Commissioner Stern is getting ready to set a mandatory NBA retirement age of 65. Since Mr. Oden turns 65 in 2010, he can't afford to spend another year playing for Ohio State.