Voted for by 5, 000 readers around Australia, there is no pretention to this Top 100 list, says Brigid Delaney. Photograph: Penguin Books
They are the books you see in rented beach houses or in the communal pile at backpacker hostels, left behind by travellers wanting to lighten their load. They’re the books on a waiting list at public libraries, chosen by book clubs, and reviewed in (non-literary) magazines.
They are not necessarily great books but they are good books, books that people read, enjoy, talk about, lend to others, escape into and re-read over the years.
There is nothing pretentious or highbrow about the Better Reading Top 100 list released on Tuesday. If you are a book snob – or lover of serious, high literature – then look away now. This list will have very little on it that will please you (apart from a couple of Austens, maybe). Where is James Joyce? Or Virginia Woolf? Or even Australia’s most exacting prose stylist, Helen Garner? Where are all the difficult books?
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Voted for by 5, 000 readers around Australia, the list is topped by Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. Released in 1989, and going on to sell millions around the world, The Power of One is the story of an English-speaking South African boy named Peekay in the years from 1939 to 1951.
Coming in at number two is The Book Thief by Australian Marcus Zusak, followed by that perennial favourite To Kill a Mockingbird, riding fresh waves of popularity after the release of its “prequel” perhaps. Tim Winton’s family saga Cloudstreet is at five, but is a second Bryce Courtney book, The Potato Factory, really worthy of eighth spot? And what is EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey doing at 14? It’s titillating enough but the writing’s a mess.
Perhaps instead of “best books”, the list should be re-packaged as “best stories”. There are some cracker yarns here, like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (20), or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (29). It’s not surprising that most of the books on the list have been made into films.
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