Guidelines

The lists included in Greater Books so far must meet the following criteria:

Several other potential sources of lists for the Greater Books project are excluded because they serve more as anthologies or directories. I'd like to include these, as well as lists consisting of the titles published over the years by "classics" imprints such as Norton Critical Editions or Oxford World's Classics, but such an approach would require much bibliographic and archival research. That said, many anthologies include shorter works in order to fit a larger number of authors in a single book or series of books; as a result, the selection of works cannot be considered the editor's choice of the greatest or most representative. In other cases, they present a large number of excerpts or condensed versions of works, in addition to essays or whole books providing historical background, in contrast to the model, set by Harvard Classics and The Great Books of the Western World, limiting the number of excerpts.

What if we were to include the lists excluded based on our guidelines? We would have to make several distinct versions of the master list. For example, Modern Library's much-publicized lists of 100 fiction and non-fiction works, besides their obvious genre restrictions, are limited to the Twentieth Century and the English language. If one wanted to see how the works in those lists match up with English-language Twentieth-Century fiction and verity works included in the Greater Books master list, you could simultaneously scan the lists here and the Modern Libray lists to see which works appear in both. However, such a task becomes considerably more difficult if you were also interested in, say, Le Monde's Les Cent Livres du Siècle, which is only limited temporally. Instead, the forty lists documented here would need to serve as the foundation for derivative lists defined by what they exclude. Whenever this site's functionality allows the user to limit the master list by language, date, or genre, in doing so it could also simultaneously expand the list. That is, if a user chooses to view only the English-language novels and non-fiction of the Twentieth Century, the Modern Library lists could be included, thus also changing the tallies of certain works (as seen in blue font next to the title). The Le Monde list would be included as well, as would any other list that includes novels and non-fiction in the English language written in the Twentieth Century.

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The master list only includes monographic works; for our purposes, the category, monograph, includes:

The category of non-monographical works includes poems, stories, and essays not originally, and generally not ever, published as monographs (and most collections of such works); excerpts of monographical works; works consisting of distinct parts by two or more authors; and broad or unspecified selections of texts.

Whole anthologies or any other sort of work consisting of distinct contributions from multiple authors (such as Diderot's encyclopedia, the Federalist Papers, or the Three Hundred Tang Poems; as compared to collectively-written works, such as Manufacturing Consent or The Evolution of Physics) will be included in the sub-master list, which will mostly include works published as part of periodicals or anthologies, excerpts of works, and indeterminate selections of texts. That last category is excessively long; too many of the listmakers included so far will list, say, Plato's Dialogues, or the poetry of Robert Frost, referring to them as "books" without specifying distinct works.

Precisely because of this ambiguity, all selections in the forty lists documented here are referred to as entries. Some of these unclear selections are open to interpretation; for example, Lubbock lists the "plays" of Molière. Though I could count all of Molière's plays as entrants, we cannot say with certainy that Lubbock intended to include each play at the same level as the rest of his entries, especially since he offers several other vague recommendations, such as "poems" by Hesiod. Any selection of a kind of literary work (novels, essays, etc.) is assumed to be a "selected" choice, and any listing of an author alone or an author's "works" is assumed to be "selected works." Another example comes from Lubbock's inclusion of Walter Scott's "novels." Though for James Baldwin, who listed the "Waverley novels," I am including all 26 novels in that category, for Lubbock I am not, despite all of Scott's novels being "Waverley novels." This seeming contradiction has its excuse: each listmaker takes a different approach, and I've tried to exercise a limited degree of editorial discretion based on how the listmaker defines that project and the number of works he includes. In this case, Baldwin has vague selections like Thackeray's "novels" similar to Lubbock's, but chose to specify "Waverley novels," so my inclusion of all of those novels corresponds to the greater nuance of that selection.

Only a few listmakers have included the "complete works" of an author; that designation is also ambiguous at times because of works of disputed authorship, recently-published posthumous works, writings disclosed in archival collections, and minor works that the listmaker probably did not intend to include. Given how the status of certain works changes over time, future changes to the tallies could still take place. This would nearly always be in the case of the complete writings, or all of a genre, by a certain author being collected into a singular volume, and that volume in turn becoming the standard edition of the works collected therein. An example from the Lubbock list: an entry currently listed as non-monographical, James Cook's Journals, could, if those journals were collected into a singular work that over time became the standard form of those writings, become a monographical entry.

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Nearly every list has presented new difficulties in collating its entries with those of the other lists. Further clarification of these issues, in a form of a series of notes, follow here:

Regarding the line dividing short stories from novellas or novelettes, Heart of Darkness, originally published in a periodical, then included in an anthology entitled Youth: A Narrative, and Two Other Stories, those two other stories being Heart of Darkness and 'The End of the Tether'. However, for most editions since then, Heart of Darkness has been published on its own, or as the main work in an anthology (Heart of Darkness and Other Tales, Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary e.g.). On the other hand, though it was the lead story in that early collection, 'Youth' remains a non-monographical work, having always since been published as part of story collections. Another example of a potential monograph is John Updike's 'Rabbit Remembered', so far only been published as part of an anthology; because of its place as the last of the "Rabbit" works, perhaps it will eventually take the form of its own book, in which case the lists in this project that include the "Rabbit" series as a whole would need to be renumbered.

The date listed for plays is that of its first performance, or publication—whichever comes first. (Needless to say, for earlier plays, including many of Shakespeare's, the date of first performance is not known.) The only exception to this rule comes with a few Yeats plays (At the Hawk's Well, cataloged here as part of The Wild Swans at Coole, and the two plays counted as part of Last Poems and Two Plays: The Death of Cuchulain and Purgatory); this reflects the relative complexity of Yeats's body of work.

Furthermore, regarding Yeats.... A few books consisting mostly of his poetry have been demoted, if you will, to non-monographical status because they also included a play, which was usually later printed on its own or in another collection. Though two listmakers, Bloom and Fadiman, include both Yeats's collected plays and his collected plays, meaning that they indirectly selected the entirety (or nearly all) of those books, for the sake of uniformity with the two listmakers who only include the collected poems (the Telegraph and the Globe and Mail), those books are not included, even in the sub-master list. Why? Because, when a collection like Yeats' collected poems is listed, I draw out the monographical works, so as to include them in the master list, but any anthology or non-monographical work or excerpt included in such collections is not listed separately. At least not for now. To make this clearer, though Eudora Welty's collected stories includes all four of her short-story collections, those four are not listed separately because they are not considered monographical works, consisting as they do of stories originally published in periodicals.

This Welty example brings to mind another complicated matter in arranging the master and sub-master list. Because of their relative brevity, generally, poems are both more likely to be originally published in periodicals and to be moved around among an author's books of poems and selected and collected anthologies of those books. Thus, some of the collected poems included end up with unwieldy bibliographic notes. More importantly, for now a book consisting of poems previously published, but which is the first publication in book form of most of those poems, counts as a monographical work. This is done, first of all, so that writers who principally write poetry are not under-represented in the master list. Only a few fiction writers focus more on short stories than novels, whereas many poets only write poetry. Secondly, again because of their brevity, poems rarely stand on their own like a short story does. They leave a greater impression as part of a book than in a periodical.

In determining the number of entries counted in the case of excerpts of monographical works, a short dictum applies: "entry over excerpt." That is, if a listmaker includes two or more selections from a book, those selections constitute a single entry for our purposes, even though in other lists an entry may be a single excerpt from that same book. The reason for this rule is best shown in Clifton Fadiman's listing of certain essays from Montaigne's Essays. Instead of listing each one as an excerpt, leading to a larger number of non-monographical entries, those excerpts constitute a single entry. The problem with this approach comes with the lack of uniformity it will create in the eventual sub-master list of non-monographical works and indeterminate selections. That is, over-lapping will occur, as with the two Montaigne excerpts and the two excerpts of Shakespeare's sonnets.

A major exception to this rule is the Bible. A few listmakers prefer to list several books of the Bible instead of the entire work, appropriate enough given its origins. Each book of the Bible chosen by these listmakers is listed separately. The same exception applies to the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, both parts of the Book of Rites and both listed by the Guide to Oriental Classics. The same exception would apply in the case of similar entries of parts of other ancient texts, assuming the entry is not two particular excerpts of, say, the Great Learning or the Book of Job.

Examples of rules, specifically in determining if works not originally published as monographs, but which ultimately took some monographic form, indeed counts as a monographs: Ezra Pound's Cantos is the most-glaringly obvious of those works consisting of several monographs and, in this case, works published in periodicals as well. Leaves of Grass is another example that stands out, but for a different reason: a work that changed considerably over the course of nearly four decades. One of our listmakers, Harold Bloom, prefers to list two editions of the work.

Plays are counted as monographs even when originally published in anthologies, such as George Bernard Shaw's Candida, Arms and the Man, and You Can Never Tell, all three published as Plays Pleasant [1898].

Two J D Salinger works, Franny and Zooey [1961] and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction [1961], as their titles hint, each consist of two stories originally published separately, all in the New Yorker magazine. Since they were published as two monographs by the author himself, and those editions have become the standard versions, they count here as monographs. The same goes for Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio--but the rule's applicability in that case is more obvious, as only ten of the 22 stories had been published prior to the book being developed and published.

Exceptions (probably) to (loose) rules: Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia were published serially, 1820-25, but since they were soon published in book form, as Essays of Elia [1823] and Last Essays of Elia [1833], those works count as monographs. So far, not an exception. The problem comes in that the three pertinent listmakers (Baldwin, Powys, and the Jasper Lee Company) only list Essays of Elia. Since the phrase, "essays of Elia," often refers to all of the essays (that is, both anthologies) we can't say for certain that only the first book is being listed. I've decided to include both.

William Butler Yeats's Autobiography is included in two lists (Magill and Fadiman). We know from the description in the book that the later (1955) version is what's included in Magill's list; for Fadiman's, we're not sure. That later version consisted of six different monographs; an earlier, 1938 version included only three of them. Given that the contents of the book changed; and surely could change in the future, with the addition perhaps of other autobiographical works, however minor, I'm including all six works separately. This is an exception because we want to give priority to a work's final manifestation, while making note of its original place of publication and title changes, or titles of constituent works (as in Pound's Cantos above). An important consideration here is that the later version of the Autobiography is a posthumous compilation.