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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The list of America's 10 favorite books - and what it means


Let me alleviate the fears of Christians everywhere. The Bible is still ranked as America's Number 1 book. But now that we got that out of the way, what are the Top Ten, and what does this list say about our nation?

According to a Harris Poll, here they are:

1. The Bible
2. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
3. Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
5. The Stand, by Stephen King
6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
8. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
10. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

My observations:

1. My first observation is that traditional religious belief remains high. Of course, this could be too simplistic by far - perhaps people feel the need to put forward the Bible as their first choice. This is a classic problem in polling: is a certain response what the man really thinks, what he wants you to think, or what he is supposed to think?

2. Americans are increasingly cut off from their past. With the exception of the Bible, of course, no book on the list was written before 1936. This is dangerous in the life of any people - to be so cut off from their past and so to be lacking in any understanding of themselves.

3. What kind of literature is this?

  • Nine out of ten books are fiction.
  • Two and maybe three are "coming of age" stories.
  • Most are fiction of a particular kind: fiction that explores a quest for meaning, often through struggle.
  • Many could be viewed as protests against (or escapes from) the historic Christian order and the traditional roles expected of people in Western society.
  • Several are deliberately aimed at undermining or assume the irrelevance of Christian character. Among those aged 18-31, the Harry Potter series was the most popular work.
I'm not sure this list bodes well for our future. If books 2 through 10 are today's Secular Canon we will never have a confident society but one which will exhaust itself by seeking to reinvent itself with little reference to what has inspired our culture for 3500 years. And to cut ourselves off from what has ennobled our society seems truly foolish.

We still like reading about Atticus Finch, but I'm not sure our secular culture is capable of producing too many like him any more.

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