Books I like more than other people do

If you take my 100 favorite books and sort them by Goodreads score, lowest to highest, here's what you get:

  1. The Dog, Joseph O'Neill (3.15 / 5 on Goodreads)
  2. The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard (3.45)
  3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (3.62)
  4. The Biggest Game in Town, Al Alvarez (3.71)
  5. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen (3.76)
  6. Walden, Henry David Thoreau (3.77)
  7. My Ántonia, Willa Cather (3.81)
  8. Play it As it Lays, Joan Didion (3.88)

(Goodreads scores as of late summer 2021.)

Again, these are not listed in order of my preference: they were eligible only in virtue of meeting the top-100 criterion.

If it's important to figure out your intellectual comparative advantage, exercises like this might be more valuable than they seem. It looks like I value sincerity more than the average reader. (But the simpler explanation might be that I like a lot of the books that people resent having been assigned.)

Nate Silver once noted that:

like, every book on Amazon, in the long run, gravitates toward having four stars. A lot of 9/11 conspiracy books are rated pretty well on Amazon, because only the conspiracists bother to read them. Whereas, Othello or Macbeth or something, everyone reads, a lot of kids have to read it for homework when they don’t want to, necessarily, so they’ll leave a bad review there, potentially.

This gives a good conjecture for why the classics are on this list. And it's easy enough to see why a lot of people would hate The Dog. The most confusing entry here is The Great Fire. I remember reading lukewarm reviews, but I'd never have thought it would score lower than Joyce (often assigned, unfamiliar style) and Franzen (obvious).


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