If you take my 100 favorite books and sort them by Goodreads score, lowest to highest, here's what you get:
- The Dog, Joseph O'Neill (3.15 / 5 on Goodreads)
- The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard (3.45)
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (3.62)
- The Biggest Game in Town, Al Alvarez (3.71)
- Freedom, Jonathan Franzen (3.76)
- Walden, Henry David Thoreau (3.77)
- My Ántonia, Willa Cather (3.81)
- 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).