Books on Books

The Book of Books cover

In 2018 PBS had a series of shows about books called The Great American Read.    A companion book was issued, as part of this series:  The Book of Books.  The show revealed "America's 100 best-loved novels" as determined by a nation-wide survey.  The Book of Books provides information on those 100 books and other tidbits about literature.  Each title has a one-page profile and a page of photos that include the book cover, an author photo (or painting), and, in many cases, some other image related to the work.  Also included are small sections on literary terms, "most compelling charactors," "sensational settings," books by genre, and other topics that provide some added interest to the books.  The book lists the reviewed books in alphabetical order by title, but you can find a ranking (1-100) on the PBS website, if you are interested in how the survey respondents ranked them.

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die book cover

Also released in 2018 is James Mustich's 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die:  A Life-Changing List.  Mustich is a former bookseller -- the founder of the now defunct book catalog A Common Reader.   This huge volume includes a mix of fiction and non-fiction titles and, for the most part, is arranged alphabetically by author.  There are some exceptions for books without an easily identifiable author such as ancient books and works of scripture including Beowulf or the Bhagavad Gita.  Those books are listed alphabetically by title.  Each profiled book has an approximately page long overview, but the lengths of these vary more than in The Book of Books mentioned above (for example the entry on Shakespeare is thirteen pages long).  Most, but not all, profiles include an illustration of a book cover, the author, or perhaps an illustration from within the book. At the end of each summary are a set of standard notes that cover the genre or subject matter, date of publication, historically significant editions, awards received, other notable works by the author, "read-a-likes" by other authors, and information on adaptations.  There is an extensive general index at the back of the book that identifies authors and titles.  The book also includes, "A Miscellany of Special Lists" that highlights smaller groupings on a theme, such as "12 Books to Read Before You're 12," "Cities in Fact and Fiction," and "War Stories," among others.  There is also a companion website, "Indexes of the books by genre and by chronology can be found at"

In addition these new books, we have many older books that cover various aspects of booklists.  Since new titles are always coming out and changes in reading habits and social norms vary over time, they will all include different collections of "top books."   Some other options for best book lists are Read This Next:  500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, The Well-Educated Mind:  A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer, and Nancy Pearl's books including Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason, Book Lust to Go : Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers, and More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason.

The Novel 100 book cover

Some of our books about books have a more narrow focus.  One example of this is The Novel 100:  A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All Time, by Daniel S. Burt.  As the title suggests, this book is focused on novels.  They are listed, I think, by the author's ranking (1 to 100) and each profile runs about four or five pages.  This book does not include any photos or cover art.  Following the profiles of the author's top 100 novels are a few other lists.  There is a list of the 100 titles by year of publication, starting in the 11th century with Tale of Genji and running up to 1987 for Beloved.  This book was published in 2004, so there is a significant gap if you are interested in late 20th/early 21st century works.  The author also includes a list of another hundred honorable mention titles, without profiles.

Additional books focuses specifically on fiction options include The Reading ListContemporary Fiction:  A Critical Guide to the Complete Works of 110 Authors, edited by David Rubel, or some of these other options from our library catalog.



100 Best Books for Children book coverWe also have books focused specifically at identifying great reads for children.  Among these are 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey.  This book is divided into sections by age groups:  board books (birth to age 2), picture books (2-8 years old), books for beginning readers (5-7 years), books for young readers (7-9), books for middle readers (8-11), and books for older readers (ages 11-12).  

For older kids, you may want to check out Great Books for High School Kids:  A Teachers' Guide to Books That Can Change Teens' Lives, edited by Rick Ayers and Amy Crawford.

More sources on books for children can be found here and more for teenagers can be found here.


One final book to consider is quite different from the others on this list.  The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer is more than just a list of books by genre or popularity.  Bauer devotes several chapters to how to read critically.  This is followed by chapters on different subjects, but prior to providing a list of core, classical titles in the field, she gives extensive information on key classical thinkers in the field and how to read material in that discipline.   Bauer is trying to "teach" readers of her book how to read critically like one would learn in graduate school.   The book is geared to those who want to circle back to those core historical tomes they missed by not getting a classical education.  I think this could also be of interest to those who'd like to read critically the classics in fields other than their own.

MeL logo

Thanks to the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) we also have access to a couple of databases that can provide some of this "readers' advisory" content. 

NoveList Plus contains information on over 260,000 fiction and readable nonfiction titles. Features lists of award-winning books, book discussion guides, Read-a-Like recommendations, and complete series information. Also includes reader ratings and reviews. Create your own reading wish list.  NoveList includes reviews from professionals (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal), as well as from readers (via Goodreads).

NoveList K-8 Plus provides picture book and young adult book information indexed by subject, age, awards won, Lexile Reading Levels, Common Core standards, books made into movies, and other categories.  Provides reviews in each book's description from a variety of sources including School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and more.  Advanced searching includes the options to search by author's cultural identity and Dewey Decimal system range.  Curated genre descriptions are provided including types of books written by each author.

For more information on book review resources, consult the Reviews research guide.