Today, I stumbled upon a list of the most common books stored in public libraries.
It strikes me, looking at the list, that these are our most precious books (in the Western tradition). These are the ones that have been chosen to be protected for eternity by our libraries.
As the list-makers say, these are “the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the ‘purchase vote’ of libraries around the globe.”
The data is from 2005, but I don’t think it will have changed much. Here’s the top ten:
- The Holy Bible
- US Census
- Mother Goose
- Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
- Odyssey by Homer
- Iliad by Homer
- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Now, for comparison, here’s the top ten most loaned books from US libraries in 2009.
- Run for Your Life by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
- Cross Country by James Patterson
- Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
- The 8th Confession by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
- Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
- Swimsuit by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
- The Shack by William P. Young
- The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
- First Family by David Baldacci
- The Associate by John Grisham
Now you might feel a certain depression looking down this list.
But I like it: the two lists represent the beautiful dichotomy of our humanity.
They represent the two worlds we have to manage every day, the two worlds of the mundane and the sublime.
Only monks can spend all their time contemplating sublimity, the rest of us have spreadsheets and nappies and traffic jams to worry about.
But it’s nice to know that, when we need them, our libraries guarantee the wonders of literature.
Like Mother Goose.