Matt Kahn has launched 100 Years, 94 Books, the ambitious project of reading and reviewing the Publishers Weekly‘s #1 bestselling books for each of the last 100 years, which, with some books hitting #1 more than once, totals 94 books. Kahn, a creative writing student at California State University, Northridge, began last week with 1913′s #1 book, The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill, and at the rate of one review a week, will finish (about two years from now) with 2013′s bestselling book, still to be decided by sales. Along with the review, Kahn will provide on his blog historical context “in an attempt to figure out just what made these particular books popular at that particular time.”
PW interviewed Kahn to find out where the idea for the ambitious project came from. You can follow Matt on Twitter here.
PW: How did the idea for the project come about?
Matt Kahn: I took a class on twentieth century American novelists during the Fall 2012 semester. Before we began reading the first text for the course (The Sun Also Rises), the professor lectured on what constituted the literary canon. He pointed out that The Sun Also Rises was far from the most popular book in the year it was released. The bestselling book of 1926 was The Private Life of Helen of Troy. I’ve always been interested in how society affects popular culture and vice-versa, so the idea for the blog developed from that lecture.
Had you read any of the books before starting the project? Which ones are you looking forward to? Least looking forward to?
Only a few. I read The Grapes of Wrath (1939) in my eleventh grade English class. I was also a big Stephen King fan in high school, so I’ve already read the Tommyknockers (1987). I’m looking forward to rereading The Grapes of Wrath. I’m also excited to read Dr. Zhivago and Portnoy’s Complaint. I’m not really looking forward to the Tom Clancy books. I’m dreading having to tackle 50 Shades of Grey.
What are some of your favorite books?
Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut; A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams; Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison.
How quickly and how much do you normally read? Is getting a new review up every week going to interrupt your daily life?
I have a book on me at all times, and whenever there’s a free moment, I’ll start reading. That said, I usually go through a book every four or five days on average. The reading that the blog will require of me is not much of an interruption. All the research I need to do is a different story.
What are your expectations for the project? What do you think will happen after having read all 94 books?
About two days after I started sharing links to the blog, I realized that any expectations I had were wildly inaccurate. I honestly didn’t expect much attention at all, let alone being interviewed by Publishers Weekly! At this point, I just need to wait and see where things end up. I don’t really have a plan for what to do after I finish the project. That’s still close to two years away, which gives me plenty of time to figure something out.