What was the best year for books? According to the BBC, it was 1925. BBC Culture has chosen 1925 as “the greatest year for books ever,” citing the publication of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and Hemingway’s debut collection of stories as some examples of the year’s literary highlights. Jane Ciabattari explains that although 1899 (Chopin’s The Awakening; Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim) and 1950 (Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles; Asimov’s I, Robot; Lessing’s The Grass is Singing) were both strong years for literature, “1925 brought something unique – a vibrant cultural outpouring, multiple landmark books and a paradigm shift in prose style. Literary work that year reflected a world in the aftermath of tremendous upheaval. The brutality of World War One, with some 16 million dead and 70 million mobilised to fight, had left its mark on the Lost Generation.”
How did Ciabattari choose? “Well, first, by searching for a cluster of landmark books: debut books or major masterpieces published that year. Next, by evaluating their lasting impact: do these books continue to enthrall readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways? And then by asking: did the books published in this year alter the course of literature? Did they influence literary form or content, or introduce key stylistic innovations? The continued relevance of Jay Gatsby, Nick Adams and Clarissa Dalloway today is proof for Ciabattari that 1925 was the best year for literature. What do you think? Is there a better year?