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University of Dayton Marian Library Blog


In a recent New York Times article, Tina Jordan explored books and authors that appeared on the best-seller list 25, 50 and 75 years ago. In 1993, there were plenty of familiar names (at least to me) like John Grisham, Stephen King and Anne Rice. Go back in time a little further to 1968, and Charles Portis’ True Grit was topping the charts (Coen brothers’ remake, anyone?). In 1943, Ayn Rand came in at No. 9 with The Fountainhead.

First of three blogs by the author about Books of Hours.

But have you ever wondered what the best-seller list might have looked like 500 years ago? I’ll give you a hint. There was only one thing on it, but that one thing was the book everyone had to own. Catherine of Cleves had one. Henry the VIII had one. If you were a middle- to upper-class, moderately literate European, you probably had one too. And all the better if yours was fancier than your neighbor’s. If you owned only one book, it was most likely this. There were more of these commissioned, collected, bought, sold, and stolen than any other book including the Bible. Any guesses? It was a Book of Hours and it was the best-seller from 1250 to 1550. Now that’s a long time — approximately 15,600 straight weeks — at the top of the charts, if you ask me.

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