The Best American Book of the 20th Century*


The Best American Book of the 20th Century consists of the first sentence of the first best-selling book of 1900, as listed in the 20th-Century American Bestsellers Database (compiled by undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois, Catholic University, and Brandeis University); then the second sentence of the second best-selling book of 1900, and so on up to the end of the century, to the thousandth sentence of the tenth best-selling book of 1999.

Each sentence is footnoted with its reference. Ten sentences form one paragraph, representing one year. Ten paragraphs form one chapter, representing one decade. The book represents a century: the American Century.

In constructing The Best American Book of the 20th Century, artist cooperative Société Réaliste replaces the proper nouns by pronouns. This slightly enhances the original text and enables a selected overview of the history of Best American Fiction in one condensed, ambitious novel.

As The Best American Book of the 20th Century travels through the textual materiality of an entire century of mass-produced literature, it suggests intertextual relationships between the narratives of American fiction. Since a multitude of changes in time and culture converse in the book, the project transverses the usual, formal standards of language, questioning power dynamics between reader and writer. Are Pearl S. Buck, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, Daphne du Maurier, J. D. Salinger, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison basically telling a similar story? Do they, through this project, become the collective authors of one, all-encompassing- book? Is the project an opportunity to re-assess and reflect upon modernity’s spell on our collective imagination? And, ultimately, how does its composed text resonate in our present times? 

Designed by Project Projects

Published by Onomatopee, 2014

Softcover, 112 pages, black and white, 5 × 8.25 inches

ISBN: 978-94-91677-26-7