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NORMAL - It is a truth universally acknowledged, that people either love or hate lists.

If she were alive, that might be writer Jane Austen's take on the latest "best" list, this one coming out of Illinois State University in Normal.

Austen's opening line to "Pride and Prejudice," - which speaks of a completely different universal - just missed landing on the prime spot of the Top 100 First Lines From Novels.

The winner of the list, published in the January-February issue of American Book Review is "Call me Ishmael," from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick."

That first line is one many readers have heard whether or not they've read the novel, said Charles Harris of Normal, and publisher of the nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at ISU.

Last summer, when the American Film Institute released its 100 Best Movie Lines list, Harris - whose a retired ISU English professor— got to thinking of his favorite opening lines in novels.

Some said they didn't believe in lists, others were too busy, he said. But many others responded. Of about 300 nominations, Harris and a team of 20 others whittled the list to 100.

Among those voting were Bob McLaughlin and Sally Parry. The Normal couple, both professors at ISU, are each long time contributors to the book review.

"The reasons most often given are that lists are arbitrary, and reflect the tastes of the people putting them together - or that they are elitist with the rankings," said Harris. "Well, that's true to some extent. But these are authorities, well-known in the field," of literary studies, he said.

It's true the list only reflects those people's tastes. But these people often are the ones helping decide what gets to be taught in universities, so they aren't random and do hold credibility in the process, he said.

"But it's just good fun. It's not a canonical list - we looked at it more as a game," he said. It might spark some interesting debates among literary types. But, more than anything he hopes it ignites interests in the books.

The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune have paid notice to the list's release. But a sign of the times is what happened when Harris "googled" the Top 100 list, typing some key words into the Internet search engine Google.

"Bloggers are responding. And all kinds of links to the list are turning up," he said, describing the different online postings Web users are writing about the list choices.


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