The first column on the charts usually indicates the first year of official publication in book form. So if a long work or part of a long work first appears in a periodical or in some other non-book form and then later is published as a book or as part of a book, the latter's date is given preference here.
However, if short works, such as stories or poems, first appear in periodicals or other significant non-book forms before being collected into books, it is usually the earlier date that is used.
In a few cases the year of the completion of writing is used, rather than the year of book publication. This may be because the work went unpublished for a very long time after it was completed. Or it may be because, as in the case of some very old literature, the work was circulated in a form that we would not today consider book publication—such as on tablets or on scrolls.
Another exception is often made for dramatic works. Shakespeare's plays, for example, are usually listed by the date they were thought to have been first performed because this date is more significant than the often much later year in which the plays were collected to be published.
A range of years, such as 1951–1955, usually means the work was published in sections over a period of time. This is especially common with book series, such as trilogies.
A "c." before a date stands for circa, which means "about" and indicates the date is approximate.
The book's title is listed as it is generally known in the English-speaking world today. Sometimes this is a translation into English (The Three Musketeers) and sometimes the title remains in another language (Le Morte Darthur). Excess words are often removed from the titles, especially in works prior to the twentieth century. For instance, The Personal History of David Copperfield is universally known as David Copperfield and is therefore listed as such here.
Novels are generally listed individually, but several may be listed under one title if the series is better known than any individual work in the series (e.g., Lord of the Rings).
Short stories and poems are usually listed as selected or collected under one title, although occasionally the popularity of a particular story or poem makes it worthy of listing on its own.
A title in colour can be clicked to access a commentary on the work, along with any other available material about the work.
Authors' names are listed as they are generally known to English readers of the works. Thus, the Russian writer Lev Nikolajevic Tolstoj is listed as Leo Tolstoy.
An author's name in colour can be clicked to access a commentary on the author, along with any other available material about that author and the author's work.
The listed country is the place most associated with the writer. It may or may not be the author's birthplace, country of residence, state of citizenship, or subject of writing.
For example, Hemingway wrote in and about France, Spain, Africa and the Caribbean, and very little in or concerning the United States—yet, there is no question he is considered one of the most American of writers.
V.S. Naipaul was of Indian heritage, was born in Trinidad, moved to England and wrote about Trinidad, Africa, England and elsewhere, without becoming known as a Trinidadian, African, English or other denomination of writer—so it's a judgment call to list Trinidad as Naipaul's country.
Malcolm Lowry was born and died in England, but his most famous novel took place in Mexico and was written in Canada where much of his other writing was also done. In this case Canada claims him—another judgment call.
Type of work
The most common types of works are listed as Novel, Novella, Poetry, Drama or Story.
The term "novel" was accepted into English only in modern time (that is, post-Renaissance), adapted from an Italian word for fictional prose narratives with a cohesive theme and story. For several centuries, this word was reserved for realistic depictions of contemporary life, as opposed to imaginative, historical stories, which were considered "romances". In this list we use the word "novel" for both kinds of fiction today. Even so, it is debatable when the first work worthy of being called a novel on this list was produced. We retroactively apply the term for certain longer prose fiction—in some cases before the authors had ever heard the concept—in any language. For more diffuse works, particularly in ancient and medieval times, we use the label "Prose narrative" in this list, or occasionally "Prose and poetry".
"Story" (or "Stories" for collections) designates what are often called "short stories".
"Novella" is a fictional work between a story and novel in length, though the demarcation points are arguable. We don't use the term "Novellette", sometimes heard to indicate shorter works, as we classify these as either novellas or stories.
"Drama" is normally what we would call a play, a fictional work meant to be presented theatrically. However, we also use the category of "Dialogue" for any work consisting nearly entirely of characters' speeches but, unlike a play, is not meant to be acted but to be read only.
Other anomalous categories include "Biography" and "Memoir", for the very few non-fictional works that have achieved status as great creative literature.