The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Book List of Bragging Rights

This is not new at all, but I had to add my two cents. There’s a list of 100 books from the BBC going around facebook. I’ve received the list about 6 times now from different friends, all in memo form all referencing the BBC saying the average person will only read 6 of these books in their lifetime. Basically you bold the books you’ve read, count them up and send the memo along to another group of friends.

My latent journalistic powers find a couple of things wrong with this. How did the BBC pick their 100 books and how did they decide who the average person was? And not just, is the average person British or an English speaker. Have these books all been translated into different languages; actually some of the books on the list weren’t written in English to begin with, so translations may be a moot point. But yeah, there’s a lot wrong with the general parameters of this list to begin with.

I’ve perused the list before, but from a reading standpoint I know I’m not average; heck, it’s right there in the title of my blog. This time I decided to play along and dutifully copied the list into a word document and went about bolding the books I’ve read and italicizing the books I’ve started but never finished. And I quickly came upon another problem, this time the list was missing # 23 & #26. Next, I wondered why The Narnia Chronicles and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were both on the list when all of Shakespeare’s works and all of the HP books were both considered just one book. Then I wondered why so many Hardy and Austen books were on the list as separates when some of each of their contemporaries were left off entirely. Finally, I decided I had to go do some research because the questions about the list were quickly outnumbering the books on the list.

A quick google search lead to a not surprising revelation (Is a revelation actually a revelation when it doesn’t surprise you? Maybe it was an ironic revelation?) The list going around facebook did not originate from the BBC at all. Oh, the BBC has a list of 100 books from 2003 that their readers chose. (At some point someone will explain to me how the BBC seems to be TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and whatever other medium it chooses. And I ask this knowing full well I’ve applied for three different jobs with BBC America and they send me recruiting emails fairly constantly. Move over Disney, there’s another media conglomerate trying to take over the world; they appear to be stealthier about it.) This 2003 list is still available on the BBC website (sigh) and is called the Big Read List. In all fairness, the lists are somewhat similar, but still different in a few ways. No where on the BBC list does it say that the average person reads only 6 of the books in their lifetime. On the contrary, this is a list of BBC readers’/watchers’/interfacers’ top/favorite books. Which still leads me to wonder where the only 6 books thing came from?

When I say this is not a new controversy, I’m not kidding. I typed “BBC 6 books” into the google search engine and it shot out 80,600,000 results. I read through/clicked on the first 20 results and all of them were related to this conundrum. It’s like facebook’s best kept-not-so-much secret. I know you all know everything you read on the new-fangled internets thingy shouldn’t be believed, that things like wikipedia aren’t the most reliable of sources, but this BBC thing did make me stop and ponder for a minute. I mean no where in the history of the BBC have they ever said that the average person only reads 6 books on a list and yet, 80,600,000 results link them together forever in the subconscious of our world culture. That is actually some kind of CRAZY!*!&!&#

It turns out people are somewhat passionate about their book lists – and the need to vent about other book lists and the authenticity of things they find online – especially on facebook. And it turns out I’m the same way. Venting about books should be a good thing, right? I mean that is one of the points of my own blog; I’ve said many times I want people to disagree with my opinion and comment with their own. So why did I find myself getting more and more disgruntled while reading the whims of other bibliophiles during this google search? I actually wanted to punch one blogger who said he would never read HP at all and thought the BBC list was more “low-brow”. (Here I would like to point out that HP has made it to both lists, just saying.) Yes, Princess Diaries is on that list, but since I’ve read it I say it’s not “low-brow”…Oh, come on. I write YA, of course I read “low-brow”. Books are a form of entertainment, and sometimes that means you read mindless quick things and sometimes you read more profound thought provoking things. I’m a firm believer in all literature, which kind of goes along with that whole freedom-of-speech-thing and no-book-burning-thing: Codes to live by.

And honestly if you are going to rant about something, then why not the facebook list that makes me out to be a Dickens lover – I’m SO not! I’m a British Literature major, there is a difference. I’ve been forced to study, read and endure through countless paragraphs of boring, serial length Dickens novels (and now, how many of you want to punch me?). I find Herman Melville and Steinbeck almost as boring, but I’m not condoning their right to be on the list. The Grapes of Wrath – although I’ve never been able to read it – reminds me of my junior year of high school. A year I spent in non-honors English because of a falling out with my 10th grade Honors English teacher. While my friends had to read The Grapes of Wrath in one evening, I spent 4 weeks reading Ethan Frome in class (It is 98 pages and less than novella length for those of you who are not familiar with the works of Edith Wharton). It was my own personal torture. I had English with my boyfriend at the time; since I was cheating on him with an exchange student from the opposing high school across town, I felt hideous every time I walked into the classroom and sat down next to him – living through another hour of “reading time” no one needed since we’d all finished the book on the first or second day. Ah, The Grapes of Wrath, my own personal reminder of bad adolescence and teenage angst. Ah, this blog, letting me relive and share with the world my past indiscretions and misdemeanors.

Back on track, at the end of all of my research (or an hour, which you may know from past blog posts is about the extent of my internet research tangents usually) it appears the facebook list comes from an article in The Guardian and also mentions nothing about only 6 of these books being read in a lifetime. In fact, The Guardian list comes from 2,000 people taking part in an online poll at The poll asked you to nominate the top 10 books you could not live without. Below I leave you with both lists. NOTE: Another oddity, Dante’s Inferno seemed to sneak into the facebook list at some point replacing Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar at #76. I’m not sure how or when, but it too is interesting if only because I’ve read The Bell Jar but have never read The Inferno so my number changed. I have no answer about the 6 books question. I’m guessing someone on facebook just made it up for some interactive, pass-along quality: Everyone feels good because they’ve read more than 6 books on the list; it’s all for bragging rights. Hey, at least there are now 80,600,001 results on google.

The Guardian/World Book Day/Facebook List (circa 2007):

1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein
3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
11. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22, Joseph Heller
14. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare
15. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
16. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein
17. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch, George Eliot
21. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace, Leo Tolstory
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
34. Emma, Jane Austen
35. Persuasion, Jane Austen
36. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
37. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
41. Animal Farm, George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney, John Irving
45. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
47. Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
50. Atonement, Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
52. Dune, Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
60. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
62. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
66. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
72. Dracula, Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses, James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath / The Inferno, Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal, Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
80. A Possession, A.S. Byatt
81. Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Album
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection, Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
94. Watership Down, Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet, William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

(PS - for bragging rights I've read 48 and started 11 others)

The BBC Great Book Read List (circa 2003):

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls in Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

1 comment:

  1. 79 on the first list. Wow. I did not know all this.