Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You can just start calling me the Literary "Snopes"

So I just looked at a list that my friend got as a meme and posted on Facebook, about the top 100 books that says, "The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?"

She was suspicious of the list, but went through and marked it anyway. This was the list:
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 1984 - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD 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 Tolstoy
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 - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS 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 - AA 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 Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM 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 Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A 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 - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
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

Ok, so for those of you who don't space out at large lists, did you notice some oddities in there, like that the Complete Works of Shakespeare is number 14, and that Hamlet is number 98? Not to mention the odd conglomeration of pop current books with heavy duty classics. The BBC really thinks that most people haven't read at least six pop novels in their life, plus a few classics from their school years?

So I put on my detective duty lenses, and went and....searched the Internet. But not before I first figured out that I had read 52 of the books listed. It may be a bogus list, but I don't mind crossing stuff off anyway!

After putting in, "BBC 100 books" (Sherlock Holmes has been calling, and asking me to share my Obsessive Compulsive abilities to notice tiny details to lead me to solve crimes, but I can't share this much talent all at once), first up on the list was this highly legitimate website, which for those who cannot be bothered to go there, is from the BBC itself, and not from another meme.

According to their own press, "In April 2003 the BBC's Big Read began the search for the nation's best-loved novel, and we asked you to nominate your favourite books."

The resulting 100 books are (Now, notice the major differences. If you don't, don't worry, I'll point out a few after I list the list. Feel free to point out more in comments).

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
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, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA 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

What do we notice? The real, legitimate origin of the Meme list was merely a popularity poll of the British Public, whereas the Memed list was trying to make some claim about how ill read people are, and so tried to both Americanize the list (so you can feel better than the average Joe, who hasn't even read 6) while also adding a lot of extra dusty tomes to make the list look more "legitimate." Because all of the English majors I know out there have read the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Including Troilus and Cressida. And all three parts of Henry the VI (I'm looking at you, Matt. Do not disappoint me). Not to mention that most people don't read the Bible all the way through, even if they're religious. Also they cut out ALL of the Terry Pratchett, which should be a crime in and of itself - especially when inserting Dan Brown in his place. Roald Dahl also got cut down to just one book - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For an interesting table of the replaced books (which was 37 in number), check out this blog post at Purple Car. I guess whoever made the Meme list didn't like fantasy, since all the popular fantasy was taken off (except for the super popular, like Tolkien, Harry Potter, Dark Materials) and replaced with American pop novels.

Guess how I made out on the real list? Still 52. Maybe I'll stick to the first list, since most of you, apparently, have only read 6 items on the list. Or maybe since I've read 52 very popular British Books, I can be honorarily British.


  1. Its amazing how quickly things get twisted around on the Internet.

    While Tolkien is fantasy, I believe his two picks are legitimate classics, along with Dune, and C.S. Lewis. Pullman - not so much - that is a popular choice. Harry Potter - more for the huge resurgence the books have caused in Childrens & Young Adult fantasy.

    My wife and I firmly believe there need to be more uplifting books amongst the classics. Overall, a lot of them are awfully dreary. We feel that Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" deserve a place amongst the American classics, while I feel Michael Gruber's recent "Valley of Bones" is an amazing novel.

    My wife has read a bunch of the books on those lists. Way more than me. I came in around twenty on the first one.

  2. What?! "Titus Andronicus" is way less read than "Troilus and Cressida." Mainly due the nausea factor, I think.

    Impressive detective skilz, lady!

  3. The one good thing that I can think of about those lists (for both of them) is they remind me of books I've been meaning to read and haven't yet.

  4. impressive detective skills thora! i am not as cool as you, as i have not read half those books. i have seen alot of the movies, does that count for anything? kidding! The first list i have read 37, and the second list 30. If i had read the harry potter books like everyone else in the world both my numbers would be higher! ah well. i did see the harry potter movies! ;)

  5. my english major brother david has read all the works of Shakespeare, including sonnets. and then proceeded to write/edit really intense wikipedia articles on some of the plays and characters. he did it a couple summers ago.

    yeah, I was suspicious of that list, but it felt good to cross things off. :D

  6. I did notice the crazy Shakespeare anomaly. I need to get reading, since I was only in the high thirties!

    Way to go, Holmes! Love this post.

  7. Yah, I was like 38 from the fist list, and about 30 from the second.

    What I found interesting when crossing off my list, is the lack of modern books I have read.

    And I think I'm sadly missing the "typical" highschool books (To kill a mocking bird) and have more obscure ones (like anna karenina).

  8. I'm just going to point out that I enjoyed the post over all but the first paragraphs kinda confused me otherwise it was very nice.

  9. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!