Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Carrying On Regardless

No-one has tagged me with this, but I'm going to do it anyway.

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or for whatever reason loathe (like Phil, I see no reason to confine my self to books my education's left me hating, not least because there aren't any on this list: the only thing I read at school on this list is To Kill a Mockingbird, which I liked; I stopped doing Eng. Lit. at 16).
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK 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 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 Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’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 Hitch Hiker’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 Meaney - 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 Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
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

33, by my count, but about half of that I read when I was a kid. I've only actually crossed out things I am pretty certain I am never going to voluntarily read, if I haven't already read them. The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare go on grounds of length, for example. My underlinings are also a bit haphazard: I'm not really sure that I definitely like A Handmaid's Tale more than Cloud Atlas for example (and I'm not sure that I like Cloud Atlas more than Number9dream or A Handmaid's Tale more than Cat's Eyes, either). More interestingly, perhaps, allthough there are plenty of things on the list I think people should read, just because they're parts of the cultural furniture, I wouldn't press anything I've read on this list into people's hands, even the things I've underlined. That's partly a function of having read most of the stuff I have read on it a fair while ago, and so their charms having faded, but partly because even the stuff I read relatively recently - Cloud Atlas, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Atonement, A Confederacy of Dunces, A Fine Balance, His Dark Materials - I feel is either over-rated, enormously so in the case of Mistry, or doing quite well by itself, thank you very much.

The two things I really noticed when doing this, though, are how heavily biased in favour of the classics of 19th century literature the whole thing is - Dickens and Austen are the two most popular authors, even though almost two-thirds of the list was written after WWI - and how few of these apparently central parts of the canon I have read. I did once start a Dickens novel - I think it may have been 'Our Mutual Friend' - but found it very hard going. On the other hand, I have enjoyed Austen adaptations on television. I realise this doesn't count. Other things: only a quarter of the writers are women, with that proportion dropping after World War I; excluding Victorian classics, there's almost nothing in translation; Douglas Adams, (f*cking) Tolkein, and Frank Herbert seem to be your lot as far as sci-fi or fantasy goes, so no Pratchett - whom I'm a bit meh about, but is very popular - Dick, or Asimov; none of that leftist-ish world-weariness typical of Cold War thriller - no Greene or Le Carre, for example; Kerouac and Heller is as far as any beat-ish post-war stylistic experimentation goes, so no Pynchon, (early) Roth, or Vonnegut; only one non-fiction work.

I'm not really sure whether it's an odd list, or whether it's entirely unsurprising. Enid Blyton, for example, is surely really weird, but you'd have bet your life on a grindingly middlebrow author like Mistry being in there (I'd put money on the two authors I didn't know, Zafon and Albom, being of that sort too, for example). It's not an accident that there's nothing on there italicized: I'm genuinely not that bothered about reading any of it, although of course I'm open to persuasion. What I feel like reading is maybe a little more Le Carre, certainly Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, another Pamuk perhaps, David Peace's Red Riding forerunners to GB84, even Raphael Samuel maybe, whose essays on Britishness I really enjoyed. Big nineteenth century realist novels you can beat a man to death with and oh-so-heavily-freighted with significance beach reads; thank you, but no.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Only 25 for me.

I've read a lot of Greene, Le Carré and Vonnegut recently. As you say, all missing.

Also missing...

The Trial

The Master and Margarita

The Tin Drum

and yet we have Dan Brown and Narnia twice...

Rob Jubb said...

Kafka, Bulgakov and Grass would all be in translation as well, and as I note, there's virtually nothing in translation post-1900.

The only bit of Kafka I've ever read is 'Metamorphosis', which I really didn't get on with, and while I enjoyed 'The Master and Margarita', I wouldn't say it's one of my favourite novels. I've never read any Grass.

I'm not actually that bothered by the list as much as interested by it as a cultural artefact. Of course my favourite books aren't going to be on there: I know my literary tastes aren't very conventional. Of course there are going to things on it I think are likely to be rubbish: because my literary tastes aren't conventional, I think lots of what people read is pretty crap. Bitching about whether specific books are rightly on or off it kind of misses the point I think, since it'd be really odd if a survey produced a list you agreed with - anyone whose political views were accurately modelled by opinion polls would be weird, for example. What's interesting is its general features: the absence of stuff in translation, of post-19th century women, of any thrillers, really. The interesting question is surely why these sorts of books are popular here and now.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realised that it was the top 100 books as voted by the public. I think that makes it less surprising and explains Dan Brown.

The next 100 is quite interesting( Top 200). Lots of Pratchett, Children's (IMO) and The Master and Margarita.

Rob Jubb said...

That can't be the same list, since 100-200 has The Wasp Factory and The Handmaid's Tale, both of which are in this top 100.

Anonymous said...

It seems that your list is not The Big Read, but a poll for World Book Day (according to
The Telegraph).

If you really like lists, I also stumbled across these:
The 100 greatest novels of all time
The top 100 books of all time

Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
punkscience said...

I played the game but I didn't like it.

http://punkscientist.blogspot.com/2008/08/consider-phlebas.html

As people have pointed out above there's a lot missing and some stuff even gets duplicated!

Personally I'd want to see some Pratchett on there and more. My brain is a bit fried right now and I can't think what, but there's definitely big stuff missing.

a very public sociologist said...

Lol, 50 50 for me. I felt nice and smug :D

Talleyrand said...

I would recommend Possession by AS Byatt. It is the only (fiction) book that I regularly recommend to people, but when I do I say that it is a little hard-going. Skip the poetry the first time around.