19 February 2009

Six from a Hundred?

It's Sister the Younger's birthday today, so breithlá shona di and all that.

In other news, I've been intrigued lately by all the Facebook memes that people are actually running with -- they've always been there, but over the past few weeks people seem far more likely to actually try them theirselves. Probably the one that has most intrigued me has been one with a list of books supposedly drawn up by the BBC, of which most people have read only six. Jen was the first person I saw who'd done it, having drawn it from Amanda, and since then I've seen a few more, most of which put me to shame, as though I reckon I've read 51 of the books, I'm seeing people passing sixty and seventy out there.

As a man said to me recently, I need to read more. Still, the ones I've read are in bold. The eleven in italics are ones that sit on my shelf, waiting for me to get my life sorted out and get stuck into them.

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 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

But here's the thing. I was highly suspicious of the note when I first saw it, thinking the six-book figure was improbably low, that Bill Bryson's description of his travels round Britain sat very oddly among the novels, and that there was some curious duplication here, with Hamlet appearing as well as Shakespeare's Complete Works, and with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe sitting just a few places away from The Chronicles of Narnia in their entirety.

To be fair, I hadn't been alone in my scepticism. Jen had herself observed that
' ... the BBC is retarded if they think most people will have read only 6 books on this list. Come on. A lot of these you read in school.

I'm ashamed I've only read 34, but it's a VERY random list. Why Dan Brown's atrocity of a novel is on this list, I have NO idea. I looked at his sources, at an example of the quality of his writing and gagged.'
Where had this list come from? I seemed to have no logic behind it at all. And then just an hour or so ago, Px posted a list that was almost identical but seemed marginally more coherent. Romeo and Juliet had replaced Shakespeare's Complete Works, and Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter had taken the place of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, thus wiping out the duplication issue. But even allowing for these corrections, the list clearly struck her as peculiar:
Apparently (and I got this off someone else's page, so it MUST be true) this list was produced by the BBC and, worryingly, they reckon the average person has read about 6 on the list. Incidentally, I can think of several books that should be on there - the Guardian's recent list, which featured "The L-Shaped Room", "The Trial", "Mrs Dalloway" and "Ballet Shoes" was far more instructive :-)
So I frowned again, and had a quick rummage online, and it seems, according to this fellow who did all the legwork, that the list was drawn up as a result of an online poll for 2007's World Book Day, with The Guardian running the story and publishing the list on 1 March 2007.

2,000 people were apparently asked which ten books they couldn't live without. I guess this explains the oddness of a travel book, a play, a library of religious writings, and the complete plays and poems of Shakespeare in a list otherwise made up of 96 works of fiction, and perhaps the number of children's books on the list too. Certain childhood books always remain precious to us; of the small number of books that I take with me whenever I've moved, pride of place is given to the battered King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table I grew up with.

The claim that most people have read only six of these, is, however, something that appears to have been plucked from thin air. That's the only kind of air suitable for plucking things from, you know.


Tom said...

Well I only read four and a half of them.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

You need to sort that out. You might start by twittering less...