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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 29, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    Read seven books and feel superior to your fellow man

    Laurence Mackin

    We’re a bit slow on the uptake on this, but a lovely little meme (is that what this is called online savvy people?) has being doing the social-network rounds of late.

    Incidentally, doesn’t that make it sound glamorous? Except instead of drinks at an opening night and people dressed to the nines, it’s people in bed, wrapped up against the cold with just the warmth of a laptop screen and the wit of Twitter to keep them going, face lit up milkily by artificial light while the tea cools to a sludge and the biscuits migrate from plate to crummy, duvet existence.

    But I digress – the BBC came up with a top 100 books of all time, in it’s Big Read survey, and as to be expected it’s packed with bilge. Oh alright, it’s actually quite high brow, this being the BBC (and anyway how does one pack bilge?), but there are still a decent handful of stinkers in there to make the literary snobs (ie me and probably you) feel nice and smug, which warms us up quicker than any laptop screen. And, by the by, the list doesn’t even include the greatest book of all time. Then, in a follow-up survey, the BBC found that on average people had read only six books from the list.

    So many have you read? Go on, boast a little. That list in full:

    1. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
    2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
    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. 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
    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’ 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
    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

    • Tom says:

      There are a few books on the list that I studied in school so I’m not sure that counts. Including those, I’m at 19 books read from the list. I think I should get out more.

    • Aoife says:

      38. I definitely need to get out more…

    • Maya Hanley says:

      Surprised to find I have read 74 of them but I also think the list is very odd. Not a single Hemingway on there for example.

    • robespierre says:

      I’ve read 53 on the list. It kind of points out I have read little contemporary fiction.

      The most recent one I read was Confederacy of Dunces last Christmas. And what an absolute “abortion” of a disgusting book it is too!

    • Dave McG says:

      I’ve read 28!
      But then i got curious- how can you lump an entire series of books in as one entry (The Lord of The Rings)?
      Or, worse yet, how can you lump in an entire writers works (The Complete Work of Shakespeare) then individually state one later on (Hamlet)?
      Seems a little off to me.
      And is “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” just the first book?
      That list either needs to be a lot longer or a lot clearer!

    • amadán says:

      I make it 50. Help!

    • Caroline says:

      Erm, Complete Works of Shakespeare at 14. and Hamlet at 98.? This list looks like someone simply naming as many books as they can in 3 minutes. The lip-service to marginal demographics is particularly insulting, albeit to be expected from a list that will position the words ‘Bridget Jones’ nestling beside ‘Jude the Obscure’. ‘The Wasp Factory’? Come off it…

    • Anne says:

      24. Feeling like I should have a better social life than I do…

    • Well over half but I’d like to point out that this is not the original BBC Big Read – several books on that list were published post 2003.

    • Mick says:


      Confederacy of Dunces is brilliant. Poor list though all in all…the Donna Tartt novel is just namedropping tripe.

    • David says:

      No Mart Twain !!!??? – Did Huckleberry Finn hit the rapids on the wrong side?

    • Like one of the commentors above, I had to read some of those in school but some I still really love. My favorite classics are Alice in Wonderland, and the Count of Monte Cristo. I also love Roald Dahl, my daughter’s school actually would not allow kids to read Roald Dahl because the old battleaxe of a principal said Dahl’s work was inappropriate. Why, because his work questions authority.

      My reading tastes tend toward fantasy ( Neil Gaiman), Dectective Noir (James Ellroy, Declan Hughes), and Horror (Dean Koontz, and the Master Stephen King) because I read to pass the time. As for Germanial by Emile Zola, I saw the movie for my french class in college and I have to say after seeing Gerard Depardieu naked in that film it was enough to make me consider entering a convent. Also, the story was conpletely, um, overshadowed.

    • Dave McG says:

      On second reading of the list, i have to agree with Mick and Caroline.
      It’s an incredibly poor list and ANYTHiNG i can think of off the top of my head could not be as bad as putting “The Da Vince Code” [no author listed] between Animal Farm and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

      I will argue with Caroline over ‘The Wasp Factory’- great book.

      My only real objection is that there’s not a whiff of Terry Pratchett to be found.

      It looks like a list of people’s guilty confessions of what they have read alongside books they think they should have read.

    • A Blaze says:

      27 yeah! Thank God, I needed something to feel superior about today

    • robespierre says:

      Just because the list isn’t a complete joke doesn’t mean there is no fun in looking at it and checking them off. Seriously though, there Graham Greene, no Somerset Maugham, no Hawthorne, no Gide, no Chaucer, no Chekov, no Kafka, no Kundera, no Goethe, no Hess, no Cervantes and from what I can see not a single Balzac – the most prolific writer that has ever lived.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      I’m not for a moment claiming this is a good list, and as I said plenty of bilge on there and the omissions – my god, the omissions. No Hemingway (wail), no Bulgakov (gnash of teeth), no Kafka (moan), no Le Carre (snarl, especially given his popularity) – but this is hardly the point. If you did this list now it would be very different and I guarantee you would have an Obama book and at least one Franzen novel to contend with. Probably still no Hemmingway though (resigned whimper). Also the Complete Works of Shakespeare – oh come one, who has really read the Complete Works of Shakespeare? And aren’t they mostly plays as opposed to books or novels?

      Tom – Of course they count. Take what you can get.

      Jennifer – Roald Dahl is the darkest, nastiest writer I think I’ve ever come across (with the possible exception of Mr James Ellroy). Every child should be exposed to Dahl’s work, the man is an absolute monster which is what made me love books in the first place.

    • Dave McG says:

      Actually, i’ve been talking it over with someone and i’ve settled on: it’s a great list.
      Lots of notable omissions, lots of startling inclusions, but overall it shows that people are reading.
      I would HATE this list if it was all “Tolstoy, Murakami, Bronte, DeFoe” high-regarded nonsense- i’ll pick up my old english teachers recommended-reading list if i want a list crammed with that.
      I don’t care what people are reading, but it’s a good sign that it’s not an thing overwhelmed by the pretensious-types or betrodden with the “really reaching to find cool current book”-low-brow garbage, if it was there’d probably be a slew of Jamie Oliver cooking books!

      That’s not to say i wouldn’t change it in a heartbeat.
      But, if that’s the list i’m being given: great! (except for The Life of Pi, which was awful and much like i threw my copy of it out of the window of a bus i never want to see that book recommended to anyone ever.)

    • de profundis says:

      @16 I …well my inner pedant…was about to make the point that plays is plays and books is books but you got there first…these lists really appeal to the posers and tell you a lot about the type of poser you’re dealing with… Plenty of good stuff…others I wouldn’t use to…well you know what I mean…

    • Roald Dahl is dark, I especially loved reading the Twits about a nasty husband and wife to my daughter. My daughter and I have collected all the books by Dahl. James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard are a particulary guilty pleasure of mine on dark winter days. I do not know what it is about the dark side of human nature that is so interesting. I do find the list lacking , no Kafka, and no Hemingway. My favorite Ernest Hemingway book is the Sun Also Rises spurring the lifelong curiosity with bull fighting. I think the list is composed of all books people say they have read, but really have not. Come on who sits down with Shakespear, when they could read almost anything else? At least I was honest about reading smut (noir, and horror). Some of the books on the list were inflicted upon me in High School, others I discovered on my own. One modern classics I liked was Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby as I am also a Gunner. Happy Reading all.

    • Niallio says:

      It does read like a quickly dashed off list, but as others have pointed out, there are some strange omissions. There’s really no room for anything written by Bellow, Updike, Primo Levi, Camus, Céline, Burroughs, Ballard, M. Amis? No room for Bukowski? No Gogol?? No Chaucer or Donne???

    • niallio says:

      So no Borges, no Roth, no DeLillo, no McCarthy? More and more, this list hurts my eyes.

    • I find it so hard to believe the average is only SIX! I’ve read 47 of these books and there are plenty not included that probably should have been, like The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

    • Joe Phelan says:

      27 not too sure it thats good or bad

    • Bookworm says:

      I have read Forty Three books from the list, my most recent reads were, Love in the time of Cholera, and the Confederacy of Dunces, I liked his singular world view,book lists are subjective, there are bookshelves of books I have not read,I usually follow my own instincts, as long as books are printed , I will read them.

    • de profundis says:

      The owner of my local bookshop maintains that the book chooses the reader…I like that idea…!

    • Úna says:

      42. That’s a lot of Dickens.

    • Jimmy says:

      Seems a bit focussed towars those who like Jane Austin, the Brontês, et al. As for Lord of the rings at number one, give me a break, surely just for nerds? Oh!

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