To live in

Anothere meme (I’ll get back to proper blogging soon, honest) – via. Books this time, and a tie-in of sorts with the BBC’s Big Read (although I can’t find a BBC page with this list on). Viral boilerplate follows:

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 were forced to read at school and hated. (I see no reason to restrict ‘books I hated’ to school – there are only a couple of books on the list I really disliked, and neither of them was a school text.)
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

Yes, I did an English degree. Which reminds me, number 14. Having read a fair chunk of Shakespeare I’m a bit peeved that the bar for number 14 is set so high – “The Phoenix and the Turtle”? “King John”? “The Comedy of Errors”? One would think that having read all the tragedies (even “Timon of Athens”) and all the late plays and several of the comedies and histories and the Sonnets would count for something, but apparently not – it’s the Works or nothing. Which makes it a bit odd that a single play sneaks in much lower down the list, at number 98 (see also 33 and 36). Does number 14 actually mean “two or more of the Works”?

As for number 6, yes, I have, actually. Blame it on the English degree, and specifically on the reading list our Director of Studies sent out to prospective first-years – a kind of conspectus of English literature from the seventeenth century onwards, under the general heading of ‘books we ought already to have read‘. I started at the top (the King James Bible), blithely confident that I’d be able to work my way through the whole thing over the summer. (It included Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End trilogy, I remember, and John Galt’s the Entail. It was comprehensive.) I forget how much of the list I read in the end, but I’m pretty sure I got through the Bible. When I got to college we spent the whole of the first term reading Middle English. Happy days.

Some of the ‘loved it’ underlinings are a bit arbitrary. I might have said I loved the Woman in White if I hadn’t also read the Moonstone – that I really loved. The Remains of the Day I didn’t love until I re-read it, which was after reading When we were orphans and the wonderful The Unconsoled. And Cloud Atlas depressed me for weeks after I read it, so ‘love’ doesn’t seem quite the right word. But it really got under my skin & I’m glad I read it.

47/100 – and only one on the list I actually haven’t heard of (Ruiz Zafon – ¿quién él?). Some odd omissions, though – wot no Tristram Shandy? Billy Liar? Flann O’Brien? Beckett? Pynchon? Alasdair Gray? Jonathan Coe? Why, in other words, aren’t they asking whether people are reading the books that I’m reading? That would make much more sense.


  1. Posted 5 August 2008 at 10:39 | Permalink | Reply

    Reading other people’s book memes can be boring, but this is different because you look for what’s been underlined and crossed out. May all future book memes do something similar!

    How could you cross out Blyton’s Faraway Tree? God knows how many times I reread those magical stories as a wee lad!

  2. Posted 5 August 2008 at 12:51 | Permalink | Reply

    I really liked Atonement, and The Wasp Factory is not even the best of Iain Banks’ non-genre novels, let alone the best of his novels: it’s trying too hard. Right: I don’t care if no-one tags me, I’m doing this.

  3. Cian
    Posted 5 August 2008 at 22:18 | Permalink | Reply

    Alice Walker rather than Toni Morrison. If you’re only going to have the one token N***er, at least pick one who can write. I’ve also read the bible, but then I was brought up Catholic. I used to read a lot, then I had kids. Ho hum.

    Seriously bizarre list. I’d be worried about someone who’d read all of them.

  4. Posted 6 August 2008 at 10:16 | Permalink | Reply

    Is The Little Prince much read in the UK nowadays? We sell one in Spanish every 2-3 months, but although I remember seeing it in my great-aunt’s house more than thirty years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another copy in English.

  5. Posted 6 August 2008 at 10:27 | Permalink | Reply

    Well, I’ve got 31, if we include only those ones I finished (i.e. not One Hundred Years of Solitude, among others). I read nearly all of those when a teenager: I think Oxbridge sapped my will to read as well as my will to live.

    A few notes.

    i) It doesn’t make much sense to list the Complete Works and Hamlet.

    ii) Madame Bovary, I tried to read in a dreadful Wordsworth Classics translation. Ugh.

    iii) How many times did you cry “fuck off!” when looking at the list? I managed to confine myself to three (Brown, Fielding, Bryson).

    iv) I got War and Peace as a book prize when I was seventeen. I’ve never read it and by now it’s become such a standing joke that I suspect I never will. At least not until my retirement.

    v) La Sombra Del Viento is a very big deal in Spain indeed.

  6. Nich Hills
    Posted 6 August 2008 at 10:54 | Permalink | Reply

    Twenty-one. Maths/science degree.

  7. Posted 6 August 2008 at 15:21 | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve read 69!! Including Dostoyevsky and Bridget Jones’ Diary.

    I heartily recommend reading Dostoyevsky, he is the master. I’d recomend starting with The Idiot, then hitting Crime and Punishment and finally climbing the summit that is The Brothers Karamazov, possibly the greatest novel ever written (though it takes over 100 pages to get going, and then really kicks in with a vengeance)

  8. Posted 6 August 2008 at 16:17 | Permalink | Reply

    The Idiot I’ve twice started, twenty years’ apart, and twice failed to finish.

  9. Posted 7 August 2008 at 00:28 | Permalink | Reply

    ejh – your link is slightly baffling. I’ll endorse your reactions to Bryson, Fielding and Brown, although I have to cop to having read all three of them. The Bryson gave me a particularly strong child of six reaction – “he gets paid for writing stuff like this? how come I don’t get paid for writing stuff like this?” La Sombra del Viento sounds fairly interesting – Saramago for people who are never actually going to get round to reading Saramago (a group in which I include myself).

    Adamski – phew. I’m deeply impressed. My wife scored 66, and she was Hermione Grainger.

  10. Posted 7 August 2008 at 09:37 | Permalink | Reply

    Blimey. I can’t even remember reading that article. Try this link instead.

    Bryson – yeah. I also get the same reaction when I read:

    i) anything ever appearing in the Guardian by Sabine Durrant

    ii) articles such as the one discussed here.

    But one day I’ll show ’em.

  11. Posted 7 August 2008 at 13:37 | Permalink | Reply

    In retrospect, the Idiot is great until about two-thirds of the way in when it loses its way. Crime and Punishment is better in having a good beginning, middle & end!

  12. Cian
    Posted 7 August 2008 at 23:07 | Permalink | Reply

    53. Though that list mostly has the crap I have read, rather than the decent stuff I’d own up to. I’ve thought about reading the Brontes, but all the Newnham girls seemed to be obsessed with them which has always put me off.

    I’ve read the Little Prince in French if that counts. Its a fun kids book. I really enjoyed Exupery’s book on flying when I was 11, though I doubt I would now.

  13. Cian
    Posted 7 August 2008 at 23:08 | Permalink | Reply

    Neville Shute? He’s still in print? Extraordinary.

  14. Posted 8 August 2008 at 04:45 | Permalink | Reply

    Just did this over at my place. 64/100 which puts me in second place behind Adamski, I think. Only need to read another 6 and I’ll be the best-read person in the blogosphere!

    Well, probably not.

    Sadly though, unlike your bad self, of the 100 listed I’ve had to strike-through far more than I’ve underlined. There’s a whole lot of stuff on there that I found incredibly bad (anything by Dickens, Austen or Hardy for starters and don’t even get me started on bloody Shakespeare).

  15. Posted 8 August 2008 at 09:22 | Permalink | Reply

    Good God.

  16. Phil
    Posted 8 August 2008 at 09:42 | Permalink | Reply

    Jim – interesting opinions you’ve got there… If I didn’t know you better I’d suspect you were trying to get your name in the paper (“Views in the blogosphere are divided, with Jim Bliss describing Hardy as ‘shit’, Dickens as ‘toss’ and Shakespeare as ‘no better than Last of the Summer Wine'”).

  17. Cian
    Posted 8 August 2008 at 11:26 | Permalink | Reply

    Shakespeare wrote Volpone right? Don’t know what all the fuss is about. Now Ben Jonson on the other hand…

  18. Posted 8 August 2008 at 11:47 | Permalink | Reply

    Um, Ben Jonson wrote Volpone. HIBT?

  19. Cian
    Posted 8 August 2008 at 12:05 | Permalink | Reply

    Ben Jonson is sometimes proposed as the “real” author of Shakespeare’s plays. Its less fun if I have to explain it…

  20. Posted 8 August 2008 at 12:38 | Permalink | Reply

    Somebody might have to explain HIBT though.

  21. Cian
    Posted 8 August 2008 at 12:54 | Permalink | Reply

    Have I Been Trolled.
    I’m sure DSquared used to hear that a lot, back in the day.

  22. Posted 8 August 2008 at 13:34 | Permalink | Reply

    No Phil, not trying to get my name in the paper (nothing good ever comes from that, let me tell you). Get a few pints of Guinness into me and mention Shakespeare… you’ll be on the receiving end of a well-rehearsed rant that’s changed only slightly in the past 20 years.

    I’m obviously well aware of how atypical my view of pre-Joycean literature is, but it’s far from controversy for its own sake. I really wanted to like those writers (after all, if nothing else, my time at school would have been far more pleasant) and I persevered with them far longer than was strictly reasonable. But they just never ‘clicked’ for me. And at this stage, I suspect they never will.

    When I see you underline Dickens and Austen — you, a person who appreciates Pynchon no less — I simply shake my head in confusion. There are, I believe, large numbers of people who will respond “Charles Dickens”, or “Jane Austen” when asked to name their favourite writers, but who do so only because that’s what’s expected of them and they don’t want to admit that they’ve not read anything outside the Robert Ludlum oeuvre since school.

    I don’t for a moment imagine you’re one of them, however, so I accept that you are getting something from these writers. That there is something there. Whatever that ‘something’ is though, I just can’t access it.

  23. Cian
    Posted 8 August 2008 at 13:47 | Permalink | Reply

    I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of people who like Pynchon, Dickens and Austen.

    Personally I find it hard to believe that there’s anyone who genuinely appreciated McEwen and Pynchon, but that’s another matter.

    Phil: Saramago is a pretty easy read; I’ve read a couple on holiday before.

  24. Posted 8 August 2008 at 14:00 | Permalink | Reply

    I guess it takes all sorts, Cian :)

    To be fair, the only novel of McEwan’s that I thought half-decent was Enduring Love. Thing is though, I read that as part of my psychoanalytic studies, so I was probably concentrating less on its merits as a novel and more on the rather interesting psychodynamics of the characters. Atonement I thought was awful, and they’re the only two of his books that I’ve read. So it might be stretching it a bit to describe me as someone who “genuinely appreciated” him.

    Though I will, as I say, defend Enduring Love on certain grounds.

  25. Posted 8 August 2008 at 15:15 | Permalink | Reply

    Jim – I suppose the question is whether you believe people had emotions like ours, & cared as much as we care about love, money, sex, ambition, children, inequality, pain and death, before Joyce started writing. The life is there – the emotions are there – even in Dickens, even in Austen. Even in Chaucer, for that matter. I really think you’re missing out. Have you tried Lawrence? He does what Hardy does, the way Joyce does it.

    McEwan, for my money, is a lightweight, a fraud and a creep – a liar who has lied to himself. (As a novelist, I hasten to say – in person I’m sure he’s a good citizen and a lovely bloke.) I can’t stand Amis, either, and I’m not crazy about Julian Barnes or Graham Swift – which has sometimes made me wonder if I’ve got something like Jim’s tin ear, only for British late-C20 novelists. Or it did until I read When we were orphans – Ishiguro is the business.

  26. Posted 8 August 2008 at 15:28 | Permalink | Reply

    That’s the thing though, Phil. I do believe that “people had emotions like ours, & cared as much as we care about love, money, sex, ambition, children, inequality, pain and death, before Joyce started writing”

    But I don’t find those things in pre-Joycean literature by and large (there are — as I’ve pointed out — exceptions). As hard as I’ve looked for it, I just can’t find it. And I’m aware that’s partly my “tin ear”, partly the cultural limitations of the time these books were written, and partly — I submit to you — because these writers are (at least in part) actually overrated.

    I’ve not read Chaucer, so if I leave aside the hyperbole I’m having so much fun with on this one, I wouldn’t presume to tar him with the same brush. But almost everything I’ve read, between the times of Shakespeare and Joyce, has left me feeling mystified as to what the hell everyone else sees in it.

  27. Posted 8 August 2008 at 18:12 | Permalink | Reply

    Neither Swift nor Barnes are consistently good: Tomorrow was pretty disappointing, I thought, and neither Barnes’ one about Englishness, I can’t remember what it’s called, for example. But Last Orders I thought was a very sympathetic, humane novel, and The History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters has some really nice, playful, moments. I liked Atonement, though – although I thought Enduring Love was awful, tin-eared about people, full of literally incredible and incredibly annoying characters – and didn’t like what I managed of Lawrence (the beginning of Lady Chatterley), so maybe my opinion should be appropriately discounted.

  28. Posted 12 August 2008 at 20:03 | Permalink | Reply

    73 for me – sorry guys! Does that make me the best read person in hte blogosphere?

    I am pretty old and have been reading for 50+ years….

  29. Andy newman
    Posted 3 September 2008 at 22:07 | Permalink | Reply

    Only just picked up on this Phil, and yes if people are reading Shakespeare then hey should certianluy read King JOhn – it is one of my favourites.

    this England never has nor never shall kneel at the proud foot of a conqueror

    and so on.

  30. Jussi Jalonen
    Posted 23 September 2008 at 13:59 | Permalink | Reply

    Eight in bold, four of them underlined. The underlined ones would be “Dune”, “Dracula”, “Lord of the Rings” and “The Wind in the Willows”.

    (Believe it or not, there _are_ people who regard me as some kind of a high-brow intellectual. Idiots.)

    No italics. There’s nothing that arouses my interest.

    Struck out so many that I won’t even bother to count them. Some of them I removed out of pure malice; there’s no chance in hell that I’m going to read Dickens, Austen or “Gone with the Wind”. Same goes for Kerouac or “Catcher in the Rye”; screw those.

    Some of them I removed just because they don’t seem topical anymore; for example, even though I did read Rushdie’s “Shame” a long, long time ago when Zia was still alive and I liked it very much, I have no intention of reading “Midnight’s Children” any more.

    (I may be wrong. After all, “Shame” is _still_ topical.)

    Judging by my low score, I’m probably an “average” person. On the other hand, the list is – as one would expect – rather anglocentric. I’ve read both “Divina Commedia” as well as the Elder Edda, for example, but they’re not on the list.

    Even for a list that has an emphasis in English-language non-fiction, this is pretty weird. Dan Brown is listed, but there’s absolutely nothing by, say, D. H. Lawrence or Hemingway? WTF?


    J. J.

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