Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Big Read

Current work: nonfic
Listening to: Martin Ostertag and Boris Bagger, Nocturne (cello and classical guitar)
Reading: Eileen Ramsay, The Stuff of Dreams plus some nonfic research

Nicked this from Michelle Styles, one of my fellow National Year of Reading 2008’s writers in residence.

Apparently the average adult has only read 6 of these top 100 books. Idea is:
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.

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 (doesn’t bear re-reading as an adult)
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 (er, hello, what about #33?)
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
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 (hated this and The Spire)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
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 (too much graphic violence for me)
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 (Wallbanger. I did try)
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 (genius book)
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 (not into Joyce, loathed this, prefer Yeats' poetry)
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 (this is one of my all time top reads)
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 (er – why is this here when the complete works are mentioned? And I HAVE read the complete works)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Oh dear. This is bad. I’ve read 90 on that list. Just as well the meme didn’t say “how old were you” (let’s just say 20 of them were before I was 10, … oh dear. Anything on that list published before 1990, I’d read it before 1990). In my defence: I could read before I went to school, I read voraciously and widely, and reading is one of my favourite pleasures. One I’m so glad I’ve passed on to my children.

There are some big ones missing there for me. Where’s The Mill on the Floss (my all-time fave)? Where’s Malory? Where’s Chaucer? Where’s The Mabiniogion and Sturlusson’s Edda? Where’s Beowulf? (I recommend the Swanton translation, but I’ve heard that Seamus Heaney’s done a fab job. I would also include The Exeter Book in my top 5, but as stories were written down as poems rather than prose during the Anglo-Saxon period, it counts as fiction... and Notes from a Small Island isn't exactly fiction, is it?) And if we’re talking popular fiction rather than classics, where are The Vizard Mask (Norman), Katherine (Seton), The Sunne in Splendour (Penman), Lady of Hay (Erskine)? (All of these for me are much more page-turning than Dan Brown – sorry, not being a snob, I’m talking page-turning quality, a gripping story and great characterisation and great pace.) Where’s Georgette Heyer? For modern litfic, where’s Robertson Davis? (Lots of lovely intellectual stuff there.) There’s the token dystopia of 1984, but what about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? Or, my favourite, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? (His books are fabulous reads.) Where’s John Wyndham?

I’d love to know who put together that list. Some of it’s stodgy (nailing my colours to the mast, I much prefer Opie and Eliot to Austen – the only Austen one I do like, Northanger Abbey, isn’t there - and Dickens can be so incredibly turgid. (This is what happens when you pay a writer per word. No cutting for pace!) Dombey and Son’s a good read, but The Old Curiosity shop and Little Dorrit are both tedious – and I have read hundreds of 19th century novels, both English and French, so that's an informed opinion). Some of it’s clearly a sop to ‘chart toppers’. But then again it’s quite hard to do a top 100. I’d find it very difficult to rank my favourites.

What worries me more is that if the average person has read 6 on that list, that means there are others like me who score significantly higher and bump up the average. Which means that a lot of people don’t read at all.

I could weep that people are missing out on such pleasure.

This is indeed why, despite my time being squeezed right now, I am supporting the National Year of Reading 2008 and being the Writer in Residence for Norfolk. Books are NOT just for people with a degree or who are ‘clever’. They’re for EVERYONE. Reading’s one of the best pleasures ever and it’s FREE. For me a good book is one that brings me into another world and makes time stop. Books MATTER.

And long may this continue.

(And if you decide to do this list on your own blog, leave me a note below because I'd love to come and be nosy!)


Michelle Styles said...

I figured that you would have read more than me and I was right. It is some of the newer ones...

But I agree with your rant.
And there are some Dickens that can send you to sleep. It is the market he was writing for. I do like A Tale of Two Cities though.

Nell said...

I hated Lord of the Flies too, it ranks with The Old man and the sea and Animal Farm as books that make me shudder when I look at them on a shelf. Dickens is hit and miss for me, some I liked and others are meh

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you that books are for everyone. I cannot imagine life without that amazing gift from one human brain to another through words on paper.
For some reason this list pressed the RANT button in my brain.
It is not your fault - I know that you did not chose this list.
It is mine.
Sorry in advance.
[ Ray-Anne slurks away at this point and hides behind the curtain]

Gillie B said...

How COULD you 'hate' The Spire?!!!!
The opening para is stupendous.
[Slurks away hugging treasured book to chest ;-( ]

Lorraine Powell said...


I love your blog, I came across it when I was looking for blogs on the RNA conference (it was my first one and I was only a day visitor but I loved it) and was drawn to yours as you also live in Norfolk...oh and the writing is great of course!

I've read about 20 on the list (though my memory is terrible since I had kids so that could be completely wrong!) I don't read as many classics as you, I weaned myself at a very young age from picture books to Enid Blyton then onto Sweet Dreams books as a young teenager (I know, I know!) Though obviously I am slightly wider read than that now!

I must disagree with you on the Jane Austen front, I love P&P but Emma is my fave heroine, she's just so interfering! I wouldn't want her for my best mate but who can resist her?

Keep blogging...


Amy Andrews said...

90??? Holy moly - 21 for me. Possibly 23, can't remember if I've read Catcher in the Rye or Watership Down although I suspect I did. 8 are in the first ten.

A Tale of Two Cities is one of my fav ever books. And sorry, Austen just doesn't do it for me. I've had Moby Dick in my TBR pile for about 2 years now. I don't know, something just always puts me off when I pick it up....

These lists are interesting aren't they and very subjective? I could argue the toss with quite a few of them too. But I also think they do make reading a rather snobby art form and can intimidate non-readers or those who aren't even game to try. Just read, I say.

Congrats, Kate on being Writer in Residence for Norfolk. What an honour! They obviously chose well.

Kate Hardy said...

Michelle - absolutely. Little Dorrit and The Old Curiosity Shop. (I agree with you re ToTC.)

Nell - Animal Farm. Agreed. (Actually, I had to skip bits of 1984 because they were too much for me.)

Ray-Anne - agree completely with your rant. This list isn't well balanced at all. I am very tempted to set up a new feature in my blog except time is so short right now I won't do it justice. Hmm, hmm.

Gillie!! Horses for courses. Bet you loathe some of my faves. :o)

Lori - lovely to see you here. And if you're from this part of the world, what a shame I didn't get to meet you at the conf. Re Austen - I'm one of the few who doesn't get her :o)

Amy - I had a misspent childhood :o) Me too on picture books to Enid - and then I went to M&B in my early teens... and Sara Craven started me writing my first M&B (as a teen - not ABOHO!) because I enjoyed her books so much.