Friday, August 1, 2008

The Big Read


I lifted this from a blog I found today:

"Below is a list of books printed by The Big Read, an organization that---according to their Web site---hopes to 'restore reading to the center of American culture.' They say, though, that the average American has only read six of the following hundred."
Here are the rules:
1) Bold the books you have already read
2) Italicize the books you intend to read
3) Notes in parentheses
1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (hated it - I just cannot get into Austen)
2) The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
3) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (indulgent - not that there is anything bad about that).
4) Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
5) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6) The Bible
7) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
8) Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
9) His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (The trilogy that includes the Golden Compass - it HAS to be better than the movie.
10) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
11) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
12) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
13) Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
14) Complete Works of Shakespeare (I haven't read EVERY single work, but Twelfth Night is my favorite)
15) Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (didn't finish it though)
16) The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
17) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
18) Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
19) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
20) Middlemarch by George Eliot
21) Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
22) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
23) Bleak House by Charles Dickens
24) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
25) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
26) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
27) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28) Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
29) Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
30) The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
31) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
32) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
33) Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
34) Emma by Jane Austen
35) Persuasion by Jane Austen
36) The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
37) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
38) Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
39) Memories of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
40) Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
41) Animal Farm by George Orwell
42) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
43) One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44) A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
45) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
46) Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
47) Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
48) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
49) Lord of the Flies by William Golding
50) Atonement by Ian McEwan (Liked, but didn't loved it)
51) Life of Pi by Yann Martel
52) Dune by Frank Herbert
53) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
54) Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
55) A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
56) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57) A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
58) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
59) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (Loved it!)
60) Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
62) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
63) The Secret History by Donna Tartt
64) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
65) Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
66) On The Road by Jack Kerouac
67) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
68) Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
69) Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
70) Moby Dick by Herman Melville
71) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
72) Dracula by Bram Stoker
73) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
74) Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
75) Ulysses by James Joyce (I highlighted and italicized because I have started this book a dozen times yet have never finished it.
76) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
77) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
78) Germinal by Emile Zola
79) Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (horrible movie!)
80) Possession by AS Byatt
81) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
82) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
83) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
84) The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
85) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
86) A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
87) Charlotte's Web by EB White
88) The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
89) Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90) The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
91) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
92) The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93) The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
94) Watership Down by Richard Adams
95) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
96) A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
97) The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
98) Hamlet by William Shakespeare
99) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
100) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I actually did pretty well  - over 70 of the top 100 - but I think the most telling is if I went back and said which of these have I read in the last five years and that number would drop precipitously.  I just don't read fiction that much anymore - I tend to lean toward biography, nonfiction political or social works.  I think life's stresses has either pushed me to read more garbage (although I still haven't read Bridget Jones' diary, yet).  

The other thing I noticed is why are there no works by Hemingway, Faulkner, Ferber, and all of the other works of the great authors of that period?  Why are two works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and only one by Steinbeck?  Or NONE by William Faulkner? None by Tennessee Williams? Willa Cather, Edgar Alan Poe?  Why only the Great Gatsby and not Tender Is The Night (which I thought was a better book); I'm not denigrating the list at all - I'm sure I'll go back and find more that I will want to read, but I cannot conceive a list of great books without A Farewell to Arms, The Sound and the Fury or Appointment at Samarra (John O'Hara). 


NJDecorator said...

I think for me I read so many of these in high school and college because I had too, I don't know if I would have choosen them otherwise.

spcoleman said...

Great blog. You've probably discovered by now that this is not the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read but rather one from the U.K. and compiled by the BBC. In the NEA's Big Read (, the NEA provides grants to communities for "one book, one community" programs. The communities choose from a few dozen (not 100) books and then provide free resources for local book group and classroom discussions. Just thought NEA and the Big Read communities should get their just due.

Carl Zetie said...

Wow, weird list. Seems like some of these are on here to be "worthy" rather than because they are particularly readable. Has anybody here every actually tried "reading" the Bible cover to cover? Including all of the "begats" and the laws? Also, Shakespeare should be seen and heard, not read.

Some others I'd strike:

Anything by Dumas: Just because it's old doesn't mean it's a classic. He was paid by the yard to fill up periodicals, and as a result his books are twice as long as they should be. Monte Cristo is a perfect example.

Anything by Dickens: See Dumas, above. Also because it's sentimental twaddle.

Da Vinci Code: Just a silly airport thriller that happened to be popular around the time the list was compiled. Does anybody think this tosh will be remembered and recommended even 10 years from now?

Bridget Jones' Diary: See Da Vinci Code, substitute "chick lit" for "airport thriller".

Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle: The epitome of Holmes is the mystery that he solves because it was committed by a pygmy and a one-legged sailor recently returned from the South Seas. If it had just been two average burglars, he'd have had no clue.

John Irving: there's not much wrong with Irving that a really good editor couldn't fix.

Yeah, I sound like a curmudgeon. But take that junk out and you've got room for some completely overlooked authors -- I'll take Raymond Chandler over Doyle, a couple more Conrads and Hardys, John Updike (how can he not be there?), Malcolm Bradbury, Amis father and son, (hard to believe this is a british list and those three are missing), and I'll take the French greats Flaubert and Maupassant over Dickens and Dumas.

Anyway, for the record I've read 42 of the list. Not so great compared to Margo...