Over at Facebook, my old friend John Sundman displayed his results for this BBC-initiated meme….

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read ENTIRELY
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

Here’s my response:

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen X
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien X+
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte X
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X (yes, all of it)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell X+
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman X+
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy X+
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller X+
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Not all, but most)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien X+
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger X
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 X+
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh X
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky *
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll X+
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame X+
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens X+
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis (Not all, but this is silly…)
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen X
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis X (… because this is one of the “Chronicles of Narnia”)
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 X+
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell X+
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 X
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy X+
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood X+
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding X
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert X
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons X+
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen X
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley X+
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon X
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov X+
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 X+
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding X
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville X+
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens X
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett X
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson X
75 Ulysses – James Joyce X+
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome X+
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert X
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Alborn
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X+
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 X
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute X
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare (As John wrote “Well I haven’t read all of Shakespeare but this gets…) X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Total: 50

This is obviously a “pretentious fiction” list, but there are some puzzling omissions. Where’s Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, for example? And I’d be curious to do the same thing for non-fiction. “A Brief History of Time”. Bill Clinton’s autobiography. “Civilization”. That kind of thing….

UPDATE:joined in.

9 Responses to “The “pretentious” books meme”
  1. Dave Walker says:

    Rushdie’s right in there with “Midnight’s Children”, number 69 (and behind which, in my mental tally, I have a *)…

    I’m surprised Banks is in with “Wasp Factory”; I find “Complicity” rather more entertaining.

  2. Dave Walker says:

    …oh, and they are most definitely missing Anthony Burgess (I suspect they’d go with “A Clockwork Orange”).

  3. J. Lasser says:

    I imagine very much that you’d appreciate The Wasp Factory…

  4. Dave Walker says:

    I do, I just prefer “Complicity”, of his current non-M works.

    Mind you, strange novel with tongue mostly in cheek though it is, “Whit” put me on to the idea of Scottish-Indian fusion cookery; Bombay Potato goes *surprisingly* well with haggis.

    (Quick note of clarification; Geoff’s edited the article to specifically mention the absence of “Satanic Verses”, rather than the absence of anything by Rushdie, so my commented pointer to “Midnight’s Children” may look like incongruous now, it wasn’t when originally posted 🙂 ).

  5. geoff says:

    Yeah, sorry for the confusion, Dave. I’d planned the reference to the BBC piece on Rushdie; they described “Satanic Verses” thus:

    It must be both the most talked about and the least read book of recent times. Since it came out in 1988 The Satanic Verses has seemed more a principle to be argued over than a book to discuss.

    Which may be true, but I really enjoyed it; I’ve read it twice, and it’s my favourite work by Rushdie.

  6. John Sudman says:


    Well it would appear you read more than I do. Although I have more double X’s. Don’t know if you go back and re-read books, but I do.

    I think the list is pretty random. It’s not a list of “great books”; it’s a list of “books you’ve probably heard of, plus a few that you have not heard of.” I don’t think it’s a list of books that somebody thinks you “should” read.

    But anyway, I notice no X on your list next to Heart of Darkness. On my list it has XX++++++++++++++++, although there should probably be a few more X’s there. It’s a dark horror story that is laugh-out-loud funny in lots of places, it’s profound, the language is sublime, and what Conrad does with the whole narrative voice, narrative point of view pretty much marks the transition to 20th century technique that we now take for granted–implicitly reminding you that the whole narrative is a construct (without hitting you over the head with this fact, as Joyce does, or ignoring it, as everybody except Laurence Sterne and Cervantes did until the 1900’s.)

    Thanks for the linky love, and don’t forget to pimp my books!

  7. Dave Walker says:

    Also, given the existing list, I’m surprised they didn’t include either or both of “Beowulf” and “The Canterbury Tales” (original idioms, vocabulary and spellings mandated, naturally) :-).

    @Geoff: FWIW, there was a piece on Radio 4 yesterday regarding Satanic Verses; the presenter considers it to be probably Rushdie’s finest work, as well as definitely his most misunderstood. You might like to point your browser at the “Listen Again” service.

  8. All of the weird omissions can be explained by one simple fact. The original list by the BBC was a list of the most popular books, which someone apparently have modified to make it more high-brow. When I did a comparison between the original list and the list that is going around now, and only 57 of the books are on both.

  9. Joy-Mari says:

    I’ve read 30 books and I am busy with number 31 — Cloud Atlas.

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