The Far Side of the Reading List

I have to admit my reading habits are extremely idiosyncratic–as I’m guessing everyone else’s are (does that mean idiosyncratic is the wrong word choice?  Hmmm….).  In my own literary world, I tend to bounce back and forth between reading the newest, hottest thing out there, and returning to old classics, sometimes repeatedly.  I’ve floated–with great pleasure–through Golding’s Lord of the Flies perhaps a half-dozen times since my first introduction to the work in high school, for example.
For me, reading definitely isn’t about bragging rights or ego or keeping up with the Joneses.  I find, rather, that picking up a certain book feels more like choosing the right brand of coffee for that week’s brews or picking a particular ale to go along with my steak dinner, of an evening.

Still, I think it’s a useful exercise to re-examine where I’ve been once in awhile.  I’ve seen this list of the BBC Top 100 Books floating around and was curious how many of them I’d read–especially in the last year.  Here’s the breakdown, with the ones I’ve read bolded:

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 (this year)
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 (benefit of a BA in English)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
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
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 (this year)
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 (on my nightstand presently)
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

If history is any guide, this little exercise will generate a trip to the used book section of Amazon–although I should hold myself in abeyance at least until Christmas passes.  :)

What about you?  How many of the Top 100 have you read?  What authors do you think are missing from this list?

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  1. Well, I count 40 that I've read. Not bad, but I guess I better get to the other 60 , huh?
    Happy holiday and happy reading to you, Jon.

    December 22, 2010
  2. G.G. said:

    The problem with this list is it privileges the novel above other forms of creative writing. A more comprehensive list would include plays, short stories/compilations and screenplays/films.

    Also, you're dealing with one person's interpretation of greatness, a list limited to 19th century and later, within a pretty narrow range of narrative styles (excepting of course Joyce's Ulysses). Why isn't Sterne's Tristram Shandy on the list? Or Cervantes' Don Quixote? Why not include more experimental novelists like Calvino, Auster, Winterson?

    December 22, 2010
  3. I would rather have seen Roger Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT than "Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons or THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain rather than "Middlemarch" by George Eliot.

    But that's what Top 100 lists are for … to make us think and reflect what our 100 would be.

    As a former English teacher, I have read most of the classics, while enjoying only about half of them. THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne was one of my childhood favorites with me picturing myself as the young boy in the novel. KIM by Rudyard Kipling was a favorite for the same reason.

    Thanks for a delightful post, Roland

    December 22, 2010
  4. Lola Sharp said:

    I've read close to 77 off that list/meme.

    There's a bunch that you don't have bolded, that I highly recommend and go down in my all-time favorites list. (if you care to know, just let me know.)

    I wish you and your family a magical and Merry Christmas. May your 2011 be bountiful, joyous, healthy.


    December 22, 2010
  5. It's a great list to be sure, but I think any book you have loved is a book worth reading–a book that should be on YOUR list. I've read probably 3/4 of these books, and I have to say I haven't enjoyed all of them. I think there are some better suited to this list. Perhaps I'll make my own list someday…

    I would, however, recommend 100 Years of Solitude. One of my favorite books ever.

    Wishing you an amazing holiday and a 2011 full of blessings!

    December 24, 2010
  6. Jon Paul said:

    Tricia–Thanks! Happy Holidays to you too!

    G. G.–Actually, as I understand it, this list is based on a BBC survey conducted in 2005 where the public picked their favorite novels, so it isn't one guy's list, as far as I know. On the other hand, your point about inclusiveness is a good one. There are certainly a ton of classic American writers–Hemingway and Faulkner come to mind–who are absent here, so it definitely isn't the alpha and omega of novel lists. But a good place to start I think!

    Lola–The breadth of your literary achievements, like so many other things, never ceases to amaze. I plan to take the proverbial walk through the park on these–and follow in your footsteps.

    Carol–100 Years of Solitude is one I've wanted to get my hands on for awhile. Thanks for the holiday wishes too!

    Thanks guys for stopping in. Have a Happy New Year!

    December 28, 2010
  7. Jon Paul said:

    Arunava–Thanks for the compliment. It's just me doing my thing…

    Roland–I just realized I skipped you inadvertently when I responded. Many apologies. I agree. The list won't fit everyone–and that is certainly true for me. I'll have to put THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND on my TBR.

    Thanks for stopping in.

    January 6, 2011

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