Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Once upon a time...

A few years ago, a friend tagged me in a note on Facebook entitled "Book Nerds." It was one of those chain notes, you know the type, where I was supposed to copy the text into my own note and respond to the comments or questions. But unlike the majority of those kinds of notes, this one was quite interesting. It listed 100 books and claimed that the BBC believes most people have read only six of the books listed. Now I was interested, and I dutifully copied the text over in my own note and placed my check marks next to the books I had read. I discovered that thanks to a pretty great English program in high school and a, perhaps, interesting taste in literature as a child and teenager, I had already covered a pretty respectable 49 books. Of course, being a book nerd, my first thought was, “How could I be missing out on these other fantastic books?!”

At the time, I was in the middle of law school and had no time to read anything but casebooks and legal research, but I saved the list and decided that one day I would read all 100 books on the list. Over the next months, multiple versions of this list circulated on the internet and I compiled them all, because, even though they all claimed to be the BBC list of the top 100 books, no list was identical. Finally, in August 2009, after finishing law school and taking the Bar, I decided it was time to tackle my goal. I figured the six weeks I had before starting a job would be perfect for devouring all the fiction I had been craving for the past three years.

By this time my list had grown to over a hundred books, even though I condensed series into one listing. For example, instead of listing out all seven Harry Potter books, I felt it was sufficient to have one listing for the Harry Potter series. I also decided to look up this BBC to list to see what was actually on it.

Apparently, the list originated in April 2003 as part of the BBC’s search for the United Kingdom’s best-loved novel. The “Big Read” asked the public for nominations for the nation’s favorite book, and came out with a list of 200 books ranked by number of votes. Interestingly, the Big Read website does not opine that most people have read only six of the top 100 books, although that "fact" has been widely disseminated by Facebook users and bloggers worldwide. The internet top 100 list also includes books listed in the lower half of the list and even has books nowhere to be found on the BBC’s list. (Out of some faithfulness to the list that started me on my quest, I have not had the heart to delete the internet additions from my master list. Then again, one of those, The Shadow of the Wind, has become one of my all-time favorite books, so that seems like an excellent reason to leave them on.) The UK’s best-loved novel, by the way, is The Lord of the Rings. The official list can be found here, with the top 200 also listed here.

You might think that a list of two hundred novels would be enough to satisfy a fiction starved book worm, even if that book worm has read a good number of those books, but I recently stumbled across three other lists. I have now added the Modern Library Board’s top 100 20th century novels, the Modern Library Readers’ top 100 20th century novels, and Radcliffe Publishing Course’s top 20th century novels to my list. If it weren’t for duplicates and my trick of condensing series into one list entry, I might have a seemingly insurmountable task on my hands! And of course, there are other lists out there, but my bookshelves are groaning and I spend too much time at the library, so I may wait a few years before expanding my list again. Especially because I do occasionally, gasp, go off-list!!

But I have gotten ahead of myself. For the past two years, less a month, I have been working steadily through my list, enjoying the freedom of lunches, metro rides, and weekends. But only the other day did I decide that maybe somebody might be interested in good book recommendations or warnings. Clearly, all the books on this list are beloved by someone, or they wouldn’t be on the lists, but I am going to attempt to give my own frank opinions of the books. Don’t look for any in depth analyses of the authors’ intentions in writing the books or discussions of hidden imagery and meaning (forgive me fabulous high school English teachers!). I intend only to discuss the merits of each book as a good read, an interesting story, or, if I’m feeling poetic, fantastic use of language. Forgive me if I insult your favorite book (but I just cannot like Of Mice and Men) and remember that everything here is only my opinion and nothing more.

Also, as a starting point for this blog, my current list stands at 371 books with 248 more books to discover! (Apparently I have not spent enough time exploring 20th century literature!) My version of the combined list, in alphabetical order by author, is here.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I'm always after a list of good books to work through! I've copied yours and I'll work out how many of them I've read soon. Have a good weekend!