Sunday, July 27, 2008

Illogical but Irresistible Book Meme

Cliché-lit cat from I Can Has Cheezburger?

I first saw this meme at Sugar Mag's but can't link her because her blog has disappeared! (Where are you, Sugar Mag?!) I bumped into it again via Brandy at Moue Magazine.

Supposedly the average American has read just six of these books. Could be; plenty of people don't read at all, which would tend to drag down the average. But I'm guessing nearly everyone I know has read a lot more than just six.

No one seems know who originally picked the books or why. The list is partly just plain nonsensical. Why list Hamlet separately and then also include the complete works of Shakespeare? Why pull a similar trick with C.S. Lewis?

It's a curious list in terms of its selections and omissions, too. Why all the Austen and Dickens? Where are the post-war big boys like Norman Mailer and Philip Roth and Saul Bellows and John Updike? Where are some of the more recent literary luminaries like Don DeLillo (I've read a fair amount of him even though I'm not a huge fan) or Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (to name two novels that totally derailed work on my dissertation at the time)? And The DaVinci Code just makes everyone go WTF.

It's fun anyway. It tickles my inner nerd. Plus, editorializing is just irresistible. Please feel free to editorialize right back at me.

And if you do the meme, I'd love it you link back to it in comments, okey dokey?

The rules are:

1) Bold what you have read
2) Put in italics what you have started to read
3) Put an asterisk next to what you intend to read

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (I love Austin and so does this list.)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (See The Hobbit, below.)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (Might this be the origin of my weakness for enigmatic, dark-haired men?)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (I'm probably the only person in America who hasn't read a single page of it - or seen the movies.)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (When I was about in fifth grade, there was a Bible in our bathroom and I tried reading it start to finish. I got bogged down in Leviticus. Purity rules, anyone? Also around that time, I read Revelations under the covers at night by flashlight. Not recommended.)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (My high school never assigned this, so I read it on my own steam shortly thereafter - in the summer 1984, in fact. I don't know if that made it more or less chilling.)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott (I read this multiple times as a kid and wept harder every time when Beth died.)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've read a bunch of the more famous play but nowhere near all. I started with Romeo and Juliet when I was 13 and had the chicken pox.)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (I really tried to get into this. All my friends liked it. There were certain cute nerdy boys who were completely fixated on Tolkien. And I just couldn't get involved in the storyline. I bailed after about 150 pages.)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (I read this for "diversion" when my husband had just survived multiple close brushes with death, and - even though I also kept accidentally picking up novels with a cancer theme around that time - this one disturbed me more than anything else. The central male character's trajectory - the time traveler edging ever closer to calamity - captures the dynamics of catastrophic illness and the ICU with terrible, perfect clarity. Even though nary a hospital appears in the story, it's a poetic and horrible depiction of what actually awaits most of us time-bound mortals. *Shudder.*)
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 (Oh, this was one of my biggest bail-out moments ever. It was assigned for a class my last year of college. I got within 100 pages of the end. And then I got busy with final projects and never finished. Isn't that awful?)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (All the cute nerdy guys liked this, too, but since I actually enjoyed it, I read the whole set.)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (I'd like to re-read this one, as well as East of Eden)
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 - CS Lewis
*37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (This one's in my to-read pile.)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (I read the whole thing out loud to my son, the Bear - who resembles Pooh not in the least)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (I think I was in sixth grade the first time, but I re-read it a few years later when I was old enough to grasp the political allegory)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Everyone who does this meme wonders why this book is on the list. Maybe because it became part of the cultural fabric for a while?)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I read this over 20 years ago but still think of the plague of sleeplessness sometimes when I've got insomnia - oh, and during my first pregnancy, I thought of the babies born with the tail of a pig more often than was smart.)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving (This book is forever tangled up with the end of my first, preliminary research trip to Germany during grad school. I started reading it while I was breaking up with my then-boyfriend, and I finished it on a Pakistani Air plane from Amsterdam to New York. Under other circumstances, I might have sneered at the ending as emotionally manipulative. As it was, I wept loudly for about a half hour, right in the middle of that airplane, obviously mourning a lot more than poor Owen Meany.)
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 (I love everything Atwood has written. This isn't my very favorite - I think Cat's Eye or The Robber Bride top my list - I re-read it last fall in order to teach it and was amazed at how presciently Atwood described a mix between the Taliban and the Religious Right today.)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (I think McEwan just keeps getting better, and he already ranks with Atwood in my literary cosmos. So, while I really enjoyed Atonement, I was totally captivated by Saturday and On Chesil Beach.)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (Here's another one from the cute, nerdy boy collection that I couldn't really get into.)
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 (This is such a fascinating book, funny and touching and suspenseful. I'm sure I'll read it again.)
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 (Her second book, The Little Friend, was wonderful too - another compulsive page turner. It cured me of ever wanting to try meth - ever. Not that I was planning to.)
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (I thought this was haunting and wonderful, not overhyped in the least)
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (But don't ask me to reproduce the plot line; by now it's pretty, um, obscure to me.)
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (And y'know, I loved it. Sometimes silly comedy is just the best.)
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (Uh-oh. I was supposed to read this late in my college career but hated it and just got bogged down. The shame!)
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 (But I have a friend who read it; does that count?)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (I read this when I was maybe 12, and I wish I knew why the adults around me allowed it. I was way to young for it. But I was also totally fascinated - and still am - by Plath's talent and her trainwreck life.)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt (Another favorite author of mine - but I liked Babel Tower best.)
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker (This is de rigeuer for women's/gender studies scholars. I love it anyway.)
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (I read this for a history seminar in the college where we read oodles of nineteenth-century European novels - that's where I read Germinal and Great Expectations, too - but this was my fave of the bunch. What I most remember from the discussion: my professor discussing what Flaubert meant when he referred to cold feet in bed. I think I should re-read this now that I'm a putative adult.)
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
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (Um, this is in the Moby Dick category for me.)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (This goes back to junior high for me; I loved it at the time.)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (I read this with bronchitis and a high fever; light delirium meshes well with it.)
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (I've never heard of this one and have to wonder: where is On the Beach?)
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (My older son discovered this book about a year ago, too; it's so fun to see him adore it.)
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo


Molly said...

I have read 35 of these, and I have seen more of them in movies (the Austens; I confess I never had an Austen reading phase and only read P&P).

Some of the choices are strange.

Sungold said...

Hi Molly - Thanks so much for leaving a comment! Austen is very similar from one book to the next. They're all pleasurable to read, but in terms of enlarging your world - I'm not sure there's a huge gaining in having read them all.

One thing I think is strange about the list, but didn't mention in my post, is that there are several books on the list that I've never heard of. Not that I'm such a literary expert, but assuming the list is supposed to represent some combination of "canonical" contemporary stuff. And so I'd expect virtually every title to be a household name.

Sugarmag said...

Hi Sungold! I am still around but I'm keeping my profile low for now. I will be back to blogging in a few months, but meanwhile I'm still reading your blog and I'll be around...:)

Sungold said...

I'm glad to hear from you, Sugar Mag. You know I would've linked to you on this post but you took your blog down before I got around to it.

I was concerned when I saw that you'd gone dark. I'm glad you're still around. I totally don't want to pry, but if you feel comfortable saying more about what's up with your blogging you might drop my a line - my email is sungold85 AT - since I've been a minor worrywart about you. :-(

hesperia said...

I'm almost embarassed to say that I've read 65 of these and read 31 before I finished high school, most of them on course lists, but not all. I have a feeling that may say something about the state of secondary school education, since I went to school between 1967 and 1971.

Oh I have to disagree about Jane Austen, though I guess I'm not sure that her work exactly expanded my world. I simply think she's brilliant at creating a world and, perhaps, that's expanding enough.

I'm not sure but I don't think that whomever created this list meant it to be any kind of "greatest books" list, but rather, a list that would find its average-ish audience.

I've never heard of several of the books either but through snooping around on other blogs, I've found people who've read them.

Here's my list:

Thanks - this was fun and I'm a bit short on it right now.

hesperia said...

Oh, before I leave, I can't resist recommending "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry. A Fine Book.

frau sally benz said...

This is awesome! I'll be doing this during my lunch break.

I haven't read nearly as many as some of the other commenters (holy crap 65!), but I shall entertain everyone with my own editorializing to make up for it.

Sungold said...

Hesperia, thanks for the suggestion of "A Fine Book." I was hoping someone would make a few recommendations. I'm always on the lookout for good bedtime reading.

I wonder, too, if your high school experience reflects 1) changing times (by the time I graduated in 1981, there was a certain emphasis on "relevance" in reading lists), and 2) a Canadian emphasis on British list?

Sally, you've got lots of time. Wouldn't it be horrible if we'd read all the good books already and there weren't any left to discover? (Not that this list is the final word on "good books," mind you!)

hesperia said...

Hi sungold. Re: my high school reading list, yes, heavy on the English stuff, but also American. Many books that aren't on the list. I didn't read one single piece of Canadian literature while in high school. Didn't know it existed and never wondered why. Can you imagine?

And yes, education in different times. One of my sons was a voracious reader all on his own, but the other likely read no more than ten books in his entire high school career - possibly not that many - I'll have to ask him.

Sungold said...

I've read enough Margaret Atwood (including some of her essays) to have a pretty good idea of how marginalized Canadian literature must have been at that time. It's one sign of Canada's colonialized situation, I guess.