I’ve seen many book lists surface on Facebook and Tumblr, asking you how many you’ve read as if this proves how intelligent you are. Some lists claim to be the top 100 books ever written, others say that you’re only a true bibliophile if you’ve read at least half of the works listed. Others are simply an elitist literary list designed to make fans of genre fiction feel inadequate. So here it is, my unashamed admittance of what I have and haven’t read according to a list as produced by BBC (apparently) and shared across various social media.
This is just one of many lists but they’re all pretty much the same give or take a title or two. I’ve colour coded this list so here’s my key for that.
- Read and enjoyed the book.
- Read and meh.
- Read and hated the book.
- Can’t remember if I read it or not.
- Want to read.
- Doubt I’ll read this book.
- Never heard of this.
Now onto the list…
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
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 (ok, not the complete works but enough to know I love his stuff!)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
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 – CS Lewis
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
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 Mitchel
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 (doesn’t this come under the complete works banner??)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Ok, so the tally is about 40 out of 100. Great. Let’s put that into perspective. It means I read a lot of classroom English setworks (Atonement, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare) and that I read the childhood classics like Winnie the Pooh, Roald Dahl, Blyton etc. What does this say about my literary standards or current reading habits? Absolutely zero.
This list compromises of Western classics for adults and children with Catcher in the Rye being the only honorary ‘young adult’ title. Harry Potter technically started out for younger readers and only gradually grew into the YA category as its protagonist grew up.
I think lists like these do nothing but inflate the egos of those too elitist to read anything published in the current century. Are these titles listed examples of good literature? Some of them, sure and some – like Da Vinci Code (why not mention Neil Gaiman instead!?) – are just best sellers, and hardly high brow literature.
In short, I don’t believe any list compiled by any organisation could possibly list the 100 best books ever written since what constitutes a ‘good’ book is so subjective. Sure, the ever anonymous ‘they’ could compile a list of award winning books but even that shouldn’t be used as a means of measuring someone’s literacy level or inflating the literary ego.
Which books do you think should’ve been excluded? Which books would you like to see included?