So how literate are we?

According to British librarians, here are the top 30 books you should read, and my results:
Favorites, would re-read any time.
Read a long time ago.
Read, found mediocre, and wonder why it’s here..
Yes, I keep meaning to read this and one day I will. Honest.
Anything else–no interest.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bible (bits of. Very few of us have, unless we’ve been in prison, which I’m told is an excellent opportunity to read the whole thing. And I’d only count the King James version)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

All Quiet on the Western Front by E M Remarque
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn

What do you think of such lists? What do you think they prove, if anything? And how did you score?

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Kalen Hughes
16 years ago

These lists are simply one of those amusing ways to pass the time (and sometimes feel a little smug). I always read them, though!

They don’t proove ANYTHING. Ask a different group of scholars the same question and you’ll get a totally different list. Ask the same question ten years from now and you’ll get a totlly different list. And so on . . .

I’ve read almost all of the books on the list (26 out of the 30). The list includes a couple of real favorites, like The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (get the Vintage translation if you’re going to pick this up!), P&P, and TLOTR.

There were only four I haven’t read (or couldn’t finish):

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Read the first two, couldn’t finish the third.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Hate Scarlett. Want to run her over with a wagon. Didn’t finish the book.

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Haven’t ever even heard of this one.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn
Haven’t heard of this one either.

Cara King
16 years ago

Sometimes I think lists like this exist so people can either feel smug (if they’ve read them all = they’re well read, or if they liked them all = they have good taste, or if they hated them all = they have better taste than the masses) or feel panicked (oh, no, yet another list I’m far from completing!)

They’re also good for arguing about, of course.

I noticed an awful lot of very recent books on this list. Which I usually take to be a bad sign. (Like PREMIERE’S lists of the 100 most beautiful stars ever — there’s one from the 30s, two from the 40s, etc etc but a lot from recent decades.)

Too many books for me to comment on every one, but I did enjoy the Pullman trilogy. I think it’s not as, um, important as I suspect some people (including the author) think, and the trilogy contains a few apparent assumptions which bug me (such as, religion = Christianity = Catholicism), but I found it very interesting, dramatic, and suspenseful. With some very memorable images.

Of course, it’s always bizarre to think about these lists. “A Christmas Carol” but not “Tom Jones”? In fact, there’s an awful lot of Dickens. Is “A Christmas Carol” or “1984” or “Gone with the Wind” or “The Lord of the Flies” really better than anything by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Swift, Defoe, Tolstoy, Hugo, Dostoevsky, etc etc??? Seems highly unlikely.

In fact, this could easily be the list of “books most likely to be made into a Hollywood Movie.” 🙂


Megan Frampton
16 years ago

I love lists for the reasons Kalen and Cara cite: Chance to argue, feel smug, find new discoveries, dismiss old lame reads.

I’ve read 21 of them, am also surprised by what’s there, and what isn’t. But that’s the whole point of a list, right? To generate controversy and discussion.

16 years ago

Lists like this irritate me because they never pick the works by “the big authors” that I’ve read. There should be some sort of points system by which two non-list books by an author serves as the equvalent for reading the list book.

Especially because I’ve done my time with Hardy, (Jude the Obscure, Mill on the Floss, Return of the Native) just not Tess which I have no desire to read. Same is true for Eliot. Though I lucked out on Dickens! Whoohoo! Thank you, Sophomore British Novel Prof who made me read David Copperfield!

But seriously, The Lovely Bones?
It was good, but it wasn’t THAT good…sigh, must go re-evaluate priorities and come to grips with fact that British librarians find me sadly lacking.

16 years ago

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Janet Mullany
16 years ago

I’m a bit suspicious of “great lit-hits” lists because for me the most interesting books by the “greats” are the ones that don’t quite work. I love David Copperfield but my favorite Dickens, and one I keep meaning to return to, is Our Mutual Friend, for its darkness and moral ambiguity and its bizarre secondary characters. Similarly I love Middlemarch but I find Daniel Deronda fascinating because of it has so much wonderful stuff built around a Big Snore of a lead character. I guess goodness is difficult for even George Eliot to carry off. And I like Villette much, much better than Jane Eyre.
I’ll take brilliant imperfection any day…

16 years ago

I think the problem with lists like this is that there are a heck of a lot of books (movies, plays, vacation spots, etc.) of which any given list can include only a limited number; and how many one has read (seen, visited, etc.) out of a particular list depends to a large extent on how similar your tastes, interests, and background are to the compiler of the list. I don’t do well on this particular list–only 11 out of 30. Well, I wasn’t an English major, and I don’t keep up with the currrent “must reads” unless they sound interesting to me. And the list included no nonfiction.

But I do read a lot–a hundred books a year or more, typically. So if I were to compile my list, I suspect most of those librarians wouldn’t do too well.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

Well, I did only 12 of 30 so of course this particular list doesn’t prove anything. Some of those books are on my TBR list but my time is limited and who knows, some of them might not engage me enough to finish.

I totally agree with Tonda about Scarlett O’Hara! At one point RWA struggled to come up with a definition of romance that would include GWTW and I wondered why. I though Rhett was right not to give a damn in the end. Hope he found someone better!

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