The Faux BBC Top 100 List - Really from the Guardian!

This is a list that has been circulating on Facebook, purporting to be a top 100 list put together by BBC audiences. Supposedly an average person (in the UK?) would have read 6 of them. Actually, this is not the list the BBC came up with, and the BBC never made that claim about either their list or this one. This list is, in fact, from the Guardian newspaper, which published it in March 2007. They have it posted on their website, along with a story about how it was created. It was based on an on-line poll conducted by a charity called World Book Day in 2007, in which 2000 contributors each nominated the 10 books they couldn't live without. Okay, but here's the thing. Book number 76 on this list is Dante's Inferno, but book number 76 on the original list (if you follow the link above) is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. All I can say is that it was Dante when I first encountered the list.

I have now finished reading all the books on this list and have added some comments about them. E-mail me if you want to add some comments of your own.

Book Author Dave's Comments
1 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
I had to go reread passage of this when I was reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 2009. The original Jane Austen is the better book, I must say. The joke in Zombies doesn't really sustain for that long a book. I should actually go back and read the whole original book again, because I quite enjoyed it as a teenager.
When I was working on comments for Austen's novels, some of the plot summaries struck me as extremely familiar, as though I had read books with similar plots much more recently. Turns out other people have noticed similarities between Austen's plots and those of several novels by Anthony Trollope, and I read over a dozen of Trollope's novels a couple of years ago. Framley Parsonage, the fourth novel in the Barchester Chronicles, has striking similarities to Pride and Prejudice.
2 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
Like many people, I've read this several times. I loved it as a teenager. Enjoyed it yet again when I read it out loud to son Ben, who was 11 or 12 at the time. I have to tell you that reading the Rivendell meeting aloud is a real chore.
3 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
I didn't read this book until after I moved in with Ruth. There were three copies of it kicking around the house between the two of us. She was really surprised I hadn't read it before. Then I started chatting about the story as I read it, and it emerged that she hadn't read it either. It's a good read, but I would much rather read something by George Eliot.
4 Harry Potter series JK Rowling
I know I should be all high brow about this, but actually I quite enjoyed these books. I liked the first one the best.
5 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
It's been a long time since I read this, but I remember thinking it was a great book. I also loved the movie with Rockery Hudpeck.
6 The Bible (the whole thing) God
I read the King James Version, because of its literary significance. I also read it using a guide to the books that tried to put the text in chronological order of the story. That gave me an interesting view of the sweep events - for example, the long seesaw battle between the old religions that practiced child sacrifice and the new religion that didn't, beginning with Abraham and Isaac and lasting for hundreds of years through most of the Old Testament. I found all kinds of interesting things. For example, why doesn't anyone ever preach a sermon on the topic of Deuteronomy 23:12-13?
7 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
I read this as a teenager and enjoyed it at the time, but don't remember it all that well. I might read it again sometime, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list.
8 Nineteen Eighty Four George Orwell
This is a very interesting distopian exploration. I found the movie Brazil, which was inspired by this book, extremely interesting though very freaky. There are so many references to 1984 and to things being "Orwellian" that I think it's pretty basic cultural literacy to have read it.
9 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
I read this to Rachel a few years ago. It was a fascinating exploration, but I found the ending sad.
10 Great Expectations Charles Dickens
It is so long since I read this book, I should go back and read it again. I remember enjoying it as a teen.
11 Little Women Louisa May Alcott
I didn't read this until I was an adult. My wife had a very old copy around the house and was amazed I'd never read it. It's not surprising that it has been a great classic of children's literature for so long. Interesting how so many of the books that are important to people have a significant death in them.
12 Tess of the DíUrbervilles Thomas Hardy
When I read this as a teen, I understood that Hardy's novels were generally explorations of what happens when an early mistake made by a character comes back to haunt them later in life. I had read "The Mayor of Casterbridge," which is much like that. Tess therefore struck me as grossly unfair, because of course her early "mistake" is not her own - she is a victim. Now I think I would likely read it differently - as an exploration of how an assault can go on victimizing someone long after the immediate events have passed.
13 Catch 22 Joseph Heller
I think this book was being passed around among the five guys a bicycled around Europe with in 1980. Gradually more and more of us got the references being made by those who had read it. It was pretty cool.
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare

Started this project when Ben was born. It took 3 years. I got quite used to the language and now find it much easier to follow a Shakespearean play. I find Shakespeare important because he changed so profoundly how we think about how we think. The internal monologue he showed us in his characters helped us understand how people change and grow. Not only did he change all literature after him, but he changed everything before him, because we can no longer read anything without seeing it through his lens.
Favourite tragedy: King Lear (which I once saw at the National Theatre in London with Anthony Hopkins as King Lear)
Favourite comedy: Twelfth Night (and I have played Sir Toby Belch!)
Favourite history: one of the Hals, no doubt. Can't resist Falstaff.

15 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
It's been quite a while since I dreamt I went to Manderley again, but I remember liking it at the time. Parallels to Jane Eyre.
16 The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
This doesn't have the grand sweep of "The Lord of the Rings" but I think I love it more. Bilbo is such an endearing character, as are many of the others.
17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
This was a revelation - an author I had not heard of. Very powerful, though the scenes in the trenches of World War I are quite grim.
18 Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
I read this as a teenager, which is when you really should read it. I liked it at the time, but wonder how I would react now.
19 The Time Travelerís Wife Audrey Niffenegger
I found this a fun read.
20 Middlemarch George Eliot
A Bronte novel for grown-ups.
21 Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell
I read this as a teenager. It's a big read, but I found it moved along pretty well. There are a bunch of lines in the movie that are not in the book, like the "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" line.
22 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald
My memories of reading this are a bit vague - confused parties at rich people's homes, loud arguments. I might read it again sometime, but I might not.
23 Bleak House Charles Dickens
Esther is a strong female lead character - unusual in Dickens. This is Dickens at his best.
24 War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Read this in first year university. I had a good edition with a chart of who's who (including the patronymics, which seem to increase the number of things a character might be called by a factor of at least two). I have to admit I found Anna Karenina more engaging.
25 The Hitch Hikerís Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
I first encountered this series on short wave, listening to the BBC in 1979 when I lived in Botswana. I had no idea what I was about to hear. It was a complete surprise to hear something this wacky coming out of the World Service from Bush House, London. The books came later, and I loved them, but I am still fondest of the original radio plays.
26 Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
I liked the writing in this book a great deal, and found some of the characters quite appealing.
27 Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Get a better translation than I had. I should someday reread it in a better translation.
28 Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
This is a powerful story, expressing anger at how the ordinary working people get crushed when the people who run the financial world screw up.There's a Woody Guthrie song called "Tom Joad" that I have on an album somewhere. Seems like the world hasn't changed enough since those days.
29 Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
This book is really fun. What a wonderful imagination. And what a strange man he was.
30 The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
I love Toad of Toad Hall. He's such a goof. I also love the descriptions of mole and rat mucking around in the rowboat.
31 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
I liked Anna, both as a character and as a book. I cared about the people and what happened to them. I should read this one again. I also have a two volume collection of Tolstoy's shorter fiction, which I think is great. You don't need to take on War and Peace to enjoy Tolstoy.
32 David Copperfield Charles Dickens
This is one of my favourites among Dickens novels, possibly because it is so personal. I find it interesting that all the other characters are so vivid, but the protagonist in this one seems kind of bland. In a way I like that, because I can sort of insert myself into David's spot in the story as I read it. It makes movie versions of the story a bit odd, though. Characters like Betsey Trotwood, Uriah Heep, and Mr Micawber end up being played brilliantly and memorably, and you can't remember who played David. (Incidentally, there's a great version from 1999 with Maggie Smith as Betsey Trotwood and Bob Hoskins as Micawber. It's brilliant. Nicholas Lyndhurst was so creepy as Heep he made the hairs on my neck stand up.)
33 Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis
Someone gave me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was young and I read it and enjoyed it. No one mentioned that there were more in the series until a few years later. When I started reading the rest of them in about grade six, my classmates were jealous because they wished they could also discover these great stories for the first time. I know people question the religious imagery that underlies the books, but I think they can be read as exiting adventure stories, and that's how I have always taken them.
34 Emma Jane Austen
All kinds of misguided matchmaking in this one. It's fun, but it's not my favourite among the Jane Austen novels I've read.
As with Pride and Prejudice above and Sense and Sensibility below, I also noticed similarities between Emma and one of the Anthony Trollope novels. In this case, I think there are parallels with Dr. Thorne, the third novel in the Barchester Chronicles.
35 Persuasion Jane Austen
This was one of Austen's posthumously published novels, and I liked the maturity of it. The main character, Anne Elliot, seemed to undergo quite a bit of growth during the course of it. Harold Bloom (in The Western Canon) considered this her canonical novel.
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe CS Lewis
Cool that you get to check off two books for reading the Narnia books, because this one is on the list, too.
37 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
This is a powerful story, and I felt like I learned a huge amount about Afghanistan and the different ethnic groups there. It was also a really disturbing story in spots. I thought it had some very interesting things to say about guilt.
38 Captain Corelliís Mandolin Louis De Bernieres This is a beautiful story, but a sad one. It has interesting things to say about soldiers who miss the point of warfare because they are too busy enjoying life and soldiers who miss the point of life because they are too busy practicing warefare. It made me want to visit the island. One of my friends did go there last year and posted pictures of it. Now I want to go even more.
39 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
Assuming Golden's research was solid, this is quite an interesting window into a form of life that was extremely foreign to me. A lot of aspects of the geisha's life were very surprising. The different priorities were striking. Things that I think of as trivial, like the colour of an outfit, were almost matters of life and death. Fascinating.
40 Winnie the Pooh AA Milne
I loved these books as a kid and I loved reading them to my kids. The movies are great, too.
41 Animal Farm George Orwell
This book is such a clever way of portraying a political concept with a lot of truth in it. The oppressed often become the oppressors once they obtain power. It happens over and over again.
42 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
This was the last book I read in the whole list. It was pretty much as I expected. A page turner with a fun plot, but not all that well-written. What I most disliked was the clunky way the author described things like the Louvre. It was like he would break off, turn aside from the story, put a little tour guide hat on, rattle off his little descriptive paragraph with a few interesting statistics in it, and then switch back to the story. Flow was not preserved.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I remember really liking this book, and deciding that magic realism was pretty cool. I also remember being confused by different characters with similar names in different generations of the family. I should probably read it again some day with some kind of chart in hand.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
I liked this book. I found both the narrator, John Wheelwright, and Owen Meany compelling characters, and there are scenes that stuck with me - like Owen Meany as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in the play.
45 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
I love the style of the two great Collins novels, with contributions in different writing styles from different characters who witnessed different parts of the story. I found this an engaging story with some vivid scenes, but the Collins novel I would have put on the list is The Moonstone. I've read that a couple of times and have found that the characters who contributed the different segments of the story came to feel like friends by the end of the book. In these books, Collins essentially created the detective novel.
46 Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery
Not sure how many times I've read this or seen plays and musicals, TV productions, and movies. It's a great story and it's totally part of my Canadian psyche.
47 Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
This is my favourite among the Hardy novels I have read (Tess, Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude are the others). It seemed like the mood was more often positive, with scenes of rural life that were vibrant and upbeat. I like both of the main characters. Granted, there were still mistakes that came back to haunt people, but overall this book was fun.
48 The Handmaidís Tale Margaret Atwood
I expected this to be a grim read, and perhaps parts of it were, but I found the writing style brighter than I expected, and I liked the people more than I thought I would - even the supposed villains in the piece.
49 Lord of the Flies William Golding
I have never liked this book, and think it's kind of twisted that English teachers want everyone to study it in grade 10.
50 Atonement Ian McEwan
I thought Briony was kind of a twit.
51 Life of Pi Yann Martel
I enjoyed this book up to the part about the floating island with the meercats. At that point it became silly.
52 Dune Frank Herbert
I remember this as an incredibly intense read, when I was a teenager. I found I lost patience with the series not many books past the initial trilogy. I think readers could safely stop after the first three and call it done.
53 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
This is bizarre and funny and brilliant, and it parodies a whole collection of novels that totally needed parody.
54 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
Boy, it's years and years since I read this - probably over 30 years, in fact. I was just reading the plot summary on Wikipedia and it certainly sounds familiar, but someday I should read it again. My daughter says it's her favourite Austen novel.
As mentioned above, when I was working on the notes for Austen's novels, I noticed plot similarities with some of Anthony Trollope's novels. Sense and Sensibility has strong parallels with The Small House at Allington, the fifth novel in the Barchester Chronicles. That's why the plot summary "sounds familiar."
55 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
This looks like a big reading project, at nearly 600,000 words, but I really liked it. It was kind of like reading four good novels at once, kind of interlaced with each other, and then having them join together at the end. I liked a lot of the characters and cared what happened to them. I wanted to go to breakfast at the Chatterjis' house.
56 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This was a fun read, and quite interesting as well. Quite a disturbing portrait of life in Franco's Spain.
57 A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens
I really need to reread this. I remember liking it a lot 30 years ago or so.
58 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
I think I probably read this before I was even in high school, which puts it somewhere in the early 70s. A bit hard to remember the details, but I certainly remember being disturbed by Huxley's dystopian vision. This is another one I should probably read again.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Mark Haddon
This is an interesting story and an intriguing portrayal of autism, a condition I don't know enough about.
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I liked the characters in this book, even though some of them were kind of extreme. Marquez has an interesting way of taking a character idea and pushing it really far to see where it will go.
61 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
I think I read this one in high school, but some of it still sticks. It's a pretty powerful story, and the characters remain vivid.
62 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Yes, it's well-written. Parts of it are funny. It probably does quite a good job of portraying a situation I know little about. But it still makes my skin crawl.
63 The Secret History Donna Tartt
I found the central group of students in the story attractive and repellent at the same time. I was really surprised by the portrayal of the College that is really Bennington, because I had always thought of it as an elite, wonderful liberal arts college. Tartt certainly had positive things to say about it, but exposed a lot of warts, too. It does sound like a lovely setting and worth a visit. If you do go, try not to get murdered by any classics students.
64 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
Creepy. It is kind of novel to tell the story from the point of view of someone who dies on the first page.
65 Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
I remember reading this in Botswana and finding it very hard to put down, which is a challenge when the book is about 1300 pages long. I think it completely disrupted my life for about 10 days straight.
66 On The Road Jack Kerouac
This book was, of course, extremely cool in its time. Reading it years later, I had something of a feeling of being left out of something. It is an interesting read, though, and it was hugely influential on all kinds of popular culture that came after it, including artists I really like, like Tom Waits. I found it worth reading.
67 Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
This book was pretty interesting to me. It caused a huge fuss when it first came out, mostly because of the implied stand on marriage - namely that a marriage that works for neither party should come to an end. I thought it also had some powerful things to say about a society in which human potential is wasted because educational opportunities are arbitrarily closed to certain people because of their origins.
68 Bridget Jonesís Diary Helen Fielding
I think you had to be there.
69 Midnightís Children Salman Rushdie
Of all the books on this list, this is the one I most want to reread.
70 Moby Dick Herman Melville
A 250-page rip-roaring adventure novel trapped in a huge book. Sue Iwan and I have agreed this is the most boring of the great classics. The 50-page digression on whaling techniques is a real wade.
71 Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
I have played the part of Bumble in the musical twice. Interesting that the main plot of the musical is actually a side-plot in the book. I really liked the book, but the relationship between Bill and Nancy is written with great intensity. I was reading it to 8-yr-old Rachel and thought I would skip the most intense chapter. Unfortunately, I didn't skip enough. If you're reading it to a kid, skip ahead and figure out which chapters to leave until they're older (hint: don't forget about the dog).
72 Dracula Bram Stoker
I liked this book more than I expected to. Nobody sparkles, the vampire is a really interesting character, and the main female character is strong, brave, and intelligent. The ending felt a bit abrupt, though.
73 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is a classic children's story. I was a bit old to properly appreciate it, but I could see the appeal of it. I think Ruth and I saw the 1993 movie with Rachel, when Rachel was young enough to be carried into the theatre in a car seat and to sleep through the whole thing.
74 Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson
Having lived in England for a year, I found this book fun. Had to keep going to the computer and looking stuff up, though.
75 Ulysses James Joyce
I read this with the help of Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses by Gifford and Seidman. Every evening I would sit down and go through the notes for the pages I had read that day. It was more work, but I got a lot out of it. Then when I got to the 80-page stream of consciousness section at the end, it was like a payoff for all the effort. To me, Molly's thoughts are the literary equivalent of an extended, virtuoso jazz solo. The year after I finished reading Ulysses was the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday, and the Nature Museum here had a screening of the film Bloom, which is a brilliant piece of art in its own right, and beautifully captured some of the key elements of the novel. I felt very fortunate to have read it in time.
76a The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath Obviously, I have no idea what the experience of reading this would have been like if I had not known what I knew of Plath's life story, but I think the emotional impact of the book was greater because of that knowledge. I thought it was a valuable inside look at an experience most of us (luckily) do not go through. I liked the simple writing style.
76b The Inferno Dante
I've read the whole Divine Comedy, and the Inferno is definitely the best part. I can see why it got Dante in trouble with the authorities, though. It's political and humorous and daring. I particularly like the part in the 8th Circle of Hell where Dante and Virgil come across a tormented soul who is head down in a hole, with his feet on fire. The guy calls up, to the effect of "Oh, you're here already?" Dante asks who the guy thinks he is, and the guy says he assumed Dante was the next pope. The guy in the hole is supposedly a couple of popes back and is in the hole for the sin of "simony" or selling religious sacraments.
77 Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
When I was a kid, someone (my aunt?) gave me a copy of Winter Holiday, which is the fourth book in the series. No one mentioned it was part of a series, so I never read any of the other books until I read them to one of the kids. I think they're pretty good.
78 Germinal Emile Zola
This was an amazing window into conditions in 19th century coal mining. It reminded me a little of Robert Tressell's "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" but with more discipline in the editing.
79 Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
I don't know. I usually have lots of patience for convoluted Victorian plots, but I found this long. Maybe I didn't have enough affection for the characters to really care about what happened to them.
80 Possession AS Byatt
I really liked this. It combines a literary mystery with two parallel love stories. I should read more of her work.
81 A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
This book is like a perfect little gem, with every facet in the right place. For years, I read it to the kids in December each year, doing different voices and accents for the different characters. We have a beautiful, lavishly-illustrated hardback copy of it.
82 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
You need to have your wits about you to read this, because it has six concentric novellas. Only the middle one is told in one swath, and some of them are interrupted in the middle of a sentence. They are all in different styles, and while they are linked in various ways they are all different stories. I didn't like them all equally well, but it was impressive to see how versatile the author is.
83 The Color Purple Alice Walker
I can definitely see how this story would have power for a lot of people. I couldn't entirely relate to it, but it was good to know what the excitement was about.
84 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
The main character made me very impatient. I suppose there are really people like that, but I felt like shouting at him to smarten up.
85 Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Madame Ovary has lost her B. Is that a quote from another book on this list? I think it is. If you know for sure, drop me an e-mail.
86 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
I liked this, especially the part where the group of main characters settle into living together in the apartment, and things start to go better for them. I found the part after they go their separate ways very discouraging. The portrayal of Indira Gandhi's India was quite disturbing.
87 Charlotteís Web EB White
This is another children's story that I've read so many times it is embedded in my psyche. So many wonderful characters. It is a thing of great beauty.
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven Mitch Albom
A quick read, and kind of interesting. It kind of tries to be profound and isn't.
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Great fun. I have read this whole collection to one or the other of the kids, in addition to reading it myself. One of the things I like about it is the cosy life of Holmes and Watson at Baker Street, in between adventures.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection Enid Blyton
I could see how this series would be special to those who first encountered it when they were about six. I think I was a bit late to the party. By the way, I had to really hunt around for a version with the original character names. Dame Slap, the schoolteacher, was apparently a bit much for modern tastes.
91 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Intense and dark. Of course, everyone thinks of the film Apocalypse Now, but I think I should probably go read King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. The Congo was horrendously mutilated by its colonial past and is still suffering for it.
92 The Little Prince Antoine De Saint-Exupery
I've always liked this book. I've read it in both English and French. There is a lovely film that has Gene Wilder as the Fox.
93 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
I hated this.
94 Watership Down Richard Adams
This is a great story, with a quest, undercover missions, and heroic battles. Don't let the fact that it's about rabbits deter you.
95 A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
Brilliant. Funny. Weird. Toole was taken from us too soon.
96 A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute
This is another book that I read as a teenager and loved at the time. I should probably read it again.
97 The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
I read this to my son, and we both enjoyed it, though the ending is a bit rough. I remember thoroughly enjoying the movie with Michael York and Raquel Welch when I was young. 1974 that came out, so I would have been 13.
98 Hamlet William Shakespeare
See above for my more general opinions on Shakespeare. Though it's not my favourite of his plays to watch, I recognize that Hamlet represents the height of his powers in exploring the inner life of a character.
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
I read this first when I was the right age for it (10 or 11?), but I've read it since and it really stands up well. I understand Roald Dahl had quite a nasty streak to him, and I think that gives his children's books a kind of "tang" that makes them interesting.
100 Les Miserables Victor Hugo
I love this book. So many of the characters remain vivid to me years later. I also think "the Glums" is the best musical I've ever seen. I saw it in 1986-87 twice, when Colm Wilkinson was still playing Valjean. Though I love it, this book is pretty immense. I tried reading it to the kids at one point (they were both old enough to understand it) it we got about a third of the way into it. Our lives were so busy that it was hard to find times when we could read, so it was going to be years before we finished. We gave up.

I have read all of them*.

* See number 76.


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