Friday, April 8, 2011

Read This, Not That

The so-called BBC book list is making its way around Facebook and the blogosphere again.  The first time that I saw the list -- over a year ago -- I remember wondering what the selection criteria was for the books on the list.  How could Bridget Jones' Diary be on the same list as Dracula and Great Expectations?  Why does Da Vinci Code get a special mention but nothing for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?  Why did the Chronicles of Narnia (series) and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe appear as separate entries?  Something smelled fishy.

Of course I ignored the fishiness for a while.  I participated in the "challenge" and didn't do so well.  Plenty of books were works I started but then put down either because I was busy or bored or because the book was just horribly written (just because it's a classic doesn't mean it's good writing).  Other books that I read I found were a complete waste of time and I hated them.  Some books I loved.  And so when the list started circling again, I decided to figure out what the selection criteria was and then see if I could improve the list.

From what I can tell, the book list does not actually exist.  Or, more accurately, it exists but is not BBC.  In searching the BBC website, there are two articles about 100 books, one written in 2004 and one written in 2011.  The 2004 article is very similar to the pseudo-BBC list -- they have about 2/3 of the book titles in common -- but that list was a survey among readers of their favorite books.  I guess that could translate into 100 must-reads, but not necessarily.  It would, however, explain why something like Bridget Jones' Diary made it on to the list.

I am fairly convinced that this BBC list making the rounds on Facebook and blogs has no connection with the BBC.  The list is too vague in its purpose and criteria.  And so instead of worrying about how I don't measure up to this list, I've decided to create my own.  At least my own list for novels -- to have the category opened to any book would make it far too difficult to choose 100 titles.  Maybe one day I'll create a list for top non-fiction, too.

My Version of the so-called “BBC Book List” – 100 Novels to Read*
1.     Outlander (and the whole series, seven books right now) – Diana Gabaldon  This is hands-down the best historical series I’ve ever read.  I love it and can’t put it down (which can be a problem when the books are huge).
2.     The Book Thief – Markus Zusak. I’ve read plenty of books about the Holocaust and genocide.  I have to – I wrote a thesis on the subject years ago.  But this book was one of the best novels set during the Holocaust.
3.     Maus – Art Spiegelman.  This graphic novel about the Holocaust was very well done and the first graphic novel that exposed me to the genre.  As a whole, the genre is not my favorite, but I do like a few graphic novels and memoirs now.
4.     A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hossini.  This author is best known for The Kite Runner, but this book was so much better.
5.     The Kite Runner – Khaled Hossini
6.     The Queen’s Fool – Philippa Gregory.  I love all of her books, but since this was the first one that I read it holds a special place in my heart.
7.     The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova. Hands down this is the best story about Dracula ever.
8.     The Monk – M.G. Lewis.  This is better known as one of the first full-length gothic novels.  You’ll never guess, after reading the content, when this book was written!
9.     Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
10.  The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Terrifying.
11.  The Master & Margarita – Mikhail Bulgokov. One of my favorite memories with Honey is when I had to read this book for a class – Honey started reading while I was doing something else and then we both sat together and read through it because neither one of us wanted to relinquish the book!
12.  Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
13.  Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
14.  No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith. Every time I need to feel good and just enjoy life, I turn to this author.
15.  Winter Solstice – Rosamund Pilcher
16.  The Winter Queen – Boris Akunin. One book in a Russian mystery series that is quite enjoyable.
17.  The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff
18.  Douglass’s Women – Jewel Parker Rhodes
19.  Across Five Aprils – Irene Hunt
20.  My Brother Sam Is Dead – James Lincoln Collier
21.  Sam the Minute Man – Nathaniel Benchley
22.  Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare
23.  Romeo & Juliet – William Shakespeare
24.  Hamlet – William Shakespeare
25.  Let’s just have this line indicate more Shakespeare, in whatever form that may be.
26.  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Seth Grahame Smith (and Jane Austen)
27.  1984 – George Orwell
28.  Animal Farm – George Orwell
29.  We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
30.  Utopia – Thomas More
31.  The Crucible – Arthur Miller
32.  The Inferno – Dante
33.  Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
34.  The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio
35.  The Moonraker’s Bride – Madeleine Brent
36.  The Treasure of Montesegur – Sophy Burnham
37.  Bridge to Terebithia – Katherine Patterson
38.  Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
39.  A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
40.  To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
41.  Covenant with the Vampire – Jeanne Kalogridis. My favorite trilogy about Dracula.
42.  Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
43.  The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
44.  The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
45.  The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
46.  Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
47.  The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis All the Chronicles of Narnia are good, of course.
48.  The Bad Beginning – Lemony Snicket This is the beginning of my favorite children’s series
49.  Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
50.  Native Speaker – Chang Rae Lee
51.  Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
52.  Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
53.  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
54.  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon
55.  A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
56.  The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
57.  The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
58.  The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
59.  The Color Purple – Alice Walker
60.  Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
61.  Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
62.  Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo.  This is probably the most powerful anti-war novel available.
63.  The Ruling Class (a play) – Peter Barnes
64.  Semmelweiss (a play) – Jens Bjorneboe
65.  S. A Novel About the Balkans – Slaveka Drakulic
66.  The Foreign Student – Susan Choi
67.  The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
68.  Seven Days to the Sea – Rebecca Kohn
69.  The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
70.  The Plague – Albert Camus
71.  Paradise Lost – John Milton
72.  Persepolis (graphic novel/memoir) – Marjane Satrapi
73.  In the Time of the Butterflies – Julia Alvarez
74.  Portrait in Sepia – Isabel Allende
75.  The Dress Lodger – Sheri Holman
76.  Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff – Christopher Moore 
77.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation – Lauren Willig
78.  The Courtesan – Susan Carroll
79.  The Feast of Roses – Indu Sundaresan
80.  Thursday Next – Jasper Fforde
81.  Pilate’s Wife – Antoinette May
82.  The Alienist – Caleb Carr
83.  In Her Shoes – Jennifer Weiner
84.  Beloved – Toni Morrison
85.  Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton
86.  The Robe – Lloyd C. Douglas
87.  Ben Hur – Lew Wallace
88.  Angel on the Square – Gloria Whelen
89.  The Devil’s Arithmetic – Jane Yolen
90.  The Cage – Ruth Minsky Sender
91.  Night – Elie Wiesel
92.  The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
93.  The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
94.  Motel of the Mysteries – David Macaulay.  This book reminds me to keep everything in perspective.
95.  Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss
96.  Weslandia – Paul Fleischman This is my favorite children’s book of all time – the best picture book ever. I give it to everyone I know as a baby shower gift.
97.  The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox – Jennifer Lee Carrell One can learn a lot of history through this account that has fictionalized things to make it more readable.
98.  Frankenstein -- Mary Shelley
99.  North & South – Elizabeth Gaskell
100.                 Persuasion (or Sense & Sensibility or Pride & Prejudice) -- Jane Austen

*I invite you to compare, comment, or create your own.  Also, you'll notice that I didn't comment on every title and why I chose it -- eventually I realized that would be too much work.  I also provided a blend of fiction, everything from a child's picture book (Weslandia) to modern (20th century) classics (The Plague) to chick lit, so there should be something for everyone on this list. And the last three titles are italicized because while I've started them I haven't finished, but I do love the story lines and intend to finish day....
**UPDATE (4/9/11): I woke up this morning and realized I forgot to add Frankenstein to the list.  Now that problem is solved! 


  1. You might enjoy The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox or The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber which take place in Victorian London and are really great books. They take inspiration from Dickens but I like them much more than I ever liked Dickens novels...
    And I still have my copy of Maus for Savi to read when she asks me about the Holocaust. So powerful and eloquent.
    Love the list!

  2. I read Maus too while in college. I had a Holocaust seminar class and that was one of my favorite books!

  3. Hey, I'm giving you a blog award on Wednesday, so make sure you check it out! :)

  4. So many good suggestions! I've been looking for a good read . . . now I have tons of options! Thanks!

    Rachel @ Maybe Matilda


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