Sunday, March 23, 2014

100 blogs of solitude

Couple of follow-up thoughts after the Free Fall review the other day:

Among the gazillion other awards given to Lord Of The Flies, it also appears in the TIME magazine list of 20th century novels (strictly, the 100 best novels written in English since 1923) that I've referenced here several times before. Novels in this series that appear in that list are On The Road, At Swim-Two-Birds, Infinite Jest, Snow Crash, Never Let Me GoBlood Meridian, The Catcher In The Rye, The Corrections, The Great Gatsby, Lolita, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Watchmen. My current count on that list stands at 39.

Speaking of lists, you'll notice I linked to this list elsewhere in the review, mainly because it's been doing the rounds on Facebook lately and makes the contentious-sounding claim that "the BBC think you'll only have read 6 of these books", which is the perfect goad (for someone like me, anyway) to make you go "right, I'll show them: gimme that list". There's some confusion over the provenance of the list - while it appears superficially similar to the BBC's Big Read top 100 from 2003, it's not the same. Needless to say someone on the internet's done the research and tracked it down to being a list constructed for World Book Day in 2007. There appears to be no reliable source for the "you'll have only read 6 of these, you plebs" quote anywhere.

The list was apparently constructed after an online survey of 2000 people - consequently, like any such list constructed after a public vote, particularly on the internet, it's a bit lumpy in terms of content. I reckon these lists are always skewed by a combination of:
  • books people may or may not have read or liked but feel obliged to nominate in response to perceived cultural obligation (e.g. Austen, Dickens, the Bible, Shakespeare);
  • books people have seen a film or TV adaptation of (I strongly suspect this, and more specifically Colin Firth, explain's Pride And Prejudice's occupation of the top spot);
  • nerdish obsessions (Potter, Tolkien)
  • what I disparagingly like to call "book group books", i.e. the likes of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Kite Runner and Life Of Pi;
  • fondly remembered childhood stuff (Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and The Wind In The Willows among others for people of my age or older, Potter and Pullman for the younger generation);
  • books read by people that don't really read books (I presume this explains the presence of The Da Vinci Code at #42 since I can't think of any other explanation).
I totted up my total and it came to 35, which isn't especially high compared with some people's. The distribution of books I had and hadn't read was quite interesting, though - where I really fell down was that I don't have the background of doing, say, English A-level and having to wade through a reading list with all the 18th/19th century classics on it. So I've never read anything by Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy or any of the Bront√ęs, who between them account for 16 of the books on the list. I do have a copy of Pride And Prejudice - which I once got about a third of the way through but never finished - sitting on my bookshelves, along with copies of Moby-Dick and Germinal staring out reproachfully at me for ignoring them for as long as I have. One day.

I put the Pullmans and the Potters on the "not applicable" category, really - no disrespect to them and I'm sure if I was 11 or 12 they'd be the best thing ever (I suspect I'd have enjoyed the Pullmans more, though), but since I was 25 when Northern Lights was published and 27 when the first Harry Potter book was published, those weren't options open to me at the time.

I do feel slightly bad about casually dismissing the likes of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and The Time-Traveller's Wife as "book group books", which basically just means books that were very popular and a lot of people recommended to each other. It's just an aspect of my general disinclination for being told what to do, however harmlessly. A brief reading of the plot synopsis does make it sound as if Audrey Niffenegger swiped some major plot points in The Time-Traveller's Wife from Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens Of Titan anyway. I'd be inclined to put Birdsong into the same category but for the fact that I have a copy of that one which I expect I'll read once I've completed the mental recategorising of it into the category Books Whose Existence Is Acceptable To Me.

I did get the sense that of the 35 books I ticked off, a lot of them were books I'd read quite a long time ago. That's borne out by the fact that only four of them (compared to twelve from the TIME list) appear on this blog (which documents all my fiction-reading since late 2006): The Catcher In The Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Lovely Bones and On The Road, and all of those except The Lovely Bones (which, as you'll know if you read the review, would not be on any 100 Best Books list I'd be prepared to put my name to in any case) are on the other list anyway.

5 comments:

D MackD said...

My total is nuh nuh nuh nuh nineteen.
But then again that does include The Davinci Code and Moby Dick.

I would put Hitchhikers in the nerdish obsession group also. Haven't read it even though I did like other stuff from Douglas Adams.

Each time I am faced with a question on literary (smiley) culture if I'm watching a tv quiz etc.... I remind myself that I really should read a classic or two.

I remember once pouring over the "classics section" in smiths once. Ages ago.
I bought The Ilead and The Odyssey but left the Dickens and Brontes well alone.

I'm afraid its still my weakest subject (as the art and literature cake (pie) subject akways seems to revolve around cultura literary "classics" rather than art which i could at least have a pretty good educated guess at) in Trivial Pursuit but hey ho.

Blimey that was a long sentence.

D MackD said...

Apologies for the typos in the above comment by the way.
I'm typing this on my phone.
With my nipples.

electrichalibut said...

You're probably right about The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but I exclude it from the nerdy list simply because I've read it and I like it. That's the beauty of making up the rules as you go along.

D MackD said...

I'm still reeling from the fact that there's no Willard Price on the list.

D MackD said...

And what about Biggles? No Biggles?
No Huck Finn?
No Tom Sawyer?
No Tarzan?