Last year this list of classics, purportedly from the BBC, very often with the claim that someone in the BBC said, on average, people (presumably British peeps) had read only six of these. Invariably, in a classic case of self-selection, every bookish soul who read the list reported they had read three or four or a dozen times the average. On reflecton it seems too rash a statement for the Beeb. Reading the list the various circumstances of reading, or reading failures came to mind. It seems history can be measured out in any units, fridges, burnt toast, rock and roll and books.
I am not sure if my tally means I am a keen reader or haphazard, missing important, nay seminal novels that I should be loath to admit. In annotating the list I've put those I've read in their entirety. in Bold and Italicized the onesI started but didn't finish.
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen Twenty times? Thirty? Who knows, this is my comfort read- - the thing to read if I am depressed, or lazy, or happy. It’s funny and I love the wilful mistakes , the gaffs, the awfulness of Mr Collins and Lady Catherine and then, tragedy and finally realisation dawning .
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien Only finished read this top to tale this very Month. I now see why people re-read it. Tolkien has a worrying biblical grandiosity but once the story gets going its Epic.
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte For some reason I cant fathom now I read this only three times
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling Why do you have the whole lot on the list? The first few went down well, but by The Half Blood Prince I was half-hearted and didn’t even start.
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee Yep, lapped it up, and the movie, the sort of book to read once a decade.
6 The Bible, Hardly even a verse has passed my eyes, even though I’ve found the Gideon version in a few hotels. Too Far fetched for essays but not far fetched enough to be Epic.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte This belongs on my read it again list, I read it once then again about three months later in my early twenties. Even the Kate Bush song does it for me. Higher, madder, stronger.
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell – A high school read, in summer, when 1984 was about ten years off , the rat cage spooked me for some time. Later I read Zamyatin’s We which put it in perspective - a bit.
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman Nope – but I will look into it
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens . Yes, twice, the second time as the lead in to my Year of Dickens when I was 39 and thought it was ready to read every Dickens. It ended up taking two years, starting with GE and finishing with Bleak House.
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott Yes, and the sequels as young lass, very cheap hard back copy on yellowish paper that was Christmas present from my Granny, might have been eight. All very vivid
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy OH yes, twice, first time I cussed my way through saying No Tess, don’t do it. The second time she seemed just as fey, though the parents were, if anything worse.
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller Yes, Yosarian, the bit where he says he’s cold bit in like mental frost bite
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare Nope – do seeing nearly all the plays count?
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier Thanks for reminding me, so far this exists more as a noir ‘50’s movies than a book, but now it's on my To Read list.
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien Once a teenager and twice as a mother – once the whole thing out loud, and once again on holidays at a loose end when there was nothing else left to read.
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk Nope but will listen out for it.
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger Year 8: I was standing, looking for something in the single bookcase of science fiction titles in Woy Woy High School Library, when Anne Chipchase who was in the year ahead of me , and standing behind me in general fiction, pointed this book out to a friend, as being ‘filthy”, so as soon as they left I got it out straight away. While I loved Holden I nearly completely missed the point he was a sick puppy. When I reread it 2 years ago it seemed dated.
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. My friend lent this to me, and I sniffed at it and the woman’s weekly sticker but hey, but it was good pot boiler.
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot Essential reading in my twenties, again not sure why I’ve not reread this.
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell, High school , it was doing the rounds of my group, a summer read after I saw the movie at the old Regent on George Street. I remember I was wearing a white broderie anglais dress and was so gobsmacked by the movie that I walked out in a daze and didn’t notice the stairs, slid down the whole set with dress getting higher and higher, while the next session, seemingly full of nuns came up the stairs, ignored my descent. Naturally all my friends laughed at me.
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald I read this first year uni and felt grown up.
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy I started this when I was 12 and did not get past the list of characters. I bought it last summer and it is on my bed side stack – and I have not made much progress, despite good intentions and decades.
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams The whole set – the kind of book I wish I hadn’t read so I could read it again for the first time.
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky. By some strange plotting I managed to read a part of this on a big trip flying over Russian airspace – I am not sure if I paid enough attention.
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck Whoa yes, the summer of 1978, a second hand copy as everything was then. Engrossed I took it on a picnic and, as we were trespassing on Water Board land around The Chain of Ponds in the Adelaide hills and given short shrift, I accidently left it behind, which was torture. Found another second hand copy, it rained that night and I always believed the book to have dissolved and entered into the Adelaide water supply.
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll . This is a tonic and should be read once a year at least, I’ve read it perhaps a dozen times and it makes me feel clever, like the best sort of contagion.
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame. A many read book, it made me laugh, especially Toad going Poop, Poop. This book seeps in, on holiday in Oxford, when my daughter was 9, driving in a black cab down a green laneway to a boat shed restaurant on the Cher, she said,'This is just like Wind in the Willows.' And it was.
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy . This was a late read, about 10 years ago and a knuckle biter.
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens Maybe this was number three in my Dickens or bust project, a kind of consolation prize when I had to move to Perth. There is a story that the model for Miss Haversham lived on King Street, Newtown and got stood up in St Stephen’s Church, a lovely sandstone job by Blackett, that I got married in. Does this mean qualify as literary resonance?
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis I read this aloud to my daughter, when was 5 and 6, and then we watched the series of video ( might still have them !) and then re-read some to Theo. I love Mr Tumnus.
34 Emma -Jane Austen When I read this, my Aunt’s copy, when I was 16 I thought Emma was pretty darn reasonable. Wow, it was something of a shock rereading it at 23. A favourite read agai.
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen . I didn’t read this until the year of my big read up, first year after university, and have reread it probably only twice.
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis Yep – why is this listed separately?
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres When it was first published (90’s?) , a ripper. Pity about that terrible movie, I could have slapped Nicholas Cage.
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden Nope, I am snobby about this and think are you mad, why read this when you could read Tanazaki’s great saga The Makioka Sisters?
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne I read this about 80 times when I first got it when I was six, a second hand copy, red cloth hardback with lovely pages. When I was 20 I had a Winnie-the Pooh calendar and remember a fellow called Tony who came to visit , dark circles under his eyes, who spoke sentences bereft of g’s, asking what it was about, I said it was a Children’s book , the sort you Dad might read to you at bedtime. , he shook his head, “my Dad never read us no stories, just belted us, but It’s nice isn’t it”. He died of a heroin overdose a few years later.
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell I read this at High school, scary stuff.
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown My daughter bought this for me for Christmas about 4 years ago and I had to read it. It was a page turner but what a know it all.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read this when I lived in The Residence on King street, working full time and studying for a post-doc diploma in labour law, this seemed a hell of a lot better than Constitutions of Trade Associations.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving No
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins The shifts in narrator, the mystery and that filmy dress, I was hooked, my friend Julia lent this to me when I lived in Adelaide, in the second year of my BSC.
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery . Have a vague recollection of reading this young, and remember virtually nothing. Perhaps I didn’t?
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy Yep, in my Hardy period, at 19 to 20. Doesn’t everyone read Hardy then?
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood Started this and it was too creepy and depressing.
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding Read it for school, which still didn’t put me off.
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan Started it, saw the movie and well, sigh, it’s still on my bedside table.
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel Yes, but I thought it was silly by the time I was half way through. Vivid but I kept wondering if this as really a parable I couldn’t quite make out. Great beginning.
52 Dune - Frank Herbert I read this in year between high school and year, when I had a year off to collect myself and earn some money. I was working in the Tax Office, and got chronic appendicitis ( probably my bad diet and habits) and went home, doubled up , took to my bed and read Dune .
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons Brilliantly I’d read all those bucolic romances, including Mary Webb type books and a folksie nature colume in the Guardian Weekly , before I read this. Seth , the Mog-lantern ,,, ahh I laughed till I cried. A book to re-read every 5 years.
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen In my 40’s I reread this every second year .
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens I remember starting this in a chair in my bedroom in Boreham Street in Perth, and there was the answer to one of the world’s most frequent trivia questions.
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley Must have been the year I moved to Adelaide and repeated two subjects from 1st year, there was a 2nd hand book seller at the South Entrance of the Central Markets which was cheap and full of dog –eared Penguin classics. Later I went to read Zamyatin’s We and thought it the better book.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon I read this when my son Theo was in Year 4, there was an boy in his class, C, with Aspergers and other troubles at home who was a dreadful bully and made life miserable for a number of the boys. Theo read it after me and said the boy in the book was much nicer person than C.
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck In High School, my friend Bonnie lent it to me when I was living at her house. It always reminds me of her mother’s house and the new extension with the lovely polished wooden floor.
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt Occasionally I read crime and this one I read in about 2005 , often standing up in my bedroom, as I picked up the book and read a bit while I was ferrying things to and fro, for some reason this standing up reading does not seem to me I am being a slacker and reading when I have work to do.
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac One uni summer holiday I stayed with friends, couch surfing in Newport, making trips to Dial-a –book for more books, eating salami and cheese toasties ( ugh, I go now) and not going to the beach. I read this and thought Kerouac was a sexist wanker, read Bound For Glory and loved it, now that is a road book and a half.
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding This took me about one night to read. It’s that very good thing a funny book, the P & P plot gives it some credibility but who cares, the real cred may be the blue soup.
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie I bought a signed copy of this, on the recommendation of Miss Chapman in Clays Bookshop in Potts Point in 1982 or 83. It had that gorgeous whiff of hot vinegar and chilli.
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens A part of the Great Dickens read, from 1996-99. The scene where Bill Sykes does in Nancy was terrifying, even a hundred years + after it was written
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker There was a great Penguin edition called Three Gothic novels which included this, Frankenstein and The Castle of Ontranto (sp?), I read this when I was living in Wilson Street, after seeing Klaus Kinsky in Nosferato , and set me off on a Gothic binge.
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett I didn’t read this until I read it to my daughter when she about 8, it was lovely.
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce I read maybe three page of this when I was 16 sitting on the front verandah of my parent’s house in Woy Woy. It was summer and the port wine magnolia was blooming, I was puzzled and lost.
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome After buying this for my daughter, she chucked aside and I read it.
78 Germinal - Emile Zola – I started with A Love Affair, got some speed up, and then read Zola, Zola, Zola, the year of the Big Read after I finished my BSC. I bought a copy in a bookshop, second hand and some new, that was on Elizabeth Street, Sydney about opposite Museum Station , when I was there a toy poodle ran round the bookshelves twice yapping and a man near me said,’ who put the batteries in that!” which seemed so urbane that I went back quite a few times to that shop to buy more Zola and see if there would be any more quips.
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt Read this when I was 31,upstairs in my bedroom, terrace house, with muslin curtains lying in puddles on the floor, and loved the collage of it, it was romantic. Wouldn’t want to read it again, as I suspect the mood would be ruined, especially after hearing an interview with Byatt on the Bookshow where she explains she is a genius , knows everything , especially everything about neuroscience despite never studying science
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens Mr Tate, in 6A read this out loud to the class and it was wonderful. I;ve reread this a few times since but the first time was perfect.
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker – I thought I would finish this when I didn’t have a baby but it’s been waiting on the bookshelf for 1.5 decades.
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert I read this as a Uni student and took it with me while waitressing at Dirty Dicks theatre restaurant, and gained a terrible efficiency so I could rush back to the change room, dose up on a few paras, and re-enter the world of faux- English banquets, serving food to drunks, in a daze of Russian drawing rooms and assignations, muttering ‘Emma, Emma.”
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry After a few chapters, I found I was too wimpy, or the book was too bleak. One day I will be brave and read the whole thing.
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White My recollection is I bought this for my sister ( who is much younger than me), and I read it after she did.
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom. No – I am not even putting this on my to-read list, the title is too irritating.
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I’ve just downloaded this to my iPhone and I am reading it in queues, and in bed. Would Holmes have figured this out? I haven’t finished it but I am sure I will.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection I had successfully been oblivious of this until my mother gave my daughter a complete set of it, I was a bit well-whatever. Then I had to read some of it, well the lot of it. It’s really annoying.
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad .My favourite Conrad is The Secret Agent, but I read HOD in my early twenties, and it made such an impression on me that Kurt’s words, “The horror, the horror” came floating back to me, with eerie calmness, when I went parachuting a couple of years later, when it was clear to me I was going to crash into a tree.
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery Sigh, was this so lovely that even now I feel like the whole thing was a word , starting with M which I cant bring myself to write? I read this when I was 18,left school, not yet at university, - and it was cult, I went on to read all Antoine De Saint S’s books the flights into the desert, the night mail – if one could conjure ten people up for dinner he would be on my list.
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks No – I know Banks but I am not a fan.
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams At fifteen, maybe sixteen WD was idyllic, I’d seen Ring of Bright Water ( otters, not rabbits, but hey..) and this seemed linked in its landscape setting. I had an inkling it was really not rabbits, but
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - After buying my copy of this from Clay’s bookshop in Potts Point , and enjoying it I became mysteriously bored – the character was secretly pompous? I doubt if I gave it a fair chance but reading is like that , it can be very tolerant or very unforgiving.
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute My mother was a member of Book of the Month, so I read this at hight school , as part of my read everything at home ( hyphenate all that) because it was there.
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare 1st year high school – the soliloquy , “ I have of late, but wherefor know not, lost my mirth,…” made me dizzy. The kind of effect usually associated with drugs or sex. Thank you to Mr Rouse, who was my English teacher, for throwing me in at the deep end.
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl When my daughter was six we ( all in the house who could read) read all of Dahl’s children’s books, once, twice or more. We had a Roald Dahl party, where we had snozcumbers and frobscottle and bird pie, yes, and I love Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp.
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo