The Write kind of Ignorance

Gather ’round, ladies and gentlemen for a story of pettiness, a quest, and books.

Once upon a time, in a year not so long ago, a magical book list was circling the internet. This list claimed that “The BBC predicts that you’ve only read 6 of these books.” Perhaps upon hearing the title, you will remember its first appearance as well, dear reader, and perhaps it has impacted your life as it has the protagonist of our story.

At the time this list came out, a teenage girl who would later be the host of a hilarious and informative blog called Writing Pun, found this list and brought it to the attention of a gentleman which she wished to be betrothed to (aka wanted in his pants or something along those lines).

With hopes and dreams of a deep discussion of book lists and literature that would conclude with confessions of love, she told him, with awe and shock, that she had indeed only read a few books over the predicted six, despite her voracious reading habits. Before he could confess his love to her or tell her how many he had read (whatever he was going to say, she will never know), alas, they were interrupted!

The intruder, the villain, was another teenage girl who was slim, beautiful, and worst of all, nice. The intruder exclaimed, “Oh, are you talking about that book list? I think I’ve read thirty or so.”

Our protagonist balked. Thirty? She’d barely read ten! Embarrassed and thwarted by this foe, she smiled a smile that hid the turmoil within her, while saying, “Wow! That’s so impressive!” but thinking, That’s it! I must destroy her by reading more books!

Thus, began a quest that carried on for years and continues even to this very day.

Without further ado, here is the magical list which haunted the dreams of our protagonist ever since that day (if you’d like to use and interactive version that adds everything up for you, click here because math is hard) :

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 RebeccaDaphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell 

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy.

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen 

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth.

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold 

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt.

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare 

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Total: 37

The villain from out story is now happily married (not to the gentleman, I might add), and eventually, the gentleman turned out to be not so gentlemanly and has been out of the protagonist’s life for quite a few years, yet she continues to read from this list! What is this witchcraft? If not pettiness, why does she continue to read these challenging texts? Is it out of a love for reading or…perhaps it is true, the list truly is magical!

Okay, okay, goofiness aside, this list is actually the bees knees, and despite the reason I actually started working on it, it’s shaped my taste in literature, and I’m endlessly grateful to that girl who had read more than me for getting me to tackle it the way I did.

Initially, I picked books from it without knowing anything about them, simply so I could scratch them off the list as quickly as possible. This was the best thing I could have done. I’ve now read books I wouldn’t have touched if I’d known the first thing about them, and have absolutely fallen in love with them. That’s why after all of these years, I’ve continued to try and maintain this ignorance, picking away at the list, and choosing the books I’ve heard very little about. It makes it more fun when you have absolutely no idea where something is going, especially if it’s something you’d never read normally. You never know what treasures you’re stepping over when don’t jump blindly into a book every now and then.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the books on there I’ve really hated (cough Wuthering Heights, The Kite Runner, Heart of Darkness cough), but through this list I’ve also discovered my favourite book of all time, Gone with the Wind, and a handful of other favourites (Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, The Bell Jar, Lolita, The Great Gatsby etc.). Almost all of them, I either knew nothing or only had a vague idea of what they were about when I started them. I didn’t even read the backs and especially not the introductions (there’s spoilers everywhere in those damn things). Sometimes I even picked which book to read next based on how much the title annoyed me. Because of that, I’ve read books I never thought I would read in my lifetime, and I’s so grateful for that. Bonus: Even though I didn’t love every “blind book,” at least I’ve read them, enabling me to be a know-it-all snob about classic literature which is its own kind of awesome. I’m joking. Kind of.

I know the list isn’t perfect either. Why is the Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet on there when Hamlet is clearly included in the Complete Works? How were these books selected? Why aren’t Peter Pan or Tom Sawyer or any of the other handfuls of wonderful books in the world included in it? I don’t know, but what I do know is that this list really has been “magical” for me.

Thirty-four doesn’t seem like that much, considering that I’ve been chipping away at this list since high school, but a lot of these books are hard, and it’s not like I’m not reading books outside of the list either. I figure that I read approximately three to four from this list every year, and that’s totally okay. I’m not reading them anymore to be better than someone else, I’m just reading them because, well, I love to read. These books are worth the challenge, and I feel very well-read after only thirty-four.

The most recent one I read was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. It was a challenge, but I adored it (plus I got to watch Gemma Bovary on Netflix after and now have a crush on Gemma Arterton).

The moral of the story: be petty whenever you can. Kidding. The moral of the story is that reading outside of your comfort zone can lead to new favourites you never thought you’d find. Now, what are you waiting for? Pick a book from the list at random and read it! In the words of Shia Labeouf, DO IT.

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