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 Rebecca – Daphne 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
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.