Classic Meme on Facebook: BBC List of Top 100 Must-Read Books

Yesterday a fellow affiliate marketer posted the following message on her Facebook wall:

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here…

Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES.

Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses! (Or not.) Feel free to add comments too.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series –
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 Faulks
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 – CS Lewis
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 Mitchel
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

Before going through the list I Googled every possible key phrase to locate the exact source of the list, but having no luck and very little time for this, I just quickly thumbed through list, counted the ones that I’ve read, and posted:

I’ve read 21 of these.

I wonder why they’ve listed the Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet like that. Why not single out King Lear or Romeo and Juliet?

Ulysses by James Joyce is hmmmm… I’d much rather see Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal on the list.

Oh, and nothing by Prosper Mérimée on the list? C’mon! Carmen is a classic.

Then I went back to my work, but later in the day checked the other comments that were posted under that list, and I wasn’t the only one puzzled about the so-called BBC’s selection (underlining mine):

Facebook comments to BBC book meme

So I did a bit more research (this time: typing in the exact wording of the message posted on my acquaintance’s Facebook wall), and guess what? It’s a classic meme (pronounced as [meem], rhyming with “dream”)! Here’s a decent explanation of Internet memes are, and how they work:

An internet phenomenon … that spreads from one person to another seemingly for no logical reason at all. When people see a meme, no matter how silly it usually is, they find it amusing for one reason or other and forward it to their friends; soon millions of people know about it thanks to how fast the information can spread online and the viral effect. [source]

Over a year ago, an excellent analysis of this particular Facebook meme was put together by Christine Cavalier of Purple Car, and you may read it in its entirety here.

I love the concept — of the 100 must-read books — but its execution in the above-quoted “BBC book list” case was simply terrible. It still doesn’t change my fascination with the concept, but next time I’ll analyze things a bit more carefully before spending time counting Winnie-the-Poohs and Christmas Carols. 🙂

17 thoughts on “Classic Meme on Facebook: BBC List of Top 100 Must-Read Books”

  1. Yes the idea is from the April 2003 Big Read BBC list….I was going to post this meme on Fb and then decided to check online – the original has a different list and makes more sense….like it has some of the Harry Potter books not “The Harry Potter Series”!

    1. Yes, and I’m surprised they modified the original list to a point where it nearly discredits itself (or at least has multiple people — that do read books and love reading — raise an eyebrow)

  2. Thank you for the research — I was wondering about the BBC thinking people were so poorly read. And “Lion/Witch” and “Chronicles of Narnia” in the same list? That kind of error doesn’t happen at the BBC.

    1. My pleasure, Liz, and glad you’ve found this post of help. It is apparent that the original BBC’s book list from 2003 was used as a basis for this. I have no clue why they felt like re-doing it (and so poorly) though.

  3. Although the list is similar to the BBC “Big Reads” list–simply a poll of people’s favorite books–it isn’t the source of the current meme. Rather, it comes from a British-sponsored World Book Day survey in 2007 that asked the public to list 10 books they couldn’t live without.
    Here’s a story from the Telegraph that dismisses the poll (and World Book Day) as “foolishness:

    Here’s The Guardian’s story on the survey results:

    And here’s the Guardiann’s reprint of the list, which is identical to the list in “BBC Six Books” meme:

  4. I too was looking for the original source for this list as it seemed entirely inadequate and (to put it rather bluntly) half-assed, which lead me to believe it was phony.

    Why would you take issue to Ulysses being on the list? I only take issue to it being on a list with the likes of Lovely Bones, DaVinci Code and Time Traveler’s Wife. Maybe I’m biased (yes, I am) because it is by far my favorite book, but it seems like a strange one to single out.

  5. Personally, I think a better question might be “did you actually understand or even ENJOY the book you read?” I’ve read 59 of the 100 books and maybe this isn’t a nice thing to say, but found most of them very dry and boring, and a significant number of them overrated. Ulysses, what dirty parts? Bell Jar? Yawn. I say thank God someone made the Jane Austen books into movies because I love those and to me her books are better than a sleeping pill.

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  7. Had this list from a year back and was surprised, yet again, when i revisited it and found Da Vinci Code and Time Traveller’s Wife over anything by Kundera, Roth, Llosa, Vonnegut – and I can go on. Did seem a bit odd right from the start – gladdened my heart that this is a meme and not a “real” list publised by the BBC 🙂

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  12. Thanks for linking back to my post about this, Geno. The sticking power of this particular meme is quite unbelievable. I think the underlying tone of elitism is the key element that keeps it going. People especially feel obligated to respond once they see a good number of books on the list that they’ve read.

    We have yet to learn how to process online goading like this. If a person was standing on the street corner, shouting to us that we are poorly read and basically illiterate, we would walk (or perhaps slightly jog) away. Not so online. Online we feel an overwhelming need to react. We’ll get there, though.

    I kind of feel bad for the BBC on this, though. They couldn’t have known their Big Read list would’ve been bastardized to the point of bad press for their brand.

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