When I got my first proper job after I left school it was working in a nursery. The pre-school teacher there introduced me to her book club after she spotted me reading during the lunch break a few times and that was my first ever book club. I was only 19 at the time, so I was snuck into the ‘over 25’s’ pub that they liked to meet in and tucked in a corner where the hope was that nobody would spot me while I was introduced to the world of book discussion.
When I joined they were working their way through the ‘BBC Top 100 Books’ – a list compiled in 2003 by asking the nation what their favourite books were and making a list of the most popular ones. ( That list can be found here – https://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml ). It was a useful target, mainly because having such a goal meant that we read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried, especially at that age when I was far less adventurous in my reading. I was part of the book club for about a year before I either stopped going or it stopped running, I can’t quite remember what happened. I was there for long enough to have worked my way through a few new books, most of which are still on my bookshelves.
I had cause to remember that book club recently and their goal – I looked again at the Top 100 list and found myself wondering exactly how many of those books I was actually interested in reading. So I made some lists.
Books I have already read on that list;
- Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen.
- His Dark Materials – Phillip Pullman
- Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
- To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
- Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
- The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger
- The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
- Tess of The D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
- Alice’s Adverntures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- The Story Of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
- Double Act – Jacqueline Wilson
- Girls In Love – Jacqueline Wilson
- Vicky Angel – Jacqueline Wilson
- David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
- Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
- Matilda – Roald Dahl
- The Twits – Roald Dahl
- Anne Of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
- Animal Farm – George Orwell
- Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
- Noughts And Crosses – Malorie Blackman
- Memoirs Of A Geisha – Arthur Golden
- The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
- Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett
- Lord Of The Flies – William Golding
- The Clan Of The Cave Bear – Jean M Auel
- Kane And Abel – Jeffrey Archer
- The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot
There are a handful of books in the above list which I treasure dearly (e.g. Anne Of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, The Hobbit, Animal Farm) and will re-read over and over again until the day I am no longer able. There are also a few on that list which I had read and now can barely remember what happens (Memoirs of a Geisha, The Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22). I have intentions of re-reading them in the near future, but I cannot for the life of me remember what I thought of them the first time around. They were certainly picked because ‘that’s a really important book to have read’ rather than because the blurb somehow gripped me personally. This had me thinking about the ‘obligated read’ – the ones that you ‘simply HAVE to read’ – and whether I actually want to read them all. I looked a little closer at the rest of the list.
Books I am interested in reading;
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
- Winnie The Pooh – AA Milne
- Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
- Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
- The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame
- Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
- Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
- Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
- Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
- Persuasion – Jane Austen
- Emma – Jane Austen
- Watership Down – Richard Adams
- The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
- Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
- Swallows And Amazons – Arthur Ransome
- A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
- Mort – Terry Pratchett
- Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
- Night Watch – Terry Pratchett
- Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
- Ulysses – James Joyce
- I capture The Castle – Dodie Smith
- The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett
- Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Some of these I am significantly more interested in others – I LOVE the premise of Little Women and Rebecca, the Terry Pratchett books are absolutely necessary in order to understand half of the quotes that my other half and his brother come out with (a bit like the need to learn french when living in France). I adore Jane Austen books in general so Emma and Persuasion are actually already on my bookshelf waiting to be devoured when the moment arrives. There are a mixture of books here that I am excited to read and books that I would be happy enough, or at least curious, to read.
And then there are the 37 other books on that list that I have either never heard of, or am just plain disinterested in. I have never heard of The Thorn Birds, or Bleak house – they’re obviously good or they wouldn’t have made it onto a list of the nations favourite books. But does that mean that they are right for me?
Am I obligated to try every book that someone else thinks I ‘HAVE to read’?
This is a tricky one because I feel there is a balancing act to be played out between being open to recommendations (this list could absolutely be called recommendations) and reading what I am personally interested in. Without taking recommendations from others and being open to those books which are classics for a reason, or those books that led others to look at everything differently how will I grow in my reading? Surely if I only go for what appeals to me then I may read hundreds of books, but would I be reading the same message over and over again?
When I joined the book club mentioned above one of the selections from the list was ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’, which I really enjoyed – it is totally different to anything I had read before, not widely cited (though I have heard of it since). There is no way that I would have picked that book of my own volition, but now it is an un-negotiable addition to my bookcase. Without that attitude of ‘we are working our way through this list’ I would never have found it. So that worked in my favour.
However, even if I were to only address those books on that list which I currently have an interest in reading then I would have 29 books to buy/ loan/ find and work through, most of which are experiments or slightly outside my comfort zone. That’s not why I read. I certainly need a few of those sprinkled here or there in my reportoire, but at a rate of one new book a week I would spend a little over six months just reading recommendations from this list.
And what about all of the other lists? Because there are many many of those lists.
What about my current TBR list? My own self-selected experiments – between them and this I would have far more than a years worth of reading already pre-planned. When would I be allowed to simply browse a book shop and select something new?
I think this is the real clincher for me – I really struggle to plan that far ahead. I am an emotional reader, I browse the shelves until I find the book that I am in the right mood to read now, I am fundamentally incapable of picking up a book to read simply because it is the next on my list. That just doesn’t work for me.
Ultimately what it comes down to is that I am physically and emotionally unable to read every single book which someone else thinks I ‘absolutely HAVE to read’ in order to change my life – there are simply too many of these books. I am going to have to be more discerning in my selections than simply adding each one dutifully to a never-ending list. I am going to need to think for myself, and think carefully.
So in summary, I am not planning to pick up the challenge of reading all 100 books on the BBC Top 100 books list, however much I dislike the idea of a challenge unfinished. I will take the 29 books that I identified as interesting and litter my TBR pile with a handful here or there, I may even end up finishing that list eventually. Who knows, in 10 years time my taste my have changed enough that the idea of reading the 37 other mentioned books is exciting rather than a chore, but that doesn’t work for me right now.
Now please do excuse me, I have a new book to adore 🙂
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