BBC Top 100 Reads, and the ‘obligated’ read.

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;

  1. Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen.
  3. His Dark Materials – Phillip Pullman
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – JK Rowling
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
  7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
  8. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  9. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  11. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  12. The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger
  13. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  14. Tess of The D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  15. Alice’s Adverntures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  16. The Story Of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
  17. Double Act – Jacqueline Wilson
  18. Girls In Love – Jacqueline Wilson
  19. Vicky Angel – Jacqueline Wilson
  20. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  21. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  22. Matilda – Roald Dahl
  23. The Twits – Roald Dahl
  24. Anne Of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  25. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  26. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
  27. Noughts And Crosses – Malorie Blackman
  28. Memoirs Of A Geisha – Arthur Golden
  29. The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
  30. Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett
  31. Lord Of The Flies – William Golding
  32. The Clan Of The Cave Bear – Jean M Auel
  33. Kane And Abel – Jeffrey Archer
  34. 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;

  1. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  2. Winnie The Pooh – AA Milne
  3. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  4. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  5. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  6. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  7. The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  8. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  9. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  10. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  11. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  12. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  13. Emma – Jane Austen
  14. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  15. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  16. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  17. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian
  18. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  19. Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
  20. Swallows And Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  21. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  22. Mort – Terry Pratchett
  23. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  24. Night Watch – Terry Pratchett
  25. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  26. Ulysses – James Joyce
  27. I capture The Castle – Dodie Smith
  28. The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett
  29. 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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Published by BeckyBookBlog

My name is Becky and I run a blog about Books

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