Every year or so, an Internet quiz starts recirculating, about 100 books the BBC thinks most people have only read six of. The implication being, of course, that most people are ill-read mental slobs who don’t know which end of a dust jacket to eat their soup with.
And every year or so when I see this quiz pop up again, I take a peek at the latest iteration, which never fails to amuse, amaze, and annoy me. I have been reading since 1975. I average 2 or 3 books a month. And since I math almost as well as I read, that tells me 100 books is a small fraction of what I’ve mentally consumed in my literate lifetime. So, BBC, here are a few things I would like to tell you about my reading habits and my take on your idea of what people should be reading:
1- I’ve read 22 of the books on your “must read” list. Please see the above-referenced math and calculate accordingly how many other books I’ve read along with those 22. Are you saying I would somehow be a better person if I’d read these particular 100 to the exclusion of all those others?
2- I do not like Jane Austen. Period. That does not mean I’m illiterate. It means her work bores the shit out of me. I even tried Pride & Prejudice & Zombies to see if that would help me get through one of her stories. It didn’t.
3- When exactly did Harry Potter become great literature? Because I’m pretty sure that never actually happened.
4- Now, when you say “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, what exactly do you mean? Everything Shakespeare ever wrote except Hamlet? Because you list that separately. Or do people who have actually read everything WS ever wrote get to count that one twice?
5- On that note, is there a reason you list both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe? Just wondering if that’s another opportunity for extra credit, since I’m pretty sure anyone who’s read “The Chronicles” has read the first book of The Chronicles.
6- I tried to read A Prayer for Owen Meany. I got so fucking annoyed with the unending caps lock every time Owen spoke that I finally had to put it down about 80 pages in because it was quite literally giving me headaches from all the jaw clenching I was doing as I tried to get past the feeling of constantly being yelled at by the main character. I have, however, read The Cider House Rules all the way through, and reached the conclusion that I’m just not much of a John Irving fan. I will, at some point, read Setting Free the Bears because I’ve heard good things about it from people whose opinions are similar to mine on the subjects of Owen Meany and Cider House, so perhaps all Irving is not yet lost for me.
7- Bridget Jones’s Diary? Really? REALLY? Chick lit about a 20-something who can’t even get her shit together enough to figure out that smoothies have a lot calories is on your list of books that make one a more literate being? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read it and Edge of Reason and enjoyed them both thoroughly, but they are not great literature by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. The fact that the main character is British doesn’t change that, much as you might want it to.
8- The Da Vinci Code? Again, are you serious? Because again, I read and enjoyed it, but do not put it in the category of “Great Literary Achievements of the All Time History of Ever”.
9- More Jane Austen. You are fucking killing me here.
10- Since you list separate volumes of certain sets twice, I’m wondering if I get points for books on this list I’ve read more than once? Because I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye twice each, and Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at least 4 times each.