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When the list came out I'd already read 30-40 of them, and in the flurry of publicity surrounding the vote and the accompanying television series, it was easy to find loads of others in the library (hooray for libraries!). Then I went to university and hardly read any fiction at all for three years, which I find incredible now. A few years ago I picked up the list again and, having waded my way through the monsters of Ulysses, A Suitable Boy and War and Peace, I felt as if the end was in sight and decided to aim for finishing in 2013.
The list itself is definitely a product of its time. Loads of children voted, which means there are 30 children's books on the list, including all four of the Harry Potter books published by 2003 (I personally think they should've been counted as one book - as His Dark Materials was). This isn't a list of the absolute best books ever written, just the most popular in Britain in 2003, but it does include loads of good books I might never have read if it hadn't been for my love of lists. I'm sad to have finished it!
I'll post the entire list as a separate post later. But for now here are some interesting facts* about the list and my award winners - good and bad!
- Oldest book: Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (1813)
- Five of the authors only wrote one book.
- Five books were written by authors under the age of 30.
- Longest book: A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (the longest single volume ever published in English)
- Shortest book: The Twits - Roald Dahl
- Only two of the books (Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy) are Booker Prize winners. They are both by Indian authors and set in India.
- Only 1% of purchased books in 2003 were written before 1900, but 22% of books in this list are pre-20th century.
- Two authors (Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett - unlikley bedfellows) appear in the list five times
- Eight books weren't originally written in English.
- More than 25% of the authors are/were teachers.
- 7000 different books were nominated and over 140 000 votes cast.
- My top three: 1984 by George Orwell (which was the overall favourite of people in their 20s - how predictable am I?!), The Stand by Stephen King, Emma by Jane Austen
- My bottom three: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Ulysses by James Joyce, On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- Biggest surprise: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. For some reason I was really expecting not to like this but it's in my Top 20.
- Most un-put-downable: Holes by Louis Sachar. I read this in one sitting and loved it - it's in my Top 10.
- Least memorable: Middlemarch by George Eliot. I have a terrible memory for plots, but this is the only book I got halfway through reading a second time before remembering I'd read it already!
- Most haunting: a tie between The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Magus by John Fowles. I actually remember very little of either of these books (despite enjoying them) but, nearly a decade after reading them, they still float into my mind from time to time, making me feel uneasy.
- Favourite character: Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
- Biggest u-turn: both 1984 (George Orwell) and Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) were books I couldn't even finish the first time I tried. They are now both in my Top 10. (I also bumped up The Great Gatsby having read it again recently, but I still didn't think it was that amazing!)
The good news is that the BBC actually collated a Top 200^, so I don't have to stop now. But I think my days of reading Jaqueline Wilson are gone, so I will content myself with reading through the list of books people have been recommending to me on this blog. You can see the current list of books under the 'Books' tab, if you can think of any more books I must read, then leave me a comment! Stand by for the next post, where you can see the full list and work out how many you've read...
*taken from the official Big Read Book of Books
^ the even better news is that The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle sneaks on to the list at 199.