Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So, just what does a book editor read?

Saranga over at Pai has posted a list of 100 books that, apparently, the BBC has released under the speculation that most people have read only about six books on the list.

Granted, it's probably easy for most people to say they've read six of these books, just going by school reading requirements -- a LOT of these books have shown up on various school curriculums over the years. That's probably what the BBC assumed when posting this list.

I do find the list interesting. As someone who HAS to read books for a living, I always run into people who assume I've read just about everything because, well, as an editor, I must LOVE to read, right? Well, that's true, to an extent. I DO love to read. However, I love to read what I WANT to read. The grand majority of the books I publish are not necessarily things I WANT to read -- I merely edit and publish them because they SELL. Sad, but true.

And, no, I HAVEN'T read everything. I just don't have time, for one thing. These days, reading books for leisure often takes up time I need to spend doing things like grocery shopping or taking care of my daughter. Besides, after days and days of reading through manuscripts about annuities and business valuation, the last thing I wanna do is curl up with a thousand-page novel.

(I have a very good friend, Georgette, who just can't seem to wrap her brain around the fact that I haven't read everything that's ever been published. She always looks sweetly perplexed whenever she asks me if I've read something and I inevitably answer "NO." Hey, let's face it -- because I have to read for a living, usually the last thing I want to do when I get off work for the day is MORE READING!)

I think, by default, I DO read more than the average person. However, these days, my leisure reading usually involves blogs and certain Web articles, because they're (mostly) quick-and-easy reads whenever I need a break at work. Oh, and I read comic books and graphic novels, primarily because I love the artwork. I don't get to view a lot of artwork in the types of books I publish (though I have had the pleasure of working with some truly talented artists).

Despite all this, I have a rather large library of classics that I actually have read at some point in my life. I'm even very fond of many of these books.

So, let's see how my reading history stacks up against the BBC's list. For anyone else who wants to test their own reading history against the list, here are some tracking rules that I also picked up from Saranga:

1) Look at the list and put an ‘X’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

Okay, here goes:

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X -- and I’ve disliked Jane Austen’s stuff ever since. Yes, yes, I know –- I’m a heathen.
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien X
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte X+ -- Love this book.
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X+
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X
6 The Bible -- Haven’t actually sat down and read it. However, I HAVE read the Bhagavad Gita. Probably another sign that I’m a heathen.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman X
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott -– Tried to read it once. Couldn’t stand it.
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller –- No desire to read it – I dislike its reputation as a “baby boomer bible.”
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare X –- The complete AND “compleat” works!
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X –- Still my favorite Tolkien book.
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger *
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger X
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot X -– In school. Can hardly remember it.
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell X
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 X
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky –- I’ve been trying to read Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov for thirty years. I’ve decided that I’m not going to finish reading it until very old age – because at this point I’ll probably croak upon finally reaching the last word!
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X* -- AND Through the Looking Glass.
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame X*
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens X*-– Complete, unabridged, and for the FUN of it.
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis X
34 Emma - Jane Austen X
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X* -- The only book in the series that I actually liked. The others bored me to tears – and the last one gave me a headache.
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X* -- Loved these stories, and Mighty Mite’s crib has classic Winnie the Pooh sheets!
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X
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 X
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding X
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel X
52 Dune - Frank Herbert X
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 X -- and The Old Curiosity Shoppe.
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon X
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X -- and The Red Pony.
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X
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 X
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett X
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce X
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray X
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
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 X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X
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 X
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X++++++++ -– ALL of the Three Musketeers books, and I have antique hardback volumes of every last one of them. My favorite book series of all time.
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X* -- My favorite Shakespeare play.
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X –- but I liked the Willie Wonka movie better. Yes, yes, another sign that I’m a heathen.
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo – NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! The broadway musical is good enough for me, thanks!

So, out of a list of 100 books, I've read about 44 of them. Well, that's better than six. It also looks like I don't have plans to read very many of the ones I haven't read. Interesting.

Hey! Where’s Don Quixote!?!? That’s one of my favorite books of all time, and it ISN’T for wimpy readers! It deserves to be on the BBC’s list more than that stupid Catch 22 book! Other gripes:

- Why the heck did the BBC list series AND individual books from series, such as the Narnia books? Seems to me that space could have been left open for other works.

- There are NO Mark Twain books on this list. I know the BBC is British, but c'mon! Jonathan Swift is also absent, as are Hemingway, Wilde, Kipling, London, and many other notable authors.

- Frank Herbert is listed, but not Isaac Asimov?

Grrrr, grrrr, grrrr!


plok said...

What a weird list that is. I don't understand it at all.

Baal said...

What's to understand? If you're a straight white male elitist over the age of forty, this is the ideal reading list, especially if want to pretend non-whites barely exist and homosexuals of any stripe or variety are excluded completely. Frankly I find that list offensive.

And boring! If you have Sense and Sensibility why repeat with others of the same genre? An ideal list would have represented a wider variety of books as well as a wider array of viewpoints.

MetFanMac said...

I count 19 X's, including 9 +'s. No Pratchetts? And only one Bryson? How dull.

Siskoid said...

Well, any list with Dan Brown on it is suspect, but it's not a list of books you SHOULD read, it's a list of books people would only have read 6 of... right? So they're the most-read, but yet we dare you to have read more than 6.

I don't know how they went about it at all. Or how the Complete Works of Shakespeare can share a list that also includes Hamlet. Actually, I would include Hamlet twice, but that's because I own multiple copies of it myself (in multiple media - all told maybe 18 versions, more than a third of them books?)

I barely scratch the 15 on this and I'm not really sorry.

googum said...

21 or so: there's a lot that I read just to have read, and a couple I'm not positive I forced down. Like Moby Dick: did I really read that? Or did I read the Classics Illustrated version with the Bill Sienkiewicz art like forty times?

A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the few books I've started and not finished. It was a gift, and I couldn't stand it. And a lot of those books, hell, they just aren't for me, eh? I'm not gonna be flipping through The Five People You Meet In Heaven or Bridget Jones’s Diary for anything.

Sea_of_Green said...

It IS a highly flawed list (what, no Sun Tzu, either?!?!?), but I have to admit I'm happy that Alexandre Dumas is included. You wouldn't believe how many academics dismiss Dumas as a writer simply because his stuff is FUN to read. (OMG, novels that are fun! We can't have that!) I've heard speculation that Dumas tends to get dismissed because he just happened to be black. Not sure how much of that is true, but it kinda makes one wonder.

SallyP said...

I've only read 27 books out of the list, and it's mostly older stuff, certainly none of the science fiction or modern writers except for the Harry Potter books.

I blush to confess that I've read ALL the Jane Austin books, as well as the Bronte sisters, not to mention Gone with the Wind. I've also read Forever Amber, which wasn't on the list, but was a cracking good book.

I read Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, and little Women when I was a kid, which may make a difference in your enjoyment of them as well.

But no Dafoe? Or Robert Louis Stevenson or Alastair Maclean?

Sea_of_Green said...

It's kinda like whenever someone comes out with a list of 100 movies. Inevitably, there's an outcry from people who complain that THIS wasn't included, or THIS, or THIS ...! I guess maybe we should be grateful for the evidence that there are more people out there reading books than the BBC assumes!

SallyP said...

Readers always seem to be misunderestimated...if that's a word. It's as though people are surprised that people actually do read.

Sea_of_Green said...

I think the media makes the mistake of measuring how much people read by the number of book sales. Trust me, book sales are NOT reliable indicators of how much people read. Library checkouts aren't good indicators, either.