Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why I Hate The Facebook BBC 100 Books Meme

There is a meme (in the 'internet silly game' meaning of the word, not the Richard Dawkins 'fundamental idea of civilization' meaning) going around the internet and on Facebook in particular which goes something like this:
Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here…

Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES.

Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses! (Or not.) Feel free to add comments too.
It has even become a Facebook app where you can click off your list and then compare yourself to your FB friends. I have grown to despise this list on several levels. Every time it circles around, I hate it even more. Here are but a few of the reasons:

  1. The BBC had nothing to do with the list. The closest the BBC has come to doing a list like this is their Big Read from 2003 which has many, but not all of these books on their list. The Big Read was a write-in poll to determine Britain's best loved book. The Lord of the Rings came in first, followed by Pride and Prejudice. No quibble there. But this is not that list.

  2. The actual list is from a UK Guardian listicle published in 2007 titled "Books you can't live without: the top 100". I guess whoever started this as a meme thought the BBC had a greater Appeal To Authority.

  3. There is no explanation of how this list was compiled. If there were a companion article in the Guardian explaining how it was arrived at, it has been lost to the internet. With no methodology it's just a random list of books.

  4. Nobody EVER said most people have only read six. Not the Guardian, not the BBC, not anybody except whoever unleashed this meme on the world. This is a frustrating gimmick meant to raise the interest of the reader and make them feel good they are better than 'most people'. In fact, it is a particularly low bar. If you survived high school you are likely to have doubled that number.

  5. The list includes series as single works (Shakespeare, Narnia, Harry Potter, The Faraway Tree). If The Little Prince counts as one, why do you have to read the entire Bible?

  6. There are also individual books in these series listed separately, such as The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Hamlet, thus double counting them.

  7. The quality of the list is astoundingly uneven. There are some real stinkers that made the cut. Some of the dreck that made the list I have read (The DaVinci Code) but there is no way anybody is ever convincing me The Five People You Meet In Heaven should ever be read by anybody.

  8. It's an odd, odd list. A good chunk of it is traditional Western Canon full of Dead White Men (plus Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters). Another part is childhood favorites, that is if you were raised by a nanny in a English manor house. And another big chunk is contemporary middlebrow 'serious' literature like you find on the 3-for-2 table in any BigBoxOfBooks. There is just no theme or rhyme or reason to the hodgepodge. The list is both too broad and too specific.

  9. There are books I have never heard of on this list. I spend a lot of time in bookstores. One of my favorite games is to find the back-to-school or summer-reading-list table and see how many I have read. I usually do pretty well, but I have never run across Swallows and Amazons. Wikipedia tells me it is the first book in a British series that dates to 1930. News to me.

  10. The list is getting increasingly tattered. I've seen a couple of sub-variations of the list with different books substituted. The current version, even the one that has become a Facebook app, has a lot of misspellings which have crept in from going too many times through the virtual Xerox machine. A list with the authors' names misspelled is just embarrassing.

  11. There is no Kurt Vonnegut on the list. This is a serious omission. Given the very British roots of it, it's understandable that it is highly Anglo-centric, but any list of a hundred anything without Slaughterhouse Five on it has no credibility.

  12. Memes just annoy me. But that is a rant for another day. Of particular help to me in building up a steam of hate for this one was a very good entry on the PurpleCar blog entitled How Do Memes Start? A Case Study: 100 Books in Facebook.

And in case you think this is all sour grapes, I have read 27+/- (depending on how you count things and how good my memory is) of them, which is perfectly respectable. But at my rather languid reading pace nowadays, my time is precious and I'm not going to go 'birding' just to increase my score on a particularly vapid Facebook meme. I have enough unread books in my house to last me at least five years and maybe ten of these books on the list are somewhere in the to-read pile, but I'm probably not getting to them anytime soon. I read what I want to read because life is too short.

Far more interesting to me is this list which really is from the BBC of the books people claim to have read but really haven't. I've read three on that list. No, nine. Yes, it's nine.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Stupid Top 100 Book Memes: Harmless Fun or Pretentious Annoyance?

Updated 8:15 a.m.: Changed the title.


LostInThought said...

I'd be more inclined to lie about what I read, not what I haven't read.

Mooselet said...

Pretentious Annoyance. I went through that list and from memory I was annoyed at books that were listed as "classics". I like Harry Potter, I do, but classic? No. The DaVince Code? Blurk. God help me I think even saw a Twilight book in there, although my memory may be faulty. I think I scored 30something, but I never posted it to my Facebook.

Heh - my captcha is 'outurd'.

Anonymous said...

Heh. You beat me to this post. What's more, I was making nearly all the same points. Hats off to ye.

Dave2 said...

I questioned the content of the list as well, but it's all harmless fun. The books on it are all notable in some way or another... even if it is just to the person who created it, which is no more or less annoying than anything else people put on the internet.

I've read half of them... 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42 (regretfully), 49, 50, 51, 52, 57, 58, 59, 61, 65, 70, 71, 72, 75, 76, 81, 83, 84, 87, 88, 89, 92, 94, 98, 99, 100.

Now, if you want REAL pretentious annoyance, why not start up a meme asking how many books people have read on Le Monde's "100 Books of the Century"... only 29 of which were written in English!

jamy said...

I completely agree with you--for all the reasons you listed, I decline to participate in this meme when it inevitably comes around. Super annoying.

The books people claim to read would be a much better meme!

I have read:
1. 1984 - George Orwell (in 1984, no less)
2. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (I admit to skimming through some of the history sections)
5. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (read and hated almost every word)
7. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie (I thoroughly enjoyed it)

I have made failed attempts read these:
3. Ulysses - James Joyce (once I got about 200pp in)
8. In Remembrance of Things Past - Marcel Proust (done a page 65)

I read a lot of it, but not cover to cover (Jewish version, only):
4. The Bible (24%)

Never really even tempted to read these:
6. A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking (15%)
9. Dreams from My Father - Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins (6%)

PJ said...

I read a lot and have an MA in English. I also took a course in Children's Lit in college, so I read many of those books as a young adult.

There were only a handful of books on the list I never heard of, and a few I wouldn't read if they were the last books on earth. They very well may be because of their popularity.

Some of my favs: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson. The new book by Jonathan Franzen is a nightmare.

DemetriosX said...

I hit around 38 or so , but the list is very problematic. On top of the series + works in series issue, there are only like 4 non-English works in the whole list. Not very representative.

I've only ever heard of Swallows and Amazons because it was included in JB Post's An Atlas of Fantasy back in the 70s. But, yeah, it's early 20th century British children's literature in the vein of Edith Blyton or the 5 friends. I'm not even sure if it's in print and if not when it last was.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a very silly list. One thing about your commentary caught my eye, though:

I am an American born and bred, but I HAVE read the British book "Swallows and Amazons", and I count it as one of THE absolute very best children's books I have ever encountered (along with such other sometimes ignored classics as "The Good Master".)

It is considered classic enough that it comes back into print, and it's apparently also available from that giant online bookseller.

Jumper said...

Of course it's stupid. That's the nature of most failures in the game of evolution.

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