BBC Big Read Top 21: How Many Have You Read?

A few years ago, I was in National Bookstore in Ayala when I came across this big book, BBC The Big Read Book of Books – The Nation’s 100 Favourite Books. And to think that my trip to the mall that day wasn't planned at all. Happy coincidences are always welcomed. 

I could not contain my excitement that I was browsing through the book even before I could step out of the store ( of course, after paying for it!). It is an interesting read since it contained a general description or synopsis of the different books featured including short bios of the authors, pictures, and trivia about the books listed. This book has become one of my best-loved books as well. 

The story behind The Big Read is something that I hope we can emulate here in the Philippines. In 2003 BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) came up with the Big Read survey which was a poll they conducted to find out what is the British Nation’s best-loved book. 

They started asking people and they came up with the Top 200 books. BBC narrowed it to the Top 100 and whittled it down some more until they reached the Top 21. 

One of the provisions in being included in the final list was that only 1 book per author can be part of the Top 21. And since the survey was just limited to novels, plays written by William Shakespeare were not included in the list.

Because of the huge success of the survey, BBC eventually came up with a TV series hosted by celebrities and bookworms who championed their favorite books. These special guests asked the viewers to vote for their favorite books. 

By the end of the final survey, three-quarters of a million votes were received and the winner of the Nation’s best-loved novel of all time was none other than John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Here’s the final list of the Top 21 books listed according to the votes that they received.

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Some of the observations that I came up with, based on the list:

  • Out of the 21 books, 1 came from a Russian author (Tolstoy), 5 American authors and 15 British authors.
  • 5 books were written in the 19th century while the rest were written in the 20th Century (Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published in 2000).
  • All novels except for Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye were made into a movie, TV movie, TV show, radio show or cartoon.
  • J.D. Salinger refused to grant anyone movie or TV rights for his book but it has been part of Popular Culture since it's release. Various adaptations or portrayals of his protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has been depicted in movies, TV shows, and even on stage.
  • The novels written by Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell are both set in the Southern States of America and shows the class struggle that was happening during their time periods particularly racial issues.
  • Catch-22, War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Birdsong were set during armed conflicts or World Wars.
  • 8 books were written by women (Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Little Women, Gone with the Wind). 
  • 2 of the authors were siblings (Charlotte and Emily Bronte).
  • C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both belong to the literary group, Inklings.
  • In Ken Follett's World War II-inspired novel, "Key to Rebecca", his protagonist created a system of codes based on Daphne du Maurier's novel, "Rebecca".
  • 8 books can be classified in the following genre, Fantasy or Science Fiction: The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Winnie the Pooh, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wind in the Willows.
  • 6 books can be considered Young Adult or Children's books (I don't consider "Great Expectations" as a Children's book. I don't think Dickens did as well).
  • After writing "To Kill a Mockingbird", Harper Lee never picked up her pen again. (Note: In 2015, "Go Set a Watchman" was published and taunted as a sequel. But, in reality, it was the first draft that Lee made for Mockingbird).
  • Several books are part of a series or had sequels (Harry Potter Series, The Narnia Chronicles, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, etc.).

This is not a list of the best or top books of all-time. The survey conducted by BBC is based on people's votes and their preferences. This was made a decade ago and maybe if we conduct another survey, the list of books might not be the same. 

If the poll is again conducted in the 2010s, the list would look quite different. I'm assuming that we'll see one of George R.R. Martin's in it.

There have been a lot of lists circulating around the internet based on the BBC's Big Read survey. For me, it doesn't matter what books are on it or not, the important thing is that folks are influenced to start reading.

Your reading choices might not be considered scholarly or sophisticated by others, but it shouldn't deter you from picking up a book and enjoying the feeling of being lost among its pages.

I've only read 7 of the books in the Top 21 list. How many have you read? 

Are you interested in reading any of the books listed? 

If the survey was conducted in the Philippines, what would the list look like?