Urban Legend “BBC” Top 100 Book List

Urban Legend “BBC” Top 100 Book List

Emily of Back Bay View has posted a book meme. Another of those making the rounds—I first saw it on Facebook. I’m the same way as Emily. I love book lists. (Witness my last blog post.)

Still, much as I have been tempted to do this one I keep getting distracted.  The introduction bugs me every time I look at it: “The BBC claims that most people haven’t read more than six on the list.” It’s so absurd. Just glance over the list. More than six of the books were on most people’s required reading for school. There are plenty of bestsellers too. Who could take that claim seriously? On the contrary, I think it would probably be rather hard to find someone who hadn’t read at least six books on the list. Also, I’ve found not a single version of this meme that links back to anything by the BBC. I keep getting so distracted by the outrageous claim that I never actually check the list to mark off what I’ve read.

Anyway, I tried to track it down because I’m fascinated by this kind of urban legend. (Though urban legend doesn’t seem the best descriptor. I think there should be a new word for this kind of internet-only phenomenon.) The list does look a little like a BBC list of top 100 novels that was also circulating as a blog meme a few years ago and which I remember doing. (This is the original BBC list I remembered, generated when they asked readers to nominate their favorite book.) So I poked around a bit on google and found that this is not that list. Snopes doesn’t have a writeup on this one, so I had to go do my own research.

This blogger does a comparison of the two book lists (and writes an interesting but incomplete case study of how internet memes start.) and there are only 63 books in common. However, as interesting as his explanation of the phenomenon is, he doesn’t track the list to it’s source. He just assumes someone modified the BBC’s list, adding their own books to it.

Instead, further research reveals that the list seems to come from a different British news outlet, The Guardian, evidently based upon an online poll for World Book Day in 2007. I still have no idea where the claim that no one has read six books on the list comes from and how it got attached to the BBC. I’m very curious whether that claim was a deliberate hoax or some form of internet Telephone game where something got garbled in transmission. Unfortunately, since it seems to have originated on Facebook, it’s virtually impossible to trace. I’ve fond quite a few bloggers debunking it; but no one who has managed to trace it to the source. I suppose it will remain a mystery.

I do wonder if this wasn’t deliberately engineered to make it more sticky. While it’s true that people enjoy ticking books off of lists, the addition of the taunt from the BBC is the kind of thing that will really goad people. Being able to beat that challenge makes people feel a bit superior.

Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to ever check off the books I’ve read from this list. Somehow it’s the weird urban legend that actually intrigues me more than the book list, as much as I usually find those irresistible.

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  • Christmas books families may enjoy:
    The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas
    A Small Miracle by Peter Collington
    Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt
    Mary by Demi

  • Lovely.  We’re the only house on our street not lit up yet but I like the idea of the slow Advent.  We’re taking our time adding decorations slowly.  I can never remember the chocolate coins for St. Nicholas Day.  My girls are in bed and I set the table with our special “St. Nicholas” (really just Santa plates but an old fashioned looking Santa).  I give my girls a Christmas ornament and some candy and the little bags are sitting on their plates now.  Hopefully they will have quite a collection of ornaments for for when they aren’t living at home anymore for their own Christmas trees.  We’re going to LaSallete next weekend – hope you have fun!!

  • Thanks, Charlotte. I am always so grateful for the kids selling the wreaths. They are so lovely and though I detest the pine needle mess on the floor, I do love the fresh pine smell.


    We have Angela and the Baby Jesus and Demi’s Mary. Angela is one of Bella’s absolute favorites and it always makes me choke up at the end when Pat offers to go to jail for Angela.

    I’ll have to check out the others. Thanks.


    I love the ornament idea. Maybe one of these years I’ll add it to our tradition too. It certainly would have been nice to have a store of my own ornaments that first year we were married. I hope you have fun at La Salette too. It was my first time and I was so blown away. I’ll try to write up my post about it soon.


  • For me intending to get greenery for an Advent wreath was just setting myself up for s msssive fail. For years we used a wire coat hanger wraped with green tinsel. Then I found a nice wooden candle holder, and finally a couple of years ago added an articial greenery candle ring that actually makes it look like a real Advent wreath. Took us long enough to get there!

    We are unwrapping books happily, but probably only reading 50%, thanks to little Miss Pig-Headed being reluctant to try anything new. I am trying to be relaxed about it, and assume we will get to the others next year.

  • priest’s wife,
    This is my 4th time being pregnant during Advent. Evidently I’ve still got much to ponder.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I have a strand of plastic greenery; but I stored it with the Christmas decorations as opposed to with the Advent wreath, creche, etc. So I guess I’ll retrieve it whenever we dig the bin out of the back of the shed (probably whenever we buy the tree).

    If I had world enough and time I’d probably write a post linking to everything you write.

  • Oh, I love Better World Books, too, partly because they are locating in my old stomping grounds, though I don’t remember them when I lived in that area.  A Christmas book ordered from them last year: The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Berger – love it!

  • What amazing links Melanie, thanks! I feel like i’ve just had a very delicious meal. So much for me to go back to and savour. It’s a busy week for me this week, and I’m doing the advent talk at church on Sunday, so I need to keep connecting with these ideas and with God, while i’m busy… this was exactly what I needed. Thank-you.