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.