Big Read

Today we were trying to set up a display of 100 books from the BBC’s Big Read in the bookstore. A list of thousands was eventually whittled down by votes to 100 (the autumn sees the top 20), although unfortunately it covers only novels. The Beeb has done a pretty good job in pushing the Big Read however, and even if these compilations are a little useless it is still good to see literature being highlighted and celebrated so publicly.

Glancing over the list today – see the BBC web pages for the whole list – I was not terribly surprised to see a lot of the usual suspects cropping up, as they have in all the other lists compiled during my years in the book trade. To be sure there are some damned good books in there regardless. Animal Farm, the Great Gatsby, David Copperfield, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, Winnie the Pooh and others. As someone who has long been immersed in the consciousness-expanding genres of SF and fantasy I was delighted to see how many such titles are in the list (proof if any be needed that these are far from being minority interest niche genres, so publishers, booksellers and writers please pay attention and stop ghettoising them).

Obviously Lord of the Rings is in there (it came top in the Waterstone’s book of the 20th century a few years back). Terry Pratchett is in there (as he should be, being one of the biggest selling authors in the UK) and he tied with the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson for the most titles nominated. Stephen King is in there (although personally I detest the Stand as a piece of overblown, simple-minded tosh), the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Raymond E Feist’s Magician (from the days when he was good and not milking tie-in novels to his games). Animal Farm and 1984 are excellent examples of fantasy and SF respectively to push the envelope of socio-political commentary and cautionary warning – plus they are damned good tales to boot. No apologies to the shocked literati out there gasping on their TLS – those Orwell novels are SF&F. Alice in Wonderland, Brave New World, A Christmas Carol, Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, Hebert’s Dune, Peake’s excellent, brooding masterpiece Gormenghast, Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Rowling Harry Potter novels (although personally I loathe them). Niche genre my butt! How many of these account for the top sales in the UK and abroad?