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Saturday, 6 March 2004

My Name Is Vanessa and I am a Literary Snob

Topic: Shy Lux
I never do memes. Why don't I ever do memes? When I need a space filler, I just write the same old crap as ever about how I'm cold and my weekend was tedious.

So here's a three month old meme: The Big Damn Read, which I already blogged about loathing. Ones in bold are the ones I've read, okay? I suspect the ones not in bold will be more telling, anyway:

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 Bronte
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
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
22. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Suskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
103. The Beach, Alex Garland
104. Dracula, Bram Stoker
105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz
106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy
112. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13?, Sue Townsend
113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat
114. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson
117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson
118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
119. Shogun, James Clavell
120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham
121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson
122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
123. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy
124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
129. Possession, A. S. Byatt
130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
131. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl
133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck
134. George's Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson
140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson
141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson
143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
144. It, Stephen King
145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
146. The Green Mile, Stephen King
147. Papillon, Henri Charriere
148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett
149. Master And Commander, Patrick O'Brian
150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz
151. Soul Music, Terry Pratchett
152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett
153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
154. Atonement, Ian McEwan
155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson
156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling
160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon
161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
162. River God, Wilbur Smith
163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
165. The World According To Garp, John Irving
166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore
167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson
168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye
169. The Witches, Roald Dahl
170. Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco
175. Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson
177. Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl
178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson
182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay
184. Silas Marner, George Eliot
185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine
189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons
193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells
195. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans
196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White
199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
200. Flowers In The Attic, Virginia Andrews

My god, that was every bit as depressing as I thought it would be. You see how many were children's books? Number 188 isn't even a book, it's a children's publishing category.

What's wrong with a country to need 140 of its top 200 books to be children's books? If you took the GCSE and A level syllabus books off of there, you'd be left with what? Crap and big name movie adaptations.

There are four books that I love mentioned on that list, and I have a strong feeling of wanting to grab them, wrench them from the claws of these morons (who would read a whole series of John Irving, for goodness sake?), and save them from the ignominy of inclusion on this horrible horrible horrible list.

I feel tainted that I did this.

I need a quotation from Curtis White to cleanse myself of the horror of contamination:

"The Middle Mind is the dominant force shaping our culture today. Seeping into politics, literature and art, it's all about pre-packaged, easily digestible media that requires no thought. And it's creating an increasing inability to properly consider the development of our society, or to initiate change. ... It's about the music we listen to, the films we watch and the books we read, from Jonathan Franzen and Oprah Winfrey to Harry Potter and The Hours."

All of whom serve as horrific warnings of the dumb commodification of art in my mind. The groaning infected whine of a cultural consciousness stymied and dulled by the atrophied thought that pseudo bollocks such as Lost in Goddamn Translation had something - anything - intelligent to say. The last 'taps' played over the death of our collective soul.

I guess that's why I don't do memes, then.

This page graced by sarsparilla at 4:28 AM GMT
Updated: Saturday, 6 March 2004 4:46 AM GMT
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Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 2:04 PM GMT

Name: Looby
Home Page:

I don't understand these complaints (always expresed in elongated arse-straining sentences with piles of adjectives) about the dumbing down of the modern world. If you don't like Oprah Winfrey or Gareth Gates, just ignore them.

I sometimes suspect that the complainants are trying to find a reason outside of themselves for why they are not moved to the extent they feel they ought to be by classic literature, and magnify a simple case of having chosen the wrong book to buy into some shameful personal failing.

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 5:52 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

You have a point, but I think you've assumed my complaint is more scattergun than I intended it to be.

It's not the supposed dumbing down of the modern world, you see, that annoys me. I think lowbrow, pop culture has actually become *more* complex and fulfilling, so I have no argument with Gareth Gates, or with the Eurovision for that matter.

It's highbrow culture that's dumbed down, that requires little intelligent or discomfiting thought. I don't see anything in contemporary 'highbrow' culture that challenges or teaches me. I see more worth in reality tv than in 'American Beauty' or 'Shakespeare in Love', or 'A Beautiful Mind'.
A direct comparison: there's nothing that really makes us question our truths in 'The Hours' like there was in its source texts, 'Mrs Dalloway' and (imho) 'Between the Acts'.

This means that, rather than just ignoring aspects of a culture that don't personally attract you, you're left with nothing to aspire to - nothing that critically attacks the institutions we're meant to accept.

We are free to say anything we like, as long as what we say does not suggest that the ruling order (Hollywood, the corporate 'art house' cinema chains, mass publishing, the net, western news sources, whatever) has no right to rule.

Given that, would you still disagree? Knowing some of your opinions about literature and film, I doubt it. I may be wrong.

I also don't think that texts like 'The Middle Mind', unlike Derrida or Barthes, is unreadably dense in the slightest. It's written in pretty informal english compared to Marx, frankly. (And isn't 'arse straining', by its very definition, itself an elongated adjective?)

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 7:25 PM GMT

Name: Cyn
Home Page:

"The Middle Mind" is embodied in the States by Oprah Winfrey. It was such a relief several years ago when she announced the shuttering of her "book club" after an author stated publically that he did not want his book issued with the big Oprah seal of approval stamped on the front dust jacket.
There was such a backlash against the poor fellow, Oprah fans stomping and whinging--how ever would they know what to read?--and they blamed him!
(I use the Oprah seal of approval as a guide for what not to read. Pick a book up, see Oprah seal and a blurb from her stating why one needs to read the book, release book from grasp.)
Finally, after some months of the Cult of Oprah bellowing and thrashing, she quietly resumed her shilling of reading material that she's allegedly enjoyed--always books with a "message"--every third one or so by her "good friend" Maya Angelou.

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 7:59 PM GMT

Name: Anne
Home Page:

Well, since I'm about as high-brow as...well...something that isn't high-brow in the least, I'll just answer the low-brow question. Why do I like memes, the "good" ones, anyway? For the same reason that I like blog tests. They "reveal" things about ME to ME. ME being who I am, I like to learn about ME as often as possible. Well, ok, they don't tell ME anything new, really. They are fun to take, require very little active thought, and can be shown off to the world like a diploma from one of the Seven Sisters. So sue me.

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 8:26 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

Lol, thanks, Cyn, for filling in the cultural gaps there about Oprah. I have to admit, when I was deep in a Black American fiction phase, I supplemented my reading list with some stuff from her book club recommendations. They weren't that good, in comparison to Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston, of course, which may be a tad of an unfair comparison - but I just assumed they were unlucky choices. Interesting to see the backlash.

Reading groups only just became popular again here over the last year or three, so there's not yet been a backlash, although the predominance of non-fiction on shop shelves (did you know WHSmith only has three narrow shelves of normal fiction left in any shop, now? I'm not talking classics, I'm talking *normal* - this is a crisis!?), and the ever dominant glitzily covered chick-lit / lad-lit is beginning to lose its death choke stranglehold on British publishing at last.

I mean, Memoirs of a Geisha had a pretty picture, but you read it in three days flat and forget everything in it as soon as you put it down.
It's not like we're asking for incomprehensible, exclusive literature - just something that makes you think.

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 8:28 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

:D I wasn't criticising memes, honest. It was more a way of saying that I'm too much of a grumpy bad tempered negative bustard deep thinker to be able to do a meme without ranting and spoiling it for everyone. Honest!

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 8:53 PM GMT

Name: lemonpillows
Home Page:

Sometimes you just want a light read, fair enough, but even then, I want it to make me think. Maybe like Bridget Jones - it was funny because it was so true - that we're all obsessed with something etc etc.. I like a book that makes me think. Have you ever read "Portrait of a Young Man Drowning" by Charles Perry? Bloody good read. Part of the 'Black American writing' group technically, but is so different..

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 9:30 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

Agreed. I'll keep a whisker tuned for that book.

That's not your real email address!

Saturday, 6 March 2004 - 10:22 PM GMT

Name: lemonpillows
Home Page:

Oh - it so IS my real email address:

sexywench=dawn (ie, me)
lesbianboobies= lemonpillows

simple! ;op

Sunday, 7 March 2004 - 2:17 PM GMT

Name: Looby
Home Page:

B. Jones's diary was great. It encapsulated a moment. The flirting by e-mail, the obssessions with putting a figure on your own self-harm. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, 7 March 2004 - 2:35 PM GMT

Name: Looby

Yes, "arse-straining" is elongated but I couldn't resist having that and "piles" in the same sentence.

I'm open to persuasion, but pop culture has become more complex and fulfilling? Where? :) And I wouldn't count American Beauty or Sh. in Love as highbrow.

I'm not so pessimistic about the supopsed lack of critical commentary on the way we live. True, there's a sense in which you're encouraged to view art with a merely aesthetic or sensual appreciation, but I think very good, critical art and literature is all around us. It just takes a bit of digging out.

"Examples"? I hear you say. If you ever see it advertised, go to see Les Temps d'Emploi ("Time Out"). It's about how someone who lives an exemplarily "normal" life becomes more and more estranged from it, and his inability to cope with norms that everyone either fully believes in or does a convincing impression of being happy with. And it does this without presenting any easy political "answer", or saying that there's this conspiratorial dominant ideology/centre of power that's ruining everything.

Monday, 8 March 2004 - 1:11 PM GMT

Name: NC

Hmm, isn't any interest in reading a good thing? Even if the books aren't all that, once someone enjoys the written word they might be moved to try more complex books.

Monday, 8 March 2004 - 1:18 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

I dunno if it is, if such huge numbers of people are happy to read work that plays safe and never challenges them. I mean, I like Brave New World, but it's extremely childish. Which makes it extremely easy to ignore.

Tuesday, 16 March 2004 - 1:35 PM GMT

Name: srah
Home Page:

I read too fast and saw that "Herbert Austen" had written Pride & Prejudice. I guess she really is a huge, bearded Yorkshireman and Blackadder was right.

Friday, 26 March 2004 - 12:54 AM GMT

Name: chrysalis

I am curious as to what books you and your posters would recommend.......and why. =) I am an avid reader always looking for a good suggestion. And please, don't tell me to read the DaVinci Code. ;)

I have read all but 20 or so of the list you show.......though I would only recommend maybe 1/3 of them to most readers. I do not think myself a literary snob.......though, I must admit I have always avoided Oprahs picks. ;) In the long run.....while I do agree that this list is geared towards younger long as people are reading(even if Oprah got them to do so) I think that we should rejoice. ;)

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