‘Read more books’. It’s a staple New Year’s resolution, and one that was all over Twitter come January 1st. Of course, it’s unlikely to be a priority for Bookdiva fans. A few years ago I actually made a resolution to read fewer books – the idea being that I would then do more, well, sleeping. Or skydiving. Or something. But that swiftly went the way of ‘be nicer to my mother’ and ‘learn to tango just like the sexy Roxanne bit in Moulin Rouge.’
Perhaps the second most popular literary NYR is to ‘read the classics’. Now, the phrase alone evokes such a dusty tundra of pompous polysyllables that even the most enthusiastic self-betterer inevitably starts to have doubts by the 2nd and reaches for a Freya North to go with the leftover coffee creams, but the concept of nailing the canon still exerts a huge cultural hold.
This is proved by the BBC Top 100 Must-Read Books List, aka The Facebook Meme That Will Not Die. This has been doing the rounds for over two years, but resurfaced yet again last week in a friend’s feed as if summoned by the guilt-laced January air. It takes the form of an apparently apocryphal BBC list of 100 must-read books, which claims that the average person has read only six, and exhorts recipients to mark those they have read (usually in bold) and those they started but did not finish or partially read (italics), and then forward to fellow book nerds in an orgy of erudite one-upmanship.