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How Do Memes Start? A Case Study: 100 Books in Facebook.

A “meme” is a little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet.  You may have heard of Facebook’s latest meme “25 Things” (that was started by users, not the Facebook staff).

Ever wonder how these memes begin?

Let’s use the 100 Book meme that is hitting Facebook this week.  It’s a good study on how memes get started, how they change over time, and how they grow.

I just caught this from FriendFeed user Mark Dykeman:

“This is one of those Facebook memes that keeps circling around the universe.  I answered it on Facebook, but since some of you might not have access to my Facebook account, I thought I’d post the results here.

‘The BBC believes the majority of people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
Go to your profile, choose notes, post a new note – copy and edit.

Instructions: Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.'”

Mark goes ahead and checks off the books he’s read on the list.  It’s more than 6.  The list is below, but hang here with me for a second.

Before you get your feathers ruffled about the audacity and snobbery of the BBC, let’s take a better look at this.

I looked for the origin of the meme by checking urban-myth-busting site Snopes and the BBC website.  Snopes had nothing about how the BBC supposedly claimed that most people will have read only 6 books on the entire list.  Snopes usually catches rumors quickly, but they don’t necessarily investigate every silly Facebook meme.  Personally, I doubt the BBC would have said that, but let’s be honest:  They’ve said worse.

On the BBC site I found no quotes, articles, or any mention whatsoever about the 6 book number; I did find the BBC’s BIG READ list where they list 100 books and they ask UK’ers to vote on their favorites.  Both the list from the Facebook meme and the BBC’s Big Read list look similar.  Could they be the same list?

So I stuck them in a spreadsheet and compared.   63 of the books are shared;  37 of the books are not.

Here is the shared list (click to embiggen):

63 FB List titles on left, 63 BBC List titles on right.  This list contains exactly the same books, with titles edited.

63 FB List titles on left, 63 BBC List titles on right. This list contains exactly the same books, with titles edited.

You’ll notice some of the book titles are written slightly differently, which implies more editing by the clever meme maker (who’ll we’ll refer to as the Facebook Meme Maker -FMM) that adjusted the original BBC list.  (With the Facebook Meme’s “Harry Potter Series” entry, I just used the first Harry Potter book.  Same with “The Faraway Tree Collection.”  In a list of 100 books, it’s confusing to reference a series.)

So this table (click on it then zoom in to see better) contains the 63 shared titles.  That means 37 titles were deleted and new ones added by the Facebook Meme Maker.

Here are the remaining 37 titles from the Facebook meme next to the original 37 from BBC list (click to embiggen):

37 FB List titles on left, 37 BBC List titles on right.  The lists don't share titles.

37 FB List titles on left, 37 BBC List titles on right. The lists don’t share titles.

Seems like FMM preferred more American authors and books that were later adapted into successful movies.  Maybe FMM heard some rumor that the BBC was dissing American authors and readers and felt like putting some of her/his own favorites on the list.  Who knows?

But this meme has some of the great signs of a viral commodity:

1. The meme’s subject is elitist in that it says something about the user’s level of intelligence. (“What? You haven’t read War and Peace?!)  This fosters (usually friendly) competition amongst friends.

2. The meme has a whiff of injustice that stirs up indignance. (“How DARE the BBC say that?! GIMME THAT LIST!”)

3. Filling out / answering the meme doesn’t take much time.  “Put an X by the books you’ve read.”

4. 100 books is perfect.  A nice, big milestone number.  “16 Things” (which I filled out) didn’t take off on Facebook but “25 Things” did.  People gravitate toward milestone, lucky, and zero-ending numbers in this culture.  No-one will look at an “82 Books You Need to Read” list.  “100” grabs everyone’s attention.

The FMM probably saw the BBC list and wondered how many of the books she/he had actually read.  Out of curiosity, the FMM checked off which book titles were familiar.  Perhaps when the number of recognized titles were low, the FMM decided to add the ones she/he did in fact read.  What followed was an email or two, with bragging evidence attached, of course, to a few dozen friends on Facebook.  Voila!  A meme is born.

People who successfully ignore memes will be sucked into this one for the false academic quality of it.  It’s about traditional literacy; We all take the “How Well Read Are You?” measurement quite seriously.

I myself am trying to work on being better read.  With all the hype about how the internet and tv are melting our brains, this meme is a zinger.  It feeds all the fear surrounding the changes in our culture.  It will most likely take off and get so big that Snopes will have to post on it.

Now you know how memes like this start.  And you also know why I’m not going to be sucked in.  It’s a hoax created by a smart FMM who blended some pop culture news story from half-way across the world into a pride-ruffling insult that must be disproved immediately by the educated American masses.  Have fun with it if you like, but please don’t spread the indignant attitude.  Reading itself should be a positive and inclusive activity.


UPDATE 17 November 2010: Please read through the comments, there is a lot of new information scattered in there. Thanks.

UPDATE 22 November 2010: If you liked this article, you make like these others I’ve written about Facebook:
How IDs work in Facebook: http://www.purplecar.net/2010/02/facebookphishingscam/,

Dear Abby Talks About FB http://www.purplecar.net/2010/07/kids-with-multiple-facebook-profiles/,

Ack! My In-Laws are on FB: http://www.purplecar.net/2010/08/the-in-laws-and-facebook/

UPDATE: MARCH 1 2011 Comments on this post are now closed.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 24, 2012 This meme is still going strong. The list is changing a bit, but it is still basically the same. If you want to figure out why you or others waste so much time doing unproductive things like Facebook, you can check out this book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg*.

*(affiliate link)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • lfamous 2 March 2009, 1:04 am

    I see your point about the list becoming an “I’m better than you” challenge. But I’m always looking for reading recommendations, so I copied and pasted to see what I’ve read.

    I’ve read 26 of them. It’s funny, I know I read Dickens in high school (and obviously seen a few movies of his books), but I couldn’t tell you what book(s) of his I actually read.

    One of the books I have up in the attic. Now I’m tempted to bring it down & actually read it!

  • geoffd 2 March 2009, 4:55 am

    Interesting post. Good detective work.

    I did notice that one of favorites, The Grapes of Wrath, is on the BBC list and FMM list of 40.

    • PurpleCar 2 March 2009, 5:45 pm

      You know, I thought I saw that too but I couldn’t seem to find it later on. Good catch.

      I hated that book. I didn’t finish it. Maybe this was a Freudian slip. I’ll make corrections.

  • Mark Dykeman 2 March 2009, 5:12 am

    Someone else pointed out to me that the origins of this meme were somewhat suspect; unfortunately, it was after I had written and posted my response. Oh well. At least it has spurred some interesting discussion!

    And yes, reading should definitely be positive and inclusive.

    • PurpleCar 2 March 2009, 5:46 pm

      Mark, everything on the internet is suspect! But that doesn’t mean that memes can’t be fun. This one is harmless for the most part, and maybe it will shame some people into reading a book! (Just kidding!)

      • willyfoureyes 2 March 2009, 6:15 pm

        In theory, it should help with that, but all it’s likely to do is perpetrate the spread of more memes. I can say that out of all of the books on the BBC list, I’ve only read all the way through 9 of them (To Kill a Mockingbird and a few of the Discworld books).

        • PurpleCar 2 March 2009, 8:22 pm

          Will, memes are ok. I just don’t like the reasons some spread. No evidence is apparent that the BBC insulted the world’s english-reading population. No reason to get up ganders and all that. It’s ok if the meme spreads as long as people realize that these things are often started on pretense.

  • Julie 2 March 2009, 11:37 am

    I suspected something similar and found your post in my search to confirm it. I think your hypothesis was pretty good, but I discovered the source of the actual list, which is different than the Big Read list you posted. I just posted the following note to my Facebook profile (http://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&&suggest&note_id=59858647539#/note.php?note_id=59858647539), because a lot of my friends are posting that meme:

    I started seeing the “BBC Top 100 Books” meme around Facebook over the last couple weeks, but the “BBC doesn’t think you’ve read more than six of these” part didn’t sit right with me. Apparently others agreed. Someone at purplecar.net, went so far as to post a case study of this particular meme.


    Here’s the BBC Big Read 100 List that she mentions in her article http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml — it was done in 2003.

    However, the list in the meme is quite different than the BBC Big Read list where she thinks it started. I thought there might be a list that was closer to the one in the meme. So, I did a little online sleuthing.

    First I found this article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6405737.stm that mentions a World Book Day survey in 2007 of 100 books Brits can’t live without. And then I found the complete list on The Guardian’s website — http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/01/news Mystery solved — it’s the same list as the one in the meme.

    So, feel free to see how many of those hundred books you’ve read. As a reader, I always find it fun. However, know that the BBC isn’t judging you. The only thing you’ll discover is if you’ve read the same books that a bunch of people in the UK couldn’t live without.

    So, there you go…

    • Steve 30 November 2010, 6:06 pm

      Julie, thanks for digging deeper!

      You inspired me to dig a little deeper as well, and what I turned up was that the poll, undertaken by the World Book Day organization in early 2007, was based on 2000 respondents who visited their website. Yes, that’s right, 2000! You can see the original posting on their main page here, courtesy of the wayback machine at the internet archive:


  • Alan Rae 3 March 2009, 7:06 am

    Absolutely fascinating that the FBB list is considerably more intellectual than the BBC list shakespeare, hardy and margaret atwood vs terry pratchett and roald dahl

    plus the inclusion of the bible is a bit of a North American give away. Brits are usually pretty glad to be godless

    Oh and sorry to be a smarty pants but you’ve got the count of monte cristo in both lists 😉

    • PurpleCar 3 March 2009, 10:49 am

      Alan, interesting that you see the FB list as more intellectual. Maybe. That just adds to the competition/elitism aspect of it. Yeah “The Bible” … I have to say, that one was a bit annoying to me. Reading the Bible as literature is tough and would require a class, IMHO. It’s similar to Canterbury Tales in that sense.

      Thanks for the Count of Monte Cristo catch. I can’t see all of the details by myself, I rely on people like you to throw me a hint once in a while! Thanks. I made the corrections. -PC

  • Pete 3 March 2009, 10:27 am

    This meme did the rounds about six months back in a different form, but is now blistering through my friendslist as well. It seemed suspect to me too and I found that someone managed to do some detective work on it’s initial outbreak – http://rabidpaladin.com/archive/2008/06/25/book-geek.aspx

    I don’t mind this meme so much, it’s had all my friends talking about what they have, haven’t & wished they’d read, but it’s interesting what gets passed around without anyone questioning the source.

    • PurpleCar 3 March 2009, 10:57 am

      Pete, STELLAR LINK: http://rabidpaladin.com/archive/2008/06/25/book-geek.aspx Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Seems Book Geek came up with similar info. Also I notice they couldn’t resist the temptation to credential the list (i.e. inform us of which books they’ve read). It’s quite the irresistible pull, I admit, but falling into it just perpetuates the elitism.

      A list made by a committee made up of supremely qualified people would gain more respect but these lists have no legitimacy in that regard. Hence it is for fun only. Well, as much fun as it is to justify ourselves to the public out of insecurity and imaginary scrutiny.


      • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 10:30 am

        I’m really not sure how “falling into it” perpetuates any elitism. I posted the meme on my FB, but I certainly don’t feel elitest for doing so. I also imagine most all of my friends and family have probably read as many of the books on the list as me, if not more – so I can hardly feel better than them! 😀

  • Forrest 3 March 2009, 2:17 pm

    Based on the junk in both lists, neither comes from anyone seriously interested or competent in encouraging appreciation of good literature. For example, Dahl is great satire, but how many books do you need to appreciate him?
    But based on the quality in both lists, they weren’t a random selection.
    A different primary source is possible (and I say likely.)

    Google search of Dahl Dickens Orwell 1999 comes up with a similar list which predates the BBC’s 2003 dating. Going back further years might be fruitful. But google is no good for serious archiveology [sic]. I don’t know what is.

    • emmdee 28 January 2011, 5:50 am

      If my understanding of where the lists came from is right (Big Read/World Book Day) – they were voted for by the UK public (not sure if there was a completely free vote of there was a longer list of nominations). The Big Read had celebrities nominating and extolling their favorites on TV and radio for the public to vote on.

      • PurpleCar 28 January 2011, 11:21 am


        that introduces a really interesting element – celebrity. Who we identify with
        as celebrities has a huge influence on our decision-making. I would guess more
        people would read what Angelina Jolie reads than say Annie Proulx, Anne Lamott
        or Collum McCann, even though the latter three would be considered more literary
        experts than movie-star Angelina Jolie. Yet another reason to take these types
        of lists as a popular notion more than an academic one.

        -Christine Cavalier

  • Greg 3 March 2009, 3:46 pm

    The BBC list from Dykeman’s article is screwy, they list The Chronicles of Narnia, then they list “The Lion, the Witch and the Warddrobe”. They also list both Hamlet and “The Complete works of William Shakespeare”.

    This certainly sounds like a silly meme, as many of these literary classics haven’t been required reading for a long time. This reminds me of the controversy caused by the release of the Modern Library 100 Greatest Books of all time list, which had most readers in something of an uproar.

    • Kitty 4 March 2009, 1:37 pm

      I’ve never heard of the Modern Library 100 Greatest Books of all Time list. You wouldnt’ happen to have a link that you could share with us, would you?

      • PurpleCar 4 March 2009, 1:53 pm

        Kitty, I’m guessing Greg was talking about this:

        http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html (I don’t remember hearing about it either. But then again, I don’t remember much.) This link goes to randomhouse, a publisher, so … ya know… take it with a HUGE grain of salt.



        • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 10:28 am

          Interesting list(s) though. And whoever the readers were, and whoever the board were, there is quite a lot of co-relation between the lists. It would be interesting (depending on your definition of the word interesting) to compare all these 100 lists out there, and see just what books turn up on all lists. I suspect there are a few titles that crop up every time, and on every list. But, again, is this because they are truly great novels, or merely because people wish to look learned?

  • Simon 7 March 2009, 10:24 am

    I’d just seen this questionnaire on someone’s blog, and was similarly sceptical, so was delighted to see you’d written this excellent piece.

    A couple of points: you missed (as I did at first pass) that ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ were on both lists because the FMM omitted the definite article.

    Rather embarrassingly, Joseph Conrad’s ‘Hearts of Darkness’ is misspelled on both lists as ‘Heart of Darkness’, while, on a lesser note, the FMM omitted the hyphen from ‘Catch-22’, and used ‘Alice in Wonderland’ rather than the correct title ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.

    The list on the BBC’s website runs to 200 books, and if you go into the second hundred, quite a few of the ‘missing’ books can be found. Discounting the awkward individual books versus collections of books, the ones added by the FMM are:

    A Confederacy of Dunces
    Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    Catcher in the Rye
    Cloud Atlas
    Complete Works of Shakespeare
    Life of Pi
    Madame Bovary
    Notes From A Small Island
    Sense and Sensibility
    The Bell Jar
    The Bible
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
    The Da Vinci Code
    The Five People You Meet In Heaven
    The Kite Runner
    The Lovely Bones
    The Remains of the Day
    The Shadow of the Wind
    The Three Musketeers
    The Time Traveller’s Wife

    …in the unlike event that you’re interested. I can’t guarantee there are no mistakes! It’s quite eye-straining looking through adjacent lists, especially when one is twice as long as the other.

    That no one in the UK should give The Bible as their favourite book is not surprising in our communistic, atheistic society, but I was a little surprised that no one included any of the Sherlock Holmes books. On the other hand, The Da Vinci Code was acknowledged as being really big in the US but less so elsewhere.

    Regarding the ‘more intellectual’ FBB list, it should be remembered that the BBC lists the results of a poll of favourite books, not ‘books you have read’. There’s rather a difference! I’ve read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, but deeply disliked it.

    I was rather more amused by the BBC’s poll on how many people lied about the books they’d read, in order to impress people:


    (Apologies for the length of the comment, by the way.)

    • Bottsford 22 November 2010, 12:34 pm

      Simon’s post was from a year ago, so this is beside the point, but: Conrad’s novel is ‘Heart of Darkness’. ‘Hearts of Darkness’ is a documentary about the making of ‘Apocalypse Now’. I wouldn’t point it out, but any mistake made when pointing out a mistake is irresistible…especially when the supposed mistake is referred to as ’embarrassing’!

      • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 6:14 pm

        It is hard to resist those sort of knocks when one sees someone acting

  • Keith Callbeck 8 March 2009, 6:40 pm

    A few more minutes on Google would have turned up the source of the list. Your conspriacy theory is creative, but untrue.

    It’s World Book Day 2007’s list of “100 Books You Can’t Live Without”. I still haven’t turned up a reference to 6 of them being a stat. And it seems unlikely I will as this was a popularity contest. I agree that the meme exists because it makes us all feel superior as I have yet to turn up any adult who is under the 6 mark.


  • Keith Callbeck 8 March 2009, 6:49 pm

    I agree with the statement of why it spreads, but the elaborate conspiracy theory is just creative writing.

    It’s World Book Day 2007’s list of “100 Books You Can’t Live Without”. I still haven’t turned up a reference to 6 of them being a stat. And it seems unlikely I will as this was a popularity contest.


    • PurpleCar 8 March 2009, 7:41 pm

      Keith, this made me laugh. What do you mean, conspiracy theory? No group conspired to fool the public with these lists. I was showing how memes get started, usually by individuals who are bastardizing something they saw in traditional media realms. Not sure what you mean by popularity contest either, but the World Book Day 2007 link to “100 Books You Can’t Live Without” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/01/news) is interesting. At first look I can tell there is overlap, but it doesn’t look like much. Someone else will have to compare the lists.

      Thanks! -PC


  • Creek 11 March 2009, 10:26 am

    Embiggen… Until that word I was simply reading. When you said “embiggen,” I was charmed.

    • PurpleCar 11 March 2009, 10:58 am

      Thanks Creek!

      I often make up phrases and words (like “To Thoreau” which means to go totally off-line) but “embiggen” I can’t take credit for. I saw some other blogger use it a while ago (can’t remember who) and I too just loved it. So much more descriptive!



      • Anonymous 25 November 2010, 4:02 pm

        It’s a Simpson’s quote

        • PurpleCar 25 November 2010, 4:11 pm

          Oh yes, I forgot to say that someone did tell me about cromulent and embiggen from The Simpsons, last year. Thanks!
          Sent from Yahoo! Mail on Android

          • dougdell 29 November 2010, 10:38 am

            I vote for the addition of “embiggen” to the dictionary!

      • Lazy-Reader 23 December 2010, 11:35 am

        Terry Pratchett ( on the BBC list but not this one) called his diagnosis of Alzheimers an “embuggeration”, which sort of trumps most neologisms.

        • PurpleCar 23 December 2010, 12:48 pm

          I feel like my kids embuggerate me a lot.

  • Jacki Berry 12 March 2009, 6:53 am

    “Embiggen”? I like it… I think.

  • Daniel Gardner 15 March 2009, 4:19 pm

    Darling, thanks for this post. I find this meme very annoying and now I can post this link to FB and say, “Buahaha…NOW who’s the smartest one??” 🙂

  • Colette 17 March 2009, 1:47 pm

    I found your site by trying to disprove/prove the BBC claim of 6 books. It seems pretty silly to think that out of 100 books people wouldn’t have read at least 6 of them. But the thing that has really caught my eye is that I have now seen 4 different versions of the list. (the original BBC list which was actually a poll of people’s favorites in 2003, the list you post on here as the fb list, and 2 other lists from 2 of my fb friends who are not friends themselves). Seems the list is ever-changing.

    • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 10:17 am

      Presumably as a new list poster finds that they have not actually read at least six books themselves, and quickly need to adjust the list! 😀
      I’m not sure how many books I have read from the list I received this week, and, yes, I did take time to read it and repost it, with suitably bold titles, in my notes (albeit with added text directing any readers to this webpage, and to the BBC Big Read webpages). I believe it is probably at least 20, but this hardly makes me feel superior, given how many of the texts are childrens’ books or school texts! 😀

  • PurpleCar 21 March 2009, 7:15 am

    Hey guys, just found an article at Yahoo! Books about World Book Day in the UK. Hopefully the original source has more detail about how the data was collected because this article is useless in any scientific sense. Still looking for that original source, but here’s another meme in the making, probably entitled “Books you haven’t really read even though you claim them in your 100 books list:”


    Most Britons have lied about the books they read

    Buzz Up
    * Send
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    * Print

    Thu Mar 5, 11:44 am ET

    LONDON (Reuters) – Two out of three Britons have lied about reading books they have not, and George Orwell’s “1984” tops the literary fib list, according to a survey published Thursday.

    Commissioned by organizers of World Book Day, an annual celebration of reading in Britain, the study also shows that the author people really enjoy reading is J.K. Rowling, creator of the bestselling Harry Potter wizard series.

    According to the survey, 65 percent of people have pretended to have read books, and of those, 42 percent singled out “1984.” Next on the list came “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and in third place was James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

    The Bible was in fourth position, and newly elected President Barack Obama’s autobiography “Dreams from My Father” came ninth.

    Aside from a list of ten titles which respondents were asked to tick or leave blank, many admitted wrongly claiming they had read other “classics” including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Herman Melville.

    Asked why they had lied about reading a book, the main reason was to impress the person they were speaking to.

    The study, carried out on the World Book Day website in January and February, surveyed 1,342 members of the public.

    Those who lied have claimed to have read:

    1. 1984 – George Orwell (42 percent)

    2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (31)

    3. Ulysses – James Joyce (25)

    4. The Bible (24)

    5. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (16)

    6. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking (15)

    7. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (14)

    8. In Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust (9)

    9. Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama (6)

    10. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins (6)

    (Reporting by Mike Collett-White)

    • PurpleCar 21 March 2009, 7:26 am

      UPDATE: found this source from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/7925720.stm

      George Orwell’s 1984 and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace are among the books people are most likely to have lied about reading, according to a poll.

      Two out of three people admitted lying about reading a particular book to impress someone, the survey released to mark World Book Day found.

      Orwell’s classic topped the list, with four out of 10 respondents (42%) pretending to have read it.

      And almost a third (31%) said they had lied about reading War and Peace.

      1. 1984 – George Orwell (42%)
      2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (31%)
      3. Ulysses – James Joyce (25%)
      4. The Bible (24%)
      5. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (16%)
      6. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking (15%)
      7. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (14%)
      8. In Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust (9%)
      9. Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama (6%)
      10. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins (6%)

      A total of 1,342 people took part in the online survey in January and February this year.

      Visitors to the World Book Day website were given a list of 10 books and asked which they had lied about reading.

      Others included The Bible (24%) and US President Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father (6%).

      Many also admit to wrongly claiming to have read the classics, including authors Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Herman Melville.

      Most said they had lied to impress someone.

      Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry children’s books recalled: “An Oxford don asked me if I knew Italo Calvino.

      “I said yes, meaning I’d heard of him, but she meant, ‘What had I read?’ The conversation degenerated from there.”

      Asked which authors they really enjoyed reading, more than six out of 10 (61%) chose Harry Potter author JK Rowling, nearly a third (32%) ticked legal thriller writer John Grisham.

      More than a fifth (22%) chose Shopaholic author Sophie Kinsella.

      A further 41% of respondents confessed to turning to the back of a book to read the end before finishing the story and 48% admitted to buying a book for someone else and reading it first.

    • Steve 30 November 2010, 6:11 pm

      Here’s a wayback machine look at the World Book Day organization’s website announcement of the poll results:


  • Peter No One 22 March 2009, 1:51 pm

    Interesting read. Cheers on your debunking, but I think you need to put a little more description (research?) into what a meme is… A chain letter is a pretty feeble example of this massive concept. Starting off by stating “A “meme” is a little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet” is probably not the best starting point…

    • PurpleCar 22 March 2009, 2:02 pm

      Peter, Thanks for writing. Most readers of my blog already know what a “meme” is. Occasionally I write introductory articles for my readers to share with new users, but for the most part I write for a technical audience. The purpose of this post was to present a case study of a typical meme, not to define what a meme is. But please let us know what your definition of a meme is since you think it is necessary. -PC


      • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 10:13 am

        I had no idea what a meme was, and the “little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet” seems a perfect definition to me (provided, of course, that I now actually understand what a meme is). In fact, I’m not sure you could give a more precise and concise definition?

        • Guy Swarbrick 25 November 2010, 7:47 am

          The only problem is, it’s hopeless definition of a meme.

          I guess the meme meme isn’t very well adapted to survive in the ‘why research something when I can just make it up’ blogosphere…


  • cybrgrl 3 August 2009, 10:51 am

    Heh… you are a woman after my own heart. I recently got the same meme and did a similar investigation. I went ahead and complied with the meme instructions, but I also posted links to the 2 BBC 100 Books lists I found and noted the lack of any claim of how many of the titles people likely have read.

    • Christine Cavalier 4 August 2009, 7:46 am

      And your name is after MY own heart – “cybrgrl” has gotta be one of the coolest names EVER.

      Don’t you just love how these internet rumors start? The “Us vs. Them” mentality is so easily triggered.

  • Collin 6 August 2009, 5:14 am

    I can’t see it as a bad thing. The throwing down of some metaphorical gauntlet to get people to read more can only be, ultimately, a good thing. Certainly I with my “communistic” leanings (which I can only interpret as having a desire to cooperate and share) have little spiritual need for shoring up via a collection of tales written by many authors of diverse intention and ability.

    Now I’m off down the government run(down) book lending collective to see what I can get, i hear they might have some Patrick McGrath. Queued round the block I tell you…

    Might I suggest the inclusion of Brett Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, and Viktor Pelevin for future lists.

  • PurpleCar 6 August 2009, 8:10 am

    Collin, I get what you’re saying, about encouraging people to read. But psychology research shows that negative stimuli only work for a very short while. In other words, people may see the insult that accuses them of being ill-read, pick up one book on the list, read half of it, then give up, feeling spiteful. I’m sure there are much more positive reinforcements to get people to read. The biggest indicator of a person’s reading habits is set in childhood; if they see their parents reading, they too will read.

    Anyway, all that aside, how did the book lending collective go? What IS a book lending collective? And yes, let’s add some great authors to the list, like those you suggest! Are you a short story fan? I tend to like novels more.

    Who else wants to add someone? Any suggestions?

    • Simon Jerram 23 November 2010, 2:59 am

      I’m not sure.

      I see a lot of nastiness and anti-intellectualism about. I see people saying “He thinks he’s better than me just because” from people taking resentment at the fact people can understand something they can’t.

      Some people automatically see people who are better read, more reasoned, more intelligent etc as snooty and snobby. This is not a neutral facet of people’s personalities, it is a nasty and negative thing.

      I am who I am. There are people who are better than me, some are nicer, some are brighter, some are more knowledgable, some can spell. This fact does not offend me. If I didn’t feel like that it would make me less nice.

      In summary I don’t think there’s any unpleasantness or negativity in the list, it’s entirely in the negative character traits of the person who reads it.

  • Himanshu 9 August 2009, 1:34 am

    oh well, good work… helped me show some of my juvenile friends that it really was a stupid idea wid lotsa loopholes.. lolz!!
    still i guess d list is a helpful thing nonetheless…

  • Levinthauer 15 August 2009, 5:00 pm
  • PurpleCar 15 August 2009, 8:16 pm

    LOL Cromulent link. I love that someone took the time to write a wikipedia entry on it.

  • classhumorist 31 August 2009, 5:30 pm

    PurpleCar –

    Thanks for doing the legwork on this. I aspire to a certain degree of cultural literacy, but the idea of being told what I should have read is abhorrent to me. For example, I’ve read “Atlas Shrugged” but it was not on that list. As such *I* claim superiority over the compiler of the list as an understanding of objectivism will stand me better in society than… say… my ability to quote passages from “Bridget Jones’ Diary”.

    BTW – I believe that by “government run(down) book lending collective”, Collin meant “public library”…

  • PurpleCar 31 August 2009, 7:59 pm

    Ya know what, classhumorist, after all this conversation, I’m giving up on obtaining a “certain degree of cultural literacy.” Screw it. I’ll read the new Dan Brown book when it comes out next week and enjoy it. I’m thrilled and proud to be a member of the middle class, as I started out in the working poor. How well-read a person is a concern for the upper echelon Bourgeois, and none of my concern. I pride myself on being able to carry on a conversation with anyone, and the secrets to that skill don’t reside in book learning. If the person I’m speaking with chooses to look down on my Goodreads.com list, then I’ll move on to talking with someone else. Maybe I’m just getting older and learning how to accept myself more.

    As for Collin’s reference, that one must have slipped by me, as our public library system here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, USA, is actually quite good.

    Thanks for coming & commenting!


  • Jillian C. York 23 September 2009, 12:30 pm

    What a relief! As a verifiable snob, I turned my nose up at the list on the Facebook meme. I mean, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” seriously? Hardly literature. And FOUR Dickens? Blech. Thankfully, the original list is significantly better.

  • Ari Herzog 23 September 2009, 2:52 pm

    Sigh. Like Mark Dykeman earlier up the comments trail, I’d already fallen prey. Thanks to Jillian, someone I tagged, for pointing me here.

  • Anonymous 23 September 2009, 6:42 pm

    No worries, Jillian and Ari! It’s just too tempting to ignore. Goes straight to the ego, it’s like we have no defenses against it! Especially when it throws in those dirty Brits, right? LOL have fun with it, just don’t go burning up Shakespeare in effigy. 🙂 Thanks for coming to comment!

  • VisitorPA 25 June 2010, 10:59 am

    Nice post!! I read it before I did the FB-meme. But I’m such an elitist, I think I’m going to do it anyway — I always feel crappy when the sports ones come around 🙂

    • PurpleCar 25 June 2010, 3:21 pm

      LOL on the sports… at quizzo I was totally and utterly useless when the sports questions came up. Then again, I wasn’t all that great at any other subject, either!


    • GroovFlowr 29 November 2010, 8:28 pm

      It’s definitely a fun list to pass around, just don’t go erroneously attributing it to the BBC as is, eh?

  • Websites for Dating 6 September 2010, 12:18 pm

    Thankfully, the original list is significantly better.

    • Slightlysmall 28 December 2010, 1:27 am

      And also thankfully, I’ve read significantly more books from the original list.

  • Samiam 14 November 2010, 12:17 pm

    embiggen is not a word

    • PurpleCar 14 November 2010, 12:19 pm

      Yes, SamIam, I know “embiggen” is not a recognized word.


      • Miss Hoover 18 November 2010, 4:08 pm

        I don’t know why; it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

  • nick_h_nz 20 November 2010, 4:43 am

    I am afraid I am a victim of cultural cringe. I first came across the meme today, via an American Facebook friend. On reading the list I could not believe at all that the BBC would have either created this list or stated that most people had read only six books from the list. Immediately cynical, I googled and was directed (thankfully) straight to this page. It confirmed more or less what I think (note that I am inferring, rather than any purple car implying), which is that Americans are stupid, but wish to make out that they are not. They also don’t like Brits. (See, I told you I am a victim of cultural cringe….)

    • PurpleCar 20 November 2010, 9:56 am


      You think Americans are stupid and we don’t like Brits. Got it.
      It must be hard walking around with all that disgust. I’m free of that burden; I
      released it years ago.

      As much as we want internet memes to be true, they aren’t. British and American
      cultures are very similar, and I would bet, on average, we read about the same

      Our education systems differ in a few key areas, and I think this difference and
      just plain ol’ tradition is what furthers the cultural cringe. European and
      British educational systems tend to concentrate on the memorization of facts,
      European history, and classic literature. While the American system does respect
      these things, its primary goal is to raise a generation that is capable of
      running a democracy. This means that the focus is somewhat shifted away from
      memorization and intense study of history and literature. Instead we stress the
      ability to do public speaking and write discourse. Even the smallest children in
      preschool, ages 3, 4, and 5, are given time in front of the class to extemporize
      (usually about their favorite toy). Presentation skills are expected in every
      class; If you are a student in History, you will do a presentation on an aspect
      of history. If you are a literature student, you will write an essay and then
      present it. Also, the American system fosters debate. It is central to the
      learning theory, and is especially encouraged in the upper levels.

      International university students get frustrated here sometimes because they
      aren’t used to the American expectation of being able to integrate information.
      While the overseas educational system stresses memorization and thorough
      knowledge of the turn of events, here we stress the ability to synthesize the
      theory being learned. So tests and assignments here measure the application of
      theory to new and different situations than what was covered in class. This
      frustrates international students because they can’t understand why a new
      problem shows up on the test (It’s a new problem, but can be solved with the
      same equation or theory learned in class). American students expect this. In
      fact, finding a question on a test that is worded or presented exactly as it was
      in class is such an odd occurrence that it warrants comment (nowadays, students
      don’t alert the professor, they just marvel at their luck with friends).
      International students have a bit of a learning curve with this. In contrast,
      I’m sure American students are baffled at the level of scrutiny British
      professors give every single detail.

      I’m not knocking the Brit system. It definitely covers politics and world
      history, and it has Dickens covered like the Dickens. I respect that. But in
      terms of the world’s greatest literature, the (college educated) Brits I know
      remember as much about history and literature from school as I do. They read as
      much as I do, sometimes the same books. It seems, during their school years,
      they may have read about one Brit Lit book more a year than I did growing up,
      which I suppose is to be expected because we read more American authors here. As
      students, we despise memorizing anything and see it as a rote and useless
      practice. Why memorize something you can just look up on the internet or at the
      library, or ask an expert to tell you? Instead, we know how systems work, we
      know where to look things up, we know who to ask, and we know how to write it up
      and present the information. We apply many different disciplines to one
      situation in order to innovate and find efficiency. Perhaps it is hard to
      understand (and respect) if you aren’t a part of it.

      People have written dissertations on this very thing, so we need not cover it
      all here. I just wanted to present some ideas about the cultural cringe we both
      experience. There are poorly and excellently educated people in both cultures,
      probably percentage-wise, about the same amounts. Brits have this reputation for
      being upper crust snobby and intolerant, and Americans, stupid and loud. We can
      always find the odd case where this happens, but the reality is that it’s too
      perfect of a story to be universally true or even close to reality. And it’s a
      perfect story the press on both sides of the pond love to tell. We don’t hear
      too much about Chavs here, and you don’t hear too much about the college
      educated Americans over there. The press plays into these snobby/stupid
      stereotypes, and as readers and lovers of culture, it’s our job to see past it

      -PurpleCar Christine Cavalier

      • nick_h_nz 20 November 2010, 11:27 am

        Oh dear, I do think I may have been taken a little too seriously! 😀

        I can’t comment really for either the British or US education system, as I have experienced neither. I am a New Zealander, currently residing in the UK (though I have also experienced life in the US). I do not think that Americans are stupid or loud, but I do think they are more often insular and ignorant of much outside the US (and that is not meant as a derogatory comment; merely an observation – and one which has been admitted by every US friend I have ever made). Whether or not this is due to the education system, or the media, or some other combination of factors, I could not say.

        • Wmlbrown 20 November 2010, 12:40 pm

          I also agree we Americans are insular and “ignorant” (a loaded word, “not interested” might be more accurate) of much outside the US, and I think it is a shame. But the fact is America is geographically insular – surrounded mostly by ocean and bordering only two countries, one of which is so similar it gets mistaken for being part of the US. For the most part there is no practical reason for following events in far away places of no relevance to our daily lives. Europeans can go for lunch in a different foreign country every day of the week. Their size and relationship is more like states in the US. A transport strike in French ports directly effects Britons, but has no effect at all on Americans. So, of course Europeans follow current events in neighboring countries – just as Americans follow them in neighboring states.

          • PurpleCar 20 November 2010, 8:16 pm

            Yes but we should follow more events in Canada and Mexico. And I know border
            towns do follow more of what happens in those regions. I wonder if anyone has
            ever done a study about how people define their borders and how they decide what
            they’ll pay attention to and what to ignore.


            • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 9:54 am

              I’m sure they take the good from whichever side is better, and ignore the bad from the other. Probably, I should guess, less of an issue in the US, where borders between Canada and Mexico are very different from the borders of England, Scotland and Wales – each of which are technically separate countries belonging to the United Kingdom (UK) of Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI). And there are many border towns (particularly on the Scottish/English border) which have been in both countries over the years. I know there is a former Scottish town which is now English but wishes to return to Scotland, because of the perceived benefits which the Scottish Parliament provides, as opposed to the English Parliament.

          • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 9:50 am

            Sorry, but I disagree. The UK does not pay attention to the rest of the world in its media due to locality. If that was the case, then it would be European news we digest, rather than international. It would also not explain the case of NZ, which is also geographically insular – to use your term. In fact with a larger coastline than the US, and surrounded entirely by ocean (give or take the Tasman Sea), that would make us even more insular, in theory. But any media will give news worldwide, and any school curricula will cover world events and geography.
            There is also a practical reason for this, and relevance to our daily lives, as it is important to know what has happened internationally and what is happening internationally.
            During the American elections, there were at least as many Brits (and other nationalities around the world) who were at least as informed as the average US citizen about the candidates and their policies. In fact, there was much amusement (or perhaps bemusement) at the objections to Obama’s “socialist” health reforms, and the comparison with the NHS in Britain – which was at one point called communist! 😀

            • Visitor 21 November 2010, 10:18 am

              American here. Many Americans are insular and uninformed about the world. This is unfortunate for us as well as for the rest of the world. It is partly understandable because, not to be crass, but what happens here is more important to the rest of the world than what happens to the rest of the world is to us. That’s because of historical circumstances (U.S.’s current geopolitical dominance) that are true today but were not true yesterday and will not be true tomorrow. In any case it’s no excuse. If every American teenager had to go abroad for a year we’d have a better country and a better world.

              Many of us are also terribly embarrassed at the way your health care system is portrayed in the media (we’re also jealous of your NHS, btw). We’re embarrassed about a lot of things about our politics, actually (ahem, “tea party”). Be thankful your dirty laundry isn’t constantly aired to the globe.

              • PurpleCar 21 November 2010, 10:23 am

                I agree, it is a bit oppressive to be constantly monitored like we are. Still,
                the 6 pm evening news is atrocious anywhere in the US. It’s as if our lives are
                so “privileged” that we can afford fluffy news. Who knows how it all started.
                But yes, I’d like it if our dirty laundry wasn’t so visible. Other countries get
                more privacy for sure.

                -Christine Cavalier


          • Leah 22 November 2010, 3:52 am

            Australia and New Zealand are both geographically insulated too – neither of us share *any* land borders with anyone else – yet I think citizens of both countries probably have a better general knowledge of other countries than your average American citizen. (Note that I say “average” American citizen. I have an american friend who is quite fascinated by international, indeed even Australian, politics and asks me questions and goes and looks up international news for himself and I’m sure there are many others like him.)

            • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 11:12 am

              I think local press concentrates on news that influences the local population.
              America hears a lot about China lately, as we owe them a ton of freakin’ money.
              And of course, what we hear about China isn’t all that good. The general message
              is: They abuse human rights; They have no issues with forcing their young people
              into slave labor in order to help the country. We, as Americans, can’t have a
              problem with this, obviously, as we are guilty, at one time or another, of both.
              As are all peoples of the world.

              We are also hearing a lot about the rampant gang violence in Mexico lately. The
              drug cartels there have taken over. This is a shame for us, because we love and
              are fascinated with Mexico’s coastlines for vacations, to see the beaches, the
              ruins, etc. Now it is almost too dangerous for us to go. An american tourist was
              just shot dead by a drug gang while jet skiing in a lake. The authorities think
              he was mistaken for a rival gang’s spy. It’s a mess.

              Anyway, it seems like the NZers would hear news about countries that affect
              them, meaning Australian and the AsiaPac region, and UK cultures. That’s my
              guess. It would make sense.


        • PurpleCar 20 November 2010, 8:23 pm

          Oh I’m sorry! I’m just a geek, I take this stuff seriously. I also love, love,
          love cultural differences. They fascinate me. I grew up in a place that had a
          lot of different cultures, all close up against each other. And it is funny, as
          a child I had no idea that there were so many different ways of living. I didn’t
          even notice; I thought we were all the same. I didn’t realize I grew up in such
          a multi-cultural situation until I was older and learned what a multi-cultural
          situation even is!

          Anyway… God, one place on earth I’d love to see someday is NZ. I know that’s
          probably a cliche, but it just seems so beautiful.

          And I’m not insulted. I pretty much agree with you that Americans are ignorant
          of what is happening in the rest of the world. Our press is totally awful. I
          started reading the Guardian on a regular basis recently and I can tell you I’m
          totally depressed. Major, major stuff happens in the world and you won’t see one
          word about it in our major press papers. Not one. The Euro papers have trash, of
          course, but most of the work has substance. All of our press is total trash.
          Another thing I did for a few tech reasons was to change myyahoo to Asia Pac
          region. You can’t believe the difference in the news links. Every single news
          article was of higher substance and better written in general. I almost didn’t
          change my region back to North America. Seriously, the news is so annoying here.
          It makes us all stupider. And people here have no idea. They have no clue that
          news can be better. It’s so depressing, I can’t even tell you.

          So… yeah.


          • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 9:43 am

            I actually find the media in the UK quite depressing. While it certainly provides more information about news occurring around the world than any media I experienced during my time in the US, it is the most biased I have ever come across. It might well be trite to claim that no media is without some bias or other, but I definitely have never ever noticed the degree of bias in any NZ media that I see in UK media. It is just scary sometimes. To read or view the same story through left wing and right wing media is sometimes to find two almost completely different stories. What is even more scary, is that so many UK residents are blissfully unaware of the bias, and take whatever they read or see in the “news” to be accurate and objective. Yikes!

      • Moik 21 November 2010, 8:13 am

        I had been wondering about this one, thanks for clearing it up!

        One minor objection, though. I am British – unlike the original poster – and find your generalisations about our whole education system (our ‘memorization of facts’ vs your synthesis of information/problem solving) to be a bit crass. Perhaps this is because I studied physics, where rote learning is of little value for obvious reasons. While we’re challenging stereotypes, us science nerds read too, on occasion!

        For what it’s worth, a lot of the young Americans I’ve met over here are indeed ‘better read’ than myself. We get along just fine, though 😉

        • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 9:40 am

          I found them rather crass too, but didn’t feel qualified to say so – not having experienced the system personally – though my family (through marriage to a lovely English rose) and many English friends have told me a lot about it, when we have compared my education to theirs.

          • PurpleCar 21 November 2010, 10:16 am

            OK perhaps my terminology was a bit offensive. Instead of using “memorization” I
            should use “practice” or “practicum.” They do tend to measure the absorption of
            information more than the American system does.

            And I was talking about the general system, not specialized ones such as
            physics, which by its very nature would assume one must integrate information
            and apply it to different and new situations.

            Wow. The state of international investigative reporting is dismal. Truly

            • Moik 21 November 2010, 11:55 am

              RE: your talking about the system as a whole – I gathered as much, I referred to my choice of studies as a possible reason for my own skewed personal perspective, really. Or maybe I’m just not able to integrate the information in your original post… 😉

              RE: International/UK media – I concur, sadly! Woefully bad over here for the most part.

        • mss 21 November 2010, 6:45 pm


          As a former international student in a US college I also have a minor objection to your characterization of international students struggling with new problems coming up in tests. Not to sound touchy, but some of my international student friends struggled with the US education system and some excelled in it, just like some of my American friends struggled while others did well.

          I had a much harder time adapting to the concept of a thesis statement, and dealing with the fact that I had to find 1500 words to explain something that needed only 150. Also, while the American college system’s desire to foster debate is definitely a good thing, anyone who’s sat through a 10-15 person Philosophy seminar will know that there’s a limit to its benefits.

          Having said all that, I liked the US system a lot, it works on the whole.

      • Leah 22 November 2010, 3:43 am

        I’m not making any comments on the American education system itself here, just pointing out flaws in your assessment of overseas’ (and even American?) education systems.

        For starters you act as if anyone who lives outside america is under the same education system (by generalising how all international students get frustrated with a certain expectation, and by referring to the “overseas educational system”). The thing that you suggest frustrates “international” students but is expected by Americans (when ” a new
        problem shows up on the test “) is exactly what every Australian highschool student would expect too. In fact, we would feel like we’d been given an easy ride, or our teacher had sort of ‘cheated’ for us, if we came across a problem on an exam paper that was the same as one we’d done in class.

        I also think rote memorisation is important in some areas of education – a simple example is the multiplication tables. When someone asks me what 7×6 is, I don’t take time to figure it out, I just know because I memorised it. The fact you remember a lot of history from your school days suggests you did a lot of memorisation in history classes too.

        • Leah 22 November 2010, 3:46 am

          To be honest, I wish the Australian education system (particularly in high school) measured ‘absorption of information’ more. I think it’s important and overlooked too often and as a consequence have a lot of members of society not knowing facts that should be commonly known.

          • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 11:14 am

            I agree to a certain extent. It’s just that I know the limits of human memory,
            so even if we learned them in high school, the facts won’t stick. I find it to
            be the responsibility of the press, shared with the individual, to re-learn the
            facts as they are needed. Unfortunately, the press is totally a failure in this
            sense and individuals have no time for it.

            • nick_h_nz 22 November 2010, 5:59 pm

              I disagree to a certain extent. The facts often do stick, and I can remember much of what I learnt at school – and not through constant repetition of use. A lot of it depends on the level of engagement. I was never a great fan of maths, even though I was quite competent at it, so there a whole swathes of mathematic practice I couldn’t possibly attempt these days. But I can probably remember the most part of what I learned in social studies (history, geography, etc.) and english, and quite a lot of french (which I’ve not used since) and science.
              It does perhaps stick more, depending on the method of teaching – in which case, if the facts won’t stick for US students this is potentially a failing in the education system, and it is perhaps not so great as you might think.

              • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 6:09 pm

                Oh wait a second, I never said it was great…

                I don’t really know the secret of what makes a great education system, honestly.
                I just notice the cultural differences, as sited by the literature and anecdotal
                evidence. I don’t really think the whole presentation focus is working out here,
                as most people still suck at presentation. Also, there is a stunning lack of
                financial and practical advice for people in school. In general I think our
                system is wrought with problem and poor tradition. In fact, I have mostly
                scathing things to say about it, but no need to go into all of that here.


        • nick_h_nz 22 November 2010, 5:54 pm

          Does any education really pose questions or problems in an exam paper that are the same as ones done in a class? Surely not, as this would be a rather ridiculous method of examination. An examination is surely to test understanding of any concept and subject – not the rote memorisation of a topic taught in class. I was not under the impression that Christine was suggesting this sort of emphasise on memorisation, but perhaps I was wrong? I don’t believe this is how exams work in this country (UK), and I know it is not how exams work in NZ, and I would be surprised if this is how they work in any part of the world. But, sadly, I’m probably wrong….

          • Jane 23 November 2010, 1:17 pm

            Years and years ago when I was doing my Latin O level, we knew that one question would be to translate a passage from the Aeneid – we knew which book, we didn’t know which passage. In theory, this should be done by reading the Latin presented, and translating to English, having memorised enough vocab and grammar to do this.
            My translation wasn’t very good. What I did was memorise the entire book in translation, and manage to recognise the Latin well enough to know where to start and stop.
            I passed.
            And no, before you ask, I can’t remember any of it today, beyond a general concept of “pious Aeneas, world’s most boring hero”.

      • Sappho 22 November 2010, 6:26 pm

        I wish what you wrote about the American educational system was true. I believe our system is designed to suppress critical thinking, creativity, and intelligence, so that we cannot participate in our democracy.

        • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 11:03 pm

          I said the american education system’s purpose is to educate a generation
          capable of running a democracy. I never said it accomplishes this. I think it’s
          in need of major reform.


      • Guy Swarbrick 25 November 2010, 7:54 am

        I haven’t attended a US school, although I have taught a lot of (mature and college educated) US students. I have attended British schools, however, and have a son at a British (English, actually, and the English & Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish school systems are all quite different) school and a daughter at a British (Scottish, actually) University and your description doesn’t match my experience at all. I didn’t read Dickens in the 1970s and 1980s and my kids didn’t read Dickens in the last 10 years. Nor have British kids learned by rote in the last 40 years – although the current, idiot, government is pushing to reintroduce it.But don’t let facts get in the way of a good rant.

      • Bollara 26 November 2010, 12:23 am

        Another thing that foreign students in the American system find a little difficult to cope with is its parochialism. For instance my friend (also Australian) trying to enrol on her first day of Harvard could not convince the person taking the enrolments that she didn’t need to include an English as a second language class. Funny conversation (too long to repeat) ended in her rather impatiently telling the person that if she did need to improve her English the last place she would come to do it would be the US.

        • PurpleCar 27 November 2010, 4:19 am

          That isn’t parochialism as much as it is automation. I’m sure that registrar was
          just stuck in auto mode and not thinking. But it’s a good point.


  • jawkneeeye 20 November 2010, 12:54 pm

    i believe Conf of Dunces and Atonement are on both

    Atonement does not merit the list

    Borges? Russell banks Cloudsplitter, Kingsolver’s Poisionwood Bible
    Mark Twain? and the lsit be a bit racist: Invisible Man-Ralph ellison
    Richard Wright, Autobiography of Malcolm X
    Freud? Jung?

    • PurpleCar 20 November 2010, 8:15 pm

      Yes, when I made these lists over a year ago, I did it quickly and I missed a
      few. Point is that the list has many iterations. Thanks for the catch.

      Man, don’t get into what should or shouldn’t be on a fake list. Maybe you should
      make your own. I saw a note like that going around a few months ago. It was
      “Take 15 minutes and name all the books that have influenced you. Don’t look
      anything up, just think about it. Stop listing when you can’t remember any
      more.” I thought that was an interesting concept. The books you REALLY loved
      will stay with you like that. Or, the books that disturbed you enough, like Lord
      of the Flies for me. I was truly disgusted with boys and mankind after that one!


      • nick_h_nz 21 November 2010, 10:09 am

        That is a cool idea for a list. But it requires effort, so I’m not sure how likely it would be to spread as a meme. The funny thing is, off the top of my head, many of the books were ones I read as a child – which perhaps explains why the Big Read in the UK is so full of children’s novels. I think I can probably remember far more “influential” texts from childhood than adulthood – even though, retrospectively, very few of them were probably that influential…. 😀

  • PurpleCar 21 November 2010, 2:40 pm

    Sent from Yahoo! Mail on Android

  • Leah 22 November 2010, 3:25 am

    “A “meme” is a little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet. ”

    Not really. A meme is any internet fad – it doesn’t have to be a chain-letter game.

    • PurpleCar 22 November 2010, 11:16 am

      meme isn’t usually applied to viral video. memes are games that take more
      participation than just watching. Internet fads are varied. Some can be
      considered memes, like, Post your bra color on your FB page. But no-one would
      call a viral youtube video a “meme.” At least not in the US.


      • Knowyourmeme 22 November 2010, 6:46 pm


  • Leah 22 November 2010, 3:29 am

    cont’d from my last comment – something is more likely to reach ‘meme’ status also if it has any lasting power – and is generally a catchphrase or specific concept.


  • Diana 22 November 2010, 8:48 am

    Thanks for clarifying this. I read the post at a friend’s facebook and was suspicious about the BBC claiming such a thing and the list provided. Glad to see my suspicion checked out. The rest of the conversation below has also been very entertaining to read. Thanks for that everybody, wish I could have you all at a coffee table over a cup of coffee/tea and some cakes/bagels! Enjoy the moment! 🙂