If you’re even vaguely literarily inclined and an avid user of the social media platform Facebook, it’s highly likely that at some stage one of your friends tagged you with a status update calling for the “Top 10 books that have stayed with you in some way”.
If you’re anything like me, distilling three decades’ worth of voracious reading immediately sparked a panicked crusade that, I kid you not, saw me sitting up till 2am to hammer out a list I’m probably still unsure of.
The status did offer a little guidance here. “Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard,” it says. “They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.” Probably should have read that bit before fretting so much.
While this Facebook poll is far from rigorous, the reality is, social media platforms of this scope reach out to a huge potential database that far exceeds the average official polling count.
Facebook’s data science team watched the results with interest, analysing around 130,000 of these top-10 books lists, with the gender split roughly 75 per cent women, 25 per cent men and equating to an average age of 35. Just under two-thirds of respondents were US-based. Of the top 30 books listed, 17 were written by male authors, with 13 female.
Given the average age bracket, it might be a little odd (and depressing) to see such a flimsy kids’ series as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter chronicles listed at number one but, in fairness, you could argue that lumping them all in together is cheating, somewhat. J.R.R. Tolkien gets away with the same trick, however, with The Lord Of The Rings series at landing at number three, with Harper Lee’s seminal To Kill A Mockingbird at two.
Other classics in the top 10 include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s enduring great American novel The Great Gatsby, the subject of no fewer than four film adaptations and a fair few TV movies too, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and J.D Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye.
Tolkien is the only author to secure two top-10 entries, with The Hobbit also making the grade. Whether The Holy Bible, at sixth place, qualifies as fiction or non-fiction is up for debate.
Suzanne Collins’ young adult series The Hunger Games also performed strongly, cruising into eighth place, like Katniss Everdeen on a mission, and there’s a slice of comic sci-fi genius too, with Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy slamming into hyperdrive at seven.
Major novels just missing the top 10 included George Orwell’s 1984 (11), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (13), Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (15), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (17) and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 18th place, though this one’s a bit contentious, because the collected Chronicles of Narnia then reappears at 21. Having your cake and eating it Mr Lewis?
The Stand by Stephen King delivered a respectable result for the often-overlooked horror genre, smashing it in 14th place, while Lois Lowry’s The Giver, another young adult novel recently adapted for the big screen, secured 22, ahead of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (26), a clear influence on The Maze Runner.
The first foreign language novel is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (19), originally penned in Portuguese before being translated into more 50 languages.
Perhaps surprisingly, William Shakespeare doesn’t show up until number 30, with Hamlet, his tragic tale of the fall of the Prince of Denmark landing just behind Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (29).