Sunday, November 28, 2010

BBC 100 Books Meme

You probably already know it's a fraud, in at least two ways:

1st, the meme challenges you by telling you that the BBC predicts the average person has read only 6 of these 100 books; the truth is that the BBC polled Britons to find out their favorite books, and then published the list. No challenge or prediction about the average person was ever made. 
2nd, the list that's going around the internet these days (seven years on!) is significantly changed from (some would say its been made "more highbrow than") the list the BBC originated. 

I got hit with this meme again earlier today (by my cousin, a librarian in Connecticut), and it suddenly struck me that this is actually a great example of a mutated strain of information: just like the altered molecules in a strand of DNA, these changes say something about the people who messed with the list. Specifically, the changes hint at what kind of people they were and what they wanted their own ideal list to look like.

So I sat down and labeled every change between the BBC's original poll results and the meme I got from my cousin.

A couple things:

1. I don't believe this is any kind of injustice or anything; I didn't go through and label this because I believe there's anything special about the original list or to call "caughtcha!" on the list's changers -- far from it. I tip my hat to each person who read this list, objected to the authors on it (especially if they believed the meme's story, that this was some sort of authoritative list you should measure yourself against) and had the moxie to delete and replace or just move up and down the books according to their opinions. Why not? This is the internet, after all: we're not here to passively receive information, we're here to create it, alter it, make it our own.

2. Only three books on the entire list were unchanged from the original. Those three books? Orwell's 1984, Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (insert confused shrug here).

3. People seemed hesitant to delete books near the top of the list. They were more likely to move them. (The top two books were merely transposed.) At the bottom, though, you see two more radical phenomena: people angrily raising books they love from the pits of the 90s towards the middle of the list (often knocking other books down or deleting them to make room), and, especially in the bottom 10 or so, people deleting books outright to replace them with books they felt unjustly excluded. There also seemed to be an organized effort to remove the books of Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Wilson.

I'd love to hear any other conclusions you draw in the comments. I feel there's too much data here to be sifted through by one person. Any observations you have would be most welcome. Enjoy!!

1 comment:

haycreek said...

I'm sure you know this by now, but the list of 100 books that you compared to the BBC "Big Read" list was from results of a survey done by The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/01/news). Two thousand people were asked to name the 10 books they "could not live without." So the premise was similar to the BBC survey, but the list is different.