New Zealand, I’m disappointed in you…

Ursula is in Wellington at the moment, and sent me a birthday card – as a frequent commenter on the recent posts I’ve made about books you buy but don’t read, books you have to read, books of the century etc, she thought I would be interested in two lists of best books compiled in New Zealand (nicely answering Christopher’s question on Catalogue of Organisms as to whether a list compiled in New Zealand would look different).

The lists are from Whitcoulls (“The List“) and from Dymocks Booksellers (“Booklovers’ Top 101“).

Eschewing any pretension towards merit and greatness, these simply ask what do you like reading – what is your favourite book? As a snapshot of popularity across a nation, free from the worry of choosing for pseudo-intellectual reasons, it is refreshing and throws up some interesting results, as well as some problems.

There are large areas of overlap – most books on one list are on the other. Often there is a very great difference between their location. For instance, New Zealand’s own Keri Hulme features at number 26 on The List for The Bone People, whereas it is number 90 on Booklovers’ Top 101.

Top 101 ranks the entire Lord of the Rings series as the number one spot, and the entire Harry Potter series at number three. Yet, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ranked on its own, as is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m not convinced that an entire series should be allowed a single listing. Cumulatively the strength of the series is more than a single book. Furthermore, why do some series get counted as a whole, whilst others don’t – why does Narnia not feature as a series, whilst Middle Earth and Hogwarts do?

Over on The List, books from a series remain as individual books in their own right. The List seems more popular and populist, whilst Top 101 appears to focus more on the “classics”. Interestingly, The Bible features on both lists, which is a refreshing inclusion (and oddly absent from the Anglo-American lists). Whatever you think of religion, you can’t really deny that it is one of the cornerstone books of Western civilisation.

If you get a chance, take a peek at the lists, and have a look at what the Kiwis are reading and enjoying.

Now, about the title of this post… I like Kiwis. I have a lot of respect for Kiwis.

But the top ten on The List. Two Dan Brown books. TWO OF THEM??? If you’ve read this blog, then you know I’m not particularly interested in the Harry Potter books, but I can get why they have appeal, hence their inclusion in the lists (the whole series at number three for Top 101, four entries on The List). But Dan Brown? Twice in the top ten? And even worse – The Da Vinci Code at NUMBER ONE?????

I mean seriously people, come on! I have read one page, one single page of Dan Brown. That is one page more than I ever wanted, or needed to read – he has great ideas, but in the space of one turgid page five different conspiracy theories were introduced in a very clumsy way. Their popularity escapes me, as they just seem unreadable.

I’m not angry or upset with you New Zealand. Just very, very disappointed. Now go to your room and think about what you read…

3 thoughts on “New Zealand, I’m disappointed in you…”

  1. I was somewhat horrified by the two Dan Brown books too – but at least they aren’t pretending it’s high art though. I think his popular appeal is the short sentences and short paragraphs. It drives me crazy, but it doesn’t require much of an attention span so makes them fairly accessible to people who don’t read much, I think.

    Incidentally, “The Bone People” is brilliant and I’d highly recommend it. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting and it isn’t an easy read but it’s highly rewarding.

  2. I’ll give them that, The List makes it clear that it is purely based on popularity, since anyone can vote. Top 101 has a slightly more exclusive voting base, as it is by their members, but still based on popularity.

    I have to say, even if his sentences are short, I just don’t find Brown readable. At all. Maybe I picked a bad page.

    I’ll have to check The Bone People out soon I suppose!

  3. Please, allow me to apologise profusely on behalf of my countrymen. No. 1 was Lord of the Rings the last time I say a Whitcoulls list (it’s most often sold as a single volume rather than three books in New Zealand, so it makes sense to count it as one. Also, the Whitcoulls lists are compiled by people putting down their own choices rather than picking from options. I don’t know about the Dymocks one). Dymocks is a snootier chain than Whitcoulls, so I’m not surprised its list would claim to be more highbrow.

    I have to admit that I’ve never even glanced at a Dan Brown book, so for all I know there could be a literary masterpiece there that I just haven’t experienced.

    Doubt it, though.

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