The BBCs Big Read

The BBCs Big Read was the reading challenge I undertook, that I referred to in my last post on reading challenges. This challenge took place in 2003, about eighteen months after I got married. My reading habits had ground to a halt at this point, between planning a wedding, moving house, getting furniture for said house, and getting used to the new routine of being married. And so, when I saw this challenge publicised, it caught my eye.

The BBC asked the general public to name their favourite books of all time. They produced from this a list of the top 200 favourite books of the nation. They ran TV shows to discuss and review the top 21 books in detail, and to discuss some of the other books as well.ย It was the ideal challenge to get me back into reading.

All the information on the challenge is still held on the BBC website in the link in the first paragraph, but the site is now archived.

I made a list of the 200 books in a spreadsheet, and annotated the ones I’d read already, and made notes of where I could obtain some of the remaining ones.

In the end I completed the entire of the top 100 and about two thirds of the 101-200 list. So, about 160 books in all. I think that took a few years … I can’t actually remember now, and I think my spreadsheet languishes on a long-dead computer somewhere. But anyway, I got fed up after that, especially as I’d been putting off certain books that I didn’t really want to read.

However, I felt I’d made a really good achievement by reading the top 100, and the list was so diverse that it did indeed kick start my reading habit again, and in that respect, was totally worth it.

I shall do more posts in this series, reviewing and commenting on the goods and bads of the top 100 books. I won’t have any compunction about discussing what I consider to be the negative aspects of these books, because the fact they are on a list of the nation’s best-loved books means they transcend my personal opinion, in a way that less well-known books may not.

A couple of points of interest from the list:

Firstly, books that had been published as one volume,ย were treated as one volume in the survey. Lord of the Rings is the obvious example here.

And secondly, in 2003 only four Harry Potter books were out. It was decided, so that they didn’t clog up four positions in the top 21, that only one book by each author was allowed in the top 21. And that is why three Harry Potter books sit at 22, 23 and 24!

Finally, obviously this list was drawn up thirteen years ago. So it will be an interesting exploration of how trends have developed in the last decade or so, to go back and look at this, and imagine what would feature on it now. Hunger Games? Twilight? I suspect many of the classics would still be there, but a fair few contemporary novels would not be.

Join me for the next post in the series.



  1. That’s quite the reading challenge! I took a quick glance, and I’ve read 12 of the top 21 books, and about a third or so of the top 100…

    #199 made me really happy, because The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my favorite books as a kid!

    Looking forward to hearing about the books you read, and what you thought of them!

  2. That’s awesome. I’m steering clear of Top lists of All Time, because in my experience they tend to miss most of the contemporary awesome books; most people’s “favorite book” tends to be something they read in high school, like a classic. I’m assuming those are a lot that you didn’t read? LOL

    1. magicwriter

      Yes after doing the challenge I did find it hard to believe that some of those classics were genuinely people’s best loved books. But you’re probably right – it’s what people remembered reading from school.

      Actually the book I put off the most (and never read) was It by Stephen King. I like his fantasy works but I’m not a horror fan.

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