World Book Day

Today is world book day. The BBC have the results of people’s lying about books they have read:

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%)

I will honestly admit to having read 1984, Ulysses (no I have no idea what it is about either), The Bible (a lot but then I am a fundie). I was going to start Anna Karenina next so I will wait re War and Peace. I mentioned The Road in a previous blog. So any other books anyone has to recommend / talk about? Incidentally I do actually like Jane Austen’s stuff and Wuthering Heights: should I lie about that?

  • Sam Flanagan

    Why don`t you try reading “Codeword Barbelon” then follow it up by reading “The Engineer Corps Of Hell.” You can round the day of by reading “Calvin`s Wisdom” by Graham Miller.

  • frustrated democrat

    Life is just to short ……………..

  • frustrated democrat

    ……or even too short

  • KieranJ

    If you wish to read the finest novel ever written about Ireland, get a copy of “Strumpet City” by James Plunkett.

  • Driftwood

    Why don’t you start with ‘The selfish gene’. It’s quite good.

  • CW

    Day of the Triffids is a true classic, although it hasn’t had the acclaim it deserves.

  • Turgon

    Very true about triffids. The Kraken Wakes is also very good.

  • Earnan

    I am about to tackle Ulysses. Have any of you read it? Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was painful at times but also had some brilliant passages.

    Why would anyone not read 1984-absolutely fantastic book.

  • dewi

    I know I’m a boring git but I’ve read them all – apart from the Bible – 1984 actually quite exciting.

  • Turgon

    Yes I read it: it is very well written but apart from being about a day in Dublin and sort of like Homer’s Odyssey I cannot honestly tell you what it was meant to be about. Still I am sure I am a better person for reading it????? I wonder about trying Finnegans Wake but maybe that is just a daft idea.

  • Harry Flashman

    I’ve read “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (to give it its proper title), it’s a superb book why would it be the most lied about? As to the others I can happily admit that not only have I never read any of them I haven’t the slightest intention of doing so or pretending to do so (with the obvious exception of the Bible which I studied at school).

    Rushdie is pseuds corner stuff. Tolstoy was for the time when there was bugger all squared to do all day, week in week out, year after year. Joyce is gobbledygook and the sooner we admit it the better. Proust and Flaubert, well if you’re a second year English Lit undergraduate wanting to look pretentious I suppose they won’t do any actual harm. Hawking and Dawkins are for people desperate to show how modern and rational they are even though they lost track of what the author was saying two chapters in.

    Obama? Come off it, why would anyone read him much less lie about reading him?

  • danielmoran

    to turgon…. i believe joyce confessed that after he’d written finnegan, that he would, in future stick to short, straightforward stuff. he died two years later in 1941. i actually read ulysses. it took a fortnight. on reflection ‘dubliners’ was best.

  • dewi

    Harry – if you are awake tell us your best books to read.

  • dewi

    And Turgon I remember you recommended Mcarthy before – apart from giving people nightmares I see no redeeming features in him – ban all his books.

  • Paul McMahon

    1984 – fantastic novel on the horrors of gov autocracy however, IMHO, the autobiographical stuff of Orwell’s like Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London & The Road to Wigan Pier are much better written.

    ‘Arry, are you an ologist of some description?

  • Harry Flashman

    Yes, bollicksologist.

    Reading currently an interesting (if not fabulously so) biography of Justice Earl Warren. Barely finished Roy Hattersley’s “The Edwardians”, trust Roy to make what should be a fascinating subject read like the births and deaths register of the Londonderry Sentinel, books that I have thoroughly enjoyed recently would be Robert Harvey’s “War of Wars” a refreshing romp through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Alex von Tunzelmann’s “Indian Summer” an evocative account of the Mountbattens and the end of the Indian Empire, William Manchester’s “The Arms of Krupp” about well the arms of Krupp and Thomas Pakenham’s “The Year of Liberty” (actually a re-read, having studied it 25 years ago for A’ Level, but all the better for that).

    So you see I’m a bit of a non-fiction man, the fiction I have recently enjoyed would be a couple of anthologies of Waugh and Greene (re-reads again for the most part), Orwell’s “Burmese Days” was good, started reading Fleming’s Bond books but found them a bit adolescent, got thoroughly bored with Amitav Ghosh’s “The Glass Palace”, found Hardy’s “Tess” surprisingly worthwhile, Henry James’ “The Europeans” tedious and a couple of Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpes” helped me through a spell in hospital.

    A fairly eclectic mix and I’ve never felt the need to lie about my reading habits as I frankly couldn’t give a toss what people think of them, it’s not for them I read.

  • dewi

    Paul Bew’s “Ireland – the politics of enmity” very good read from all perspectives. Especially for Harry “The Last Valley – Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam” – Windrow. -Excellent. The update of “The Gun and the Olive branch” Hirst – pertinant.
    “From the Holy Mountain” – Dalrymple – excellent on the remnants of the Orthodox churches in the Middle east.

    Best of all time – “Marathon Man” – Goldman – dunno if it’s still in print but the best thriller ever.

  • Harry Flashman

    “The Last Valley – Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam” – Windrow.

    Thanks for that Dewi, I’ve always found Dien Bien Phu to be a beautifully romantic battle, like the Confederates and the Cavaliers the French in Indochina have always held a charm for me, they might have been on the wrong side of history but you can’t help but admire them.

    Can I also recommend along similar lines (although I dare say you’ve already read it) Alistair Horne’s “A Savage war of Peace” about the war in Algeria?

  • dewi

    Thanks Harry – not read it – I’ll have a go.

  • I think that “brave New World’ needs to get a mention, so does other Huxley work such as ‘The doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell.’ Also ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ changed completely my parameter of thinking.


  • Wilde Rover


    “I think that “brave New World’ needs to get a mention,”

    I came here to say just that.

  • picador

    I am partial to the odd Russian tome:

    1914 by Solzhenitsyn is one that springs to mind.
    Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky is another great book.

    Good luck with Anna Karenina, Turgon. It is the Russian equivalent of Madame Bovary.

    And on another note:
    Fancy not enjoying The Glass Palace, Harry. Was it too anti-British for your liking?

  • fin

    anything Orwell put on paper is worth reading, I’m currently reading his essays again, which I’d recommend to people here, the Lion and the Unicorn is an outstanding description of what it means to be English, as relevant now as in 1940

  • Kaido

    Best reads ever ………

    “A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight” by Henry Williamson.
    15 books from start of 20th century to end of II world war.

  • Jer

    The master and Margarita, by Bulgakov.
    Russian book very Kafkaesque. I highly recommend

  • Fergie

    If You read War and Peace be sure to read 1812 (?) (The book on Napleon’s disastrous Russian campaign) which has the same events from a historian’s point of view.

  • Seimi

    Has anyone read ‘Then’? Can’t remember the author – it’s quite a short book, telling the story of a young Jewish boy and his attempts to hide from the Nazis. Brilliant stuff.

    As for ‘the Road’ – fantastic

    For educational purposes, Bill Bryson’s ‘a short history of nearly everything’ is great!

  • Seimi

    Also, ‘Stalingrad’, by Beevor – brilliant

  • dewi

    Last time on a similar thread Seimi recommended “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” – fanatastic alernative American history.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    For those who have never read James Joyce’s Ulysses, but it’s about a Dublin Jewish chap by the name of Leopold Bloom and his odyssey around Dublin city one day. Rather comical in parts too.
    However sensitive readers may be put off by his wife’s masturbation scene in the bed.

  • The Reincarnation of Paul Revere’s Horse

    Of those above, I guess I leafed through the bible in church every once in a while and did a bit of research on Ulysses but never read it all. Moby Dick is a favourite of mine though.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Fancy not enjoying The Glass Palace, Harry. Was it too anti-British for your liking?”

    No picador, surprisingly enough it was simply boring, it is a silly, improbable, Mills & Boon romance that if it had been set in Birmingham or Dusseldorf or somewhere would have been laughed out of court, but for some unfathomable reason any novel set in the Indian sub-continent during the time of the Raj is automatically accorded “great literature” status by British critics no matter how much drivel it actually is.

    As regards my alleged preference for pro-British literature perhaps you missed my mention of “The Year of Liberty” above, to which I could also add Tom Barry’s “Guerilla Days in Ireland”, Cecil Woodham Smith’s “The Great Hunger” and Stanley Weintraub’s “Iron Tears” about the American Revolution all of which I have read or re-read in the past four months.

    But pray tell, what was it about Gosh’s Barbara Cartland style snoozefest that so appealed to you?

  • Rory Carr

    I must say that the single piece of literature which has had most affect upon my subsequent thinking and choice of further reading material remains that everlasting classic: Hetty the Hen (Book 2).

  • Seimi

    For an excellent Graphic Novel (or ‘comic’, if you insist!), I would recommend Preacher, the tale of a Preacher (obviously!), his girlfriend, and their friend Cassidy, the Irish vampire. Great stuff!

  • Ms Wiz

    Eamonn McCann’s ‘War and an Irish Town’. Eamonn is the man.

  • picador


    Re: The Glass Palace

    It was a long time ago that I read it but I enjoyed its epic sweep; its interweaving of historical and political developments within India, Burma and Malaya; and its exploration of the anit-colonialist struggle. And I thought that it was masterfully written.

    But that’s just my opinion. If you didn’t like it – fair enough. But I wish to defend it as an excellent book.

  • picador

    I would also like to recommend as an absolutely superb novel Mario Varga Llosa’s ‘La Fiesta del Chivo’ or ‘Feast of the Goat’ as it’s known (less appealingly) in English.

    It tells the grotesque and fascinating tale of General Rafael Trujillo, former strongman of the Dominican Republic, and the plot to assassinate him.

  • skullion


    Re The Road.An absolutely absorbing book,terrifying yet at times painfully touching.I would recommend it to anyone and like yourself read it in one sitting.By the way the film is out later this year.

  • Greenflag

    War of the Worlds- Niall Ferguson
    (Gives new insights to the period 1900 to the present)
    Ascent of Money – Niall Ferguson
    (Where did the Dosh originally come from and how -fascinating insights on the ‘bubbles ‘ of economic history and how they made an impact on political futures . Who ever hear of a Scotsman named Law a sort of George Soros or Madoff of earlier times helping through his new (for then ) financial tools helping to give us the ahem “French Revolution ‘ ?

    Darwin’s Ghost -Steve Jones

    Not for Creationists or those who still believe evolution has to be proved 🙁

    The Long Summer – Brian Fagan

    The antidote to the Little Ice Age 😉 A great read and utterly plausible

    Life – Richard Fortey

    Short and to the point and in parts Fortey shows a wry humour -Not for the flat earthers and heaven magicians.

    Bad Money – Kevin Phillips

    How and why the world’s economy got to be where it is . Phillips targets the shadow banking centre and gives great insight into the series of events which finally led to the pyrhic victory of the banking and financial services lobby with the ending of the Glass Stiegel Act passed by the Clinton administration in 1999. Thereafter the speed of shadow banking ‘fraud ‘ picked up until now there is some 700 trillion dollars spread throughout the world economy and most of in leveraged bets on worthless property and now the largest Bank in the world Citicorp’s share price is a dollar -down 98% .

    The Return Of Depression Economics – Paul Krugman

    A summation of how the present decession ( recession + depression) is while not an exact look alike of the 1930’s version yet contains elements of that version plus elements of all the other ‘bubbles ‘ in recent (200 years ) economic history .

    I’m looking forward to an updated version of George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London ‘ No doubt the title will have to be extended somewhat for present world conditions .

    ‘Down and Out in Paris , London , New York , Berlin , Rome , Moscow , Dublin , Edinburgh , Brussels , Madrid , Tokyo , Shanghai , Jakarta , Buenos Aires , Mexico City , Beijing , Warsaw , Kiev etc etc etc’

    Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ was a gripping read and perhaps a premature insight into a world in which our neo conservative afficionados will no doubt thrive and be the last to be eaten 😉 – No government and the war of all against all for ever diminishing resources . Thomas Hobbes was perhaps not so far off the mark after all ?

    Not sure I want to see the film when it comes out .

  • Harry Flashman

    “But that’s just my opinion. If you didn’t like it – fair enough. But I wish to defend it as an excellent book.”

    Honestly, I didn’t hate it or anything but as you can see I’m more of a non-fiction man myself and the utter implausibility of some wee street urchin coincidentally meeting up with the exiled princess that he’d met and never forgotten years ago and now that he’s rich well, blah blah blah, I kinda switched off at that point, sort of like Bollywood in print.

    But hey, each to his own, I just prefer my literature to be of a more factual and historical nature.

  • Reader

    “it is a silly, improbable, Mills & Boon romance ”

    A real author borrowed the plot from a 19th century author and then sued a Mills and Boon author for doing the same.

    Any ideas of who they were?

  • kate

    And then when you need a little bit of light relief, a good ‘popcorn’ read, Do World War Z. A book that becomes more relavent everyday with all those zombie banks and a zombie minister threatening Northern Ireland.

  • danielmoran

    i actually read a few of anthony burgess’s novels including ‘a clocwork orange’ that was before seeing the kubrick film version in 2000. the book was more interesting.

  • picador

    Sounds like you gave up on it too early, Harry There’s a lot of history in that book. I particulary liked the part detailing the Japanese invasion of Malaya; then how the Japanese subsequently recruited captured Indian sepoys into the ‘Indian National Army’ which went on to fight the British in Burma.

  • picador


    A real author borrowed the plot from a 19th century author and then sued a Mills and Boon author for doing the same.

    Any ideas of who they were?

    No, you’ll have to tell us.

  • Paul McMahon

    Riotus Assembly by Tom Sharpe – Quite simply the funniest book I have ever read. There were times when I couldn’t see the text properly for the tears running down my face.

    Agree with you on Preacher Seimi. A mate of mine introduced me to it in January :0)

  • Harry Flashman

    “then how the Japanese subsequently recruited captured Indian sepoys into the ‘Indian National Army’ which went on to fight the British in Burma.”

    OK a few others have told me it’s a great read so maybe I’ll give it a stab again but I suspect the above has some connection to why it’s so popular among a certain sort of reader.

    The INA was to all intents and purposes a minor footnote in history whilst at the same time the biggest ever volunteer army in the history of mankind was the army raised to fight for the British Empire in India.

    So of course a novel which details the footnote as opposed to the hulking great elephant of history gets to be regarded as a fine piece of literature thus confirming my suspicion that a certain type of Islington chattering class witterer decides what constitutes a good read today, thus anything that portrays the big bad British Empire in a negative light is a shoo in, hence the otherwise inexplicable idea that Salman Rushdie is a good writer, regardless of whether the books in question are actually any bloody good or not.

    So maybe we’re both right picador eh?

  • Seimi

    Paul McMahon, your mate has excellent taste! 🙂

  • Neil

    Got to agree with another poster above, Bill Bryson’s short history of nearly everything’s great. A fun look at science through history from the perspective of someone who was not scientifically minded.

    Hard to beat Papillon by Henri Charriere, much much better than the movie, and written by the hero. Fantastic.

    Obviously, like everyone else, Orwell’s a favourite. I enjoyed Pete McCarthy’s books about his trips round Ireland too, pretty damn funny I thought masell.

  • Toby

    ‘Dick & Jane Reader’, ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘The Gruffalo’ all great, and of course anything by Gerry Adams.

  • earnan

    Just read “The Trail” by Kafka. Really weird book, unsettling as well.

    Any of you ever dabble in Knut Hamsen’s works?

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    How about buster brain blood vessel stuff with some philosophical meanderings to muse over…

    The Mystery of Things – A C Grayling
    Straw Dogs – John Gray
    Black Mass – John Gray
    Nietzsche – The Anti-Christ
    Atheism – George Smith
    After Atheism – Mark Vernon
    Being Human – Peter Vardy
    The Puzzle of God – Peter Vardy
    Dear God – Eamon McCann
    The End of Faith – Sam Harris

  • Celina

    What is Niettzsche by The Anti-Christ about?

    (You know well in what spirit this was written ;-0 )

  • amber valence

    Interesting that Short History of Time comes in at #6. I doubt that opening the cover counts as reading. Hands up ANYONE who actually finished it.
    Wyndam’s The Chrysalids is much neglected and i thoroughly recommend it.
    Strumpet City IS Ireland of the period.
    The Russians? – wot Falshman sed – life is too short for anything that bien pissant.long. If ya can’t say something in under 150 pages you don’t have anything worth saying. Or are a pretentious bien pissant.
    Anything by the Sainted Terry Pratchett but esp his first 2 adult books, Dark Side of the Sun is unequalled and Strata is sexy fun and the basis of the Discworld.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “What is Nietzsche by The Anti-Christ about?”

    ha ha …I deliberately reversed name and title. Well spotted Celina. Nietzsche’s philosophy has been so influential for both good and bad, he might be regarded by some as a bit of an Anti-Christ!

  • Greenflag

    Thus spoke Greagoir O’Frainclin 😉

  • Rory Carr

    “If ya can’t say something in under 150 pages you don’t have anything worth saying.” says Amber Valence. Which leaves out not only Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Cervantes’ The Adventures of Don Quixote de La Mancha among other earlier classics but also more slender modern masterpieces like Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby not to mention the whole canon of the great modern writers yet alive such as Philip Roth or Cormac McCarthy. Why should we deny ourselves such pleasure where long after 150 pages we are gasping for more?

    But then as we are told that Amber finds literary excellence in the childish scribblings of Terry Pratchett we may safely ignore her (his?) advice.

    At least Hetty the Hen (Book 2) was a beginning for me, not the end.

  • amber valence

    Poor Rory, in thrall to turgidity.
    The discussion was books but the same principle is to be found in Einstein’s (alleged) opinion, “if you can’t explain relativity to an intelligent 12yr old, you don’t understand it.”

  • Rory Carr

    Since all of Terry Pratchett’s pot-boilers turn out at more than 150 pages per volume, Amber, I am unlikely to take much on trust about Einstein from one who hasn’t mastered basic arithmetic.

    Nor may we pay much much attention to the literary opinion of those in thrall to the stulted emotionalism and underdeveloped thought processes of science fantasy which, while acceptable to see in a 13 year old, is very sad to observe in an adult.

    You really do have a duty to your intellect to try and stretch yourself more. But all is not lost – you may yet have time.