Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And The Most Influential Book For The Facebook Generation Is....

Harry Potter.

So says this Facebook research project that asked users to list, in their Facebook status, "10 books that have stayed with you in some way."

First of all I think we need to get our terms straight. The Mashable article I'm linking to says "influential" books.  The request was "books that have stayed with you." That's not even remotely the same thing. I can sing you the rubber ducky song from Sesame Street but I'm not sure how much you could say it influenced my life. Likewise you are influenced by many different events in your life, without being able to recall them explicitly upon request.  Memorable and influential are not the same thing.

Second, I think I'd like to see this data broken out by age groups. The younger you are, the less time books have had to stay with you. Someone in their fifties or sixties stating that Catcher in the Rye (#9, 1951) stayed with them tells me something different than a thirty year old telling me that for her it was Hunger Games (#8, 2010). Or vice versa, which would be even more interesting.

Maybe someday, someone will try to assassinate the president and he'll be found with a well-worn copy of The Fault In Our Stars (#42, 2012) in his back pocket, but today is not that day. The only influence that book's had time to have is in influencing the parents of twelve year old girls across America to let them see the PG-13 movie.  (For the record my twelve year old girl has not read the book or seen the movie. I have read the book.)

It also really bugs me, by the way, that the Mashable author says "Unsurprisingly" the #1 went to Harry Potter. Is it unsurprising because you're a twenty-something who hasn't read many other books besides those, and still thinks that they are great literature? Or should that be taken more as an "it figures" commentary on the poor reading habits of the Facebook universe? I hope the latter.

To keep it relevant to this site, does anybody want to guess where Shakespeare shows up? He only shows up once, at #30, with Hamlet. I can find no other entry in the list that is older than this, however, so we'll give him special points for being memorable after four hundred years. Well, not counting the Bible and Book of Mormon. Those always show up on these lists, just out of sheer numbers.

I guess I'm trying to figure out whether there's anything to learn from this list. Does it even make sense for The Help (#48, 2009) to appear on a list next to Kerouac's On the Road (#43, 1976)? Or childhood favorite Where The Sidewalk Ends (#77, 1974) alongside Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (#78, 2009) which half the audience read for the sex and the other half read for the computer hacking bits?

Here's a theory. Let's look at how many books out of the top 100 had a movie or tv version come out in the last, oh, say ten years.  I count 27 of them.   That's actually lower than I expected, I'll admit. But I'm sure it's a pretty big contributing factor. I find it hard to believe that so many people actually read Gone With the Wind (#16) or Les Miserables (#60) and it didn't have at least something to do with the movie/stage versions.

Personally I've read about a third of these.  A number of them are on my "never got around to it but probably should" list, but I tried that once with Catcher in the Rye and it just wasn't worth it. I'd be willing to bet that many people answered with books that they had some familiarity with, and didn't necessarily limit themselves to "read it cover to cover".  If I consider all of the entries on the list where I saw the movie, or at least attempted to read the book? My number doubles.

What do you think of the list?  What surprises do you find?


kj said...

The things that stay with you can be influential in ways you may not realize. For example, is there a direct line of influence between the song you cite above and . . . this?

I think so.


Elizabeth R said...

I'm surprised by #20, The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho, mostly because I've never heard of it. And I'm a librarian, so I hear of a lot of books. But, according to Wikipedia, it's one of the best selling books of all time, so I don't know how I missed it (other than it came out when I was 6, and it seems to perhaps have been more popular internationally than here in the US).

Also, I don't understand why both The Chronicles of Narnia (series) and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (first book in the series) are on the list. I guess people named both, separately.

I think the author says the #1 went "unsurprisingly" to Harry Potter because those books were/are so hugely popular. Plus, there are 7 of them, so the series sticks with you more than a single book might. (Similarly, JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series are in the top 10 - all multi-book series that are often read when people are children). Chances are, people my age or younger remember reading Harry Potter and being excited about the next book coming out. Remember that the survey asks for "books that have stayed with you," not "best books you've ever read".