Bookplanet: Pride and Prejudice beats out all others as most precious book read (Da Vinci Code is #42)
Pride and Prejudice the most precious as modern readers turn over an old leaf
World Book Day poll places enduring quality of classics ahead of recent triumphs
By John Ezard /The Guardian
In the end, quality tells. People may have bought The Da Vinci Code in its millions but, when asked to name the most precious book they have read, they relegated it to 42nd place and chose Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
In the poll for World Book Day today, the highest-ranking contemporary adult fiction novel is Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong, which came only 17th.
By contrast, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was third; Wuthering Heights by her sister Emily was seventh; and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 10th.
A modern classic boosted by a film trilogy, JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, came second, the Harry Potter books fourth, the modern US classic To Kill a Mockingbird fifth, and George Orwell's 1984 equal eighth with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
The Bible is in sixth place, thanks particularly to over 60-year-olds. However it figures in the top 10 of every age group over 25.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare was in at 14, just before Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and two slots after Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
The most striking feature of the survey, the organisers said, was that "classics are still the most essential reads".
Richard and Judy's television show, legendary for creating bestsellers, appears to have little influence on this list. Virtually none of the chart-topping titles of recent years, except for Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, and no high-grossing celebrity biographies reached the top 100.
Instead, the top 100 bristles with provenly enduring quality, from Joseph Heller, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Kerouac, Lewis Carroll and AA Milne to John Steinbeck, Arthur Ransome, Joseph Conrad, Kazuo Ishiguro (for The Remains of the Day) and Conan Doyle. The last three titles to squeeze in are a characteristic mix: Hamlet, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.
The 2,000 people who took part in the poll online at worldbookday.com nominated their top 10 titles that they could not live without. Pride and Prejudice...-...now firmly established by Colin Firth's soaked shirt as a love story rather than a comedy of manners as it was once less attractively seen...-...topped the lists in every region apart from Northern Ireland, which favoured To Kill a Mockingbird, which is about the need to understand the unfamiliar.
Sue Horner, principal of English for the qualifications and curriculum authority, which recently prompted controversy by recommending that all secondary school pupils read the classics, said: "All these top 10 have a timeless quality, whenever they were written. It is likely that many of them are lasting favourites, first encountered at school."
The Bible was fourth favourite book for those aged over 60, a generation which would have been compulsorily taught it at school. It only fell out of the top 10 for those aged 18-25 and was still rated 19th by those under 18.
Its performance delighted the Bishop of Durham, the reverend Tom Wright, who said: "We shouldn't be surprised. The Bible offers life and enriches life. If you haven't read it, start today."