Books go viral on Facebook

Like all remotely interesting things that go viral on social networking sites, for the last one month or so, Facebook users are seeing books going viral, especially lists of user’s favourite books. And, for a change, it was a good thing too, given how inane these social networking sites can get. It started as a series of post-and-tag (called the Book Bucket Challenge, as opposed to Ice Bucket Challenge) where one user would post a list of 10 books which purportedly changed his/her life, la

24 Sep 2014 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

As lists started to pile up, analysts, include the site itself, entered into the picture and gave their own expert opinions on the trend. For starters, after the US, India was the country where most users took the challenge. And, in case of India, there was hardly any Chetan Bhagat on the lists.

Then Facebook gave us a list of 100 books, not its own, but names culled from the 1,30,000 status updates received by the site. Understandably, JK Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter series tops the lists, but there were surprises too, like the inclusion of The Bible in No 6, between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy(Please find the complete list below.)

According to Facebook sources, the data was “a de-identified sample of matching ‘10 books’ or ‘ten books’ appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014”. The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3% in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37.

Were the lists posted by the users true?

The debate is on.

There are skeptics who said like everything else on Facebook, the lists too were superficial, a show of fake intellectualism. Recently, The Huffington Post carried an item in response, titled, ‘Stop Lying about your Favourite Books on Facebook’, where the author protests: “No, your favourite book is not The Sound and the Fury. No, you did not finish Infinite JestOne Hundred Years of Solitude? You read that in 10th grade. I know because I was in that English class with you.” Alexis Kleinman then offers an apologia: “There is nothing wrong with liking popular books. You shouldn’t be ashamed to have read Harry Potter a dozen times… There shouldn’t be a stigma against fun books. If you’re super picky, remember that fluffy books can be gateways into more serious literature, ya prude.” 

Among Indian users too, there were too many pretentious list-makers, critics said. This may be the reason why we did not see much of Chetan Bhagat, or Durjoy Datta. One user actually showed her surprise on her update that nobody mentioned Super Commando Dhruva, the iconic Indian superhero. There was no mention of Tinkle, or Champak, or Archies or those Phantom books published by Indrajal Comics in the 1970s-80s, which most of the average user in the age of 37 must have read in childhood.

There were the usual suspects in pretentious names. Haruki Murakami remains a perennial favourite among pretentious Indian readers. And, Ayn Rand and her egomaniac creation Howard Roark still have takers. And, nobody seems to admit to the fact that they like reading Mills and Boons.

Pretentious or not, there were some other titles and authors, which touched a special chord with Indian readers. If Facebook tries to make a list comprising of only Indian entries, perhaps here too Harry Potter would top the list. Such is the adoration for the boy magician. Indian readers also love the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s popular potboilers. Two other favourite authors are Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini and ubiquitous Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist).   

While no single India author managed to be named consistently, former president AP J Abdul Kalam’s Ignited Mind seemed to have ignited the minds of many a India readers.

Even two Nobel Prize winners managed to inspire Indian readers. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a certifiably popular book among the readers while the popularity of Turkish author Orhan Pamuk remains constant, thought his writing is arguably denser than both Murakami and Marquez.

The top 100 books

1. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

6. The Holy Bible

7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

9. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

10. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

11. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

12. 1984 by George Orwell

13. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

15. The Stand by Stephen King

16. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

17. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

18. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

19. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

20. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

21. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

22. The Giver by Lois Lowry

23. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

24. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

25. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

26. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

27. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

28. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

29. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

30. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

31. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

32. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

33. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

34. Animal Farm by George Orwell

35. The Book of Mormon

36. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

37. Dune by Frank Herbert

38. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

39. The Autobiography of Malcolm X

40. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

41. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

42. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

43. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

44. Lamb by Christopher Moore

45. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

46. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

47. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

48. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

49. The Outsiders by SE Hinton

50. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

51. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

52. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

53. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

54. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

55. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

56. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

57. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

58. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

59. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

60. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

61. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

62. Night by Elie Wiesel

63. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

64. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

65. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

66. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

67. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

68. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

69. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

70. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

71. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

72. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

73. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

74. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

75. Watership Down by Richard Adams

76. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

77. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

78. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

79. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

80. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

81. Charlotte's Web by EB White

82. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

83. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

84. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

85. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

86. The Shack by William P Young

87. Watchmen by Alan Moore

88. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

89. The Odyssey by Homer

90. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

91. The Stranger by Albert Camus

92. Call of the Wild by Jack London

93. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

94. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

95. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

96. Matilda by Roald Dahl

97. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

98. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

99. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

100. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

(Via Facebook Data Science.)



Popular books, cult books

Meanwhile, The Economic Times on its Sunday edition on September 14, 2014, ran a spread on most popular books, authors and cult classics. Here is the break-up.

Most popular books:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: The romp about doppelgangers in London and France during the revolution has sold around 200 million copies in the past 150 years

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: The most widely read fantasy, later made into a blockbuster series of movies, has sold estimated 150 million copies

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: A simple tale told from the point of view of a child, in words and pictures (where you can debate whether it is snake or a hat), has sold 140 million copies

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling: The first among the seven wildly popular books about a young magician has sold 100 million plus copies

And Then There Were None by Agatha Cristie: You don’t call her mistress of mystery for nothing. All her books are bestsellers and this, her 26th novel, has sold 100 million copies

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien: A prequel to the more famous saga, the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, which started it all, since its publication in 1937

She: A History of Adventure by H Rider Haggard: The story of mysterious, ruthless and immortal Ayesha, she-who-must-not-be-named. The classic lost city adventure set in Africa has sold more than 100 million copies since its publication 1887

Most popular authors:

William Shakespeare: Does he need an introduction? Since the Elizabeth Age, the playwright remains a constant source of inspiration, including Bollywood. After the latest adaptation of his Romeo and Juliet, now, Vishal Bhardwaj is adapting Hamlet as Haider.

Agatha Cristie: Not only for her intricate plots, she is also admired for her numerous minutely defined cast of characters and her master detectives, Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple.

Barbara Cartland: The Queen of Romance, who has written more than 700 novels. Ask the girl next to you.

Harold Robbins: Everything about his books ooze of guilty pleasure, include those covers with half-naked women. His tales of sex, glamour and power, told in more than 20 novels has sold 750 million copies

Edin Blyton: Can there be a happy childhood without Famous Five or Secret Seven in it? No wonder Blyton is popular.

Cult Classic:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: The debutant author creates a powerful anti-war statement in his protagonist Yossarian’s dilemma, at once hilarious and blistering

Catcher on the Rye by JD Salinger: Teen angst, rebelliousness and alienation… still relevant

The Stranger by Albert Camus: The document of existentialism, a staple of higher education syllabi, a probe on how to live

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: You can blame Rand for her capitalist agenda, but who can resist the charm of Howard Roark?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: A father-daughter story set in the Deep South of racial America, a moving plea for understanding the plight of the fellow human beings.

Most portrayed literary Character in TV and film:

Sherlock Homes, the quick-witted, laconic detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle has been portrayed by different actors on screen 254 times, now being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series Sherlock.