The Library 100

The union catalogue WorldCat has listed the 100 novels which are found in the most libraries.

Of these the top 10 are:

  1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The complete list is here.


Herman Melville

Herman Melville was born 200 years ago today (1st August 1819). He was an American writer.

His novel Moby-Dick (1851) is the story of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for revenge on Moby Dick, a gigantic white whale that bit off his leg. The novel begins:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

You can read it at Project Gutenberg or – with explanatory notes – at Power Moby-Dick. You can listen to a number of actors, some of them quite famous, reading it aloud at Moby Dick Big Read.


Primo Levi

Primo Levi was born 100 years ago today (31st July 1919). He was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor.

He wrote If This Is a Man (1947) and The Truce (1963) about his time in Auschwitz and his journey home.

The Periodic Table (1975) is a collection of autobiographical short stories. Each story is named after a chemical element which played some part in his life – argon, hydrogen, zinc, and so on.

Tim Radford writes in Nature:

In The Periodic Table, Primo Levi — scientist, poet, writer — makes chemistry a metaphor for his life. But it becomes more than that. Chemistry shapes his life, defines his life, in Auschwitz even saves his life. It becomes his living. In the end, chemistry becomes everything: life itself.


Sherlock Holmes on TV

The Sherlock Holmes stories have been adapated many times for television and the cinema. The TV series that is most faithful to the stories is probably the one made by Granada Television between 1984 and 1994 and starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

There were seven seasons, grouped as follows. (The links go to playlists in BoB, where you can watch the entire series.)

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984–1985)
  2. The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1986–1988)
  3. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1991–1993)
  4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994)

Episodes can also be found on YouTube.


Sherlock Holmes

The original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle consist of four novels and 56 short stories, published between 1887 and 1927.

The novels are:

  1. A Study in Scarlet
  2. The Sign of the Four
  3. The Hound of the Baskervilles
  4. The Valley of Fear

The short stories are collected in five volumes:

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  2. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  3. The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  4. His Last Bow
  5. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

You can read all of them for free at and (with the exception of The Case-Book) at Project Gutenberg.

A Study in Scarlet is the book in which Dr Watson first meets Sherlock Holmes, and therefore perhaps the best book to start with. If you prefer short stories, you could start with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel by George Orwell. It was published in June 1949 – 70 years ago this month. It has been translated into numerous languages.

In the year 1984 Britain is a province of a superstate ruled by the Party. It is a society of meaningless slogans and worship of the Party leader, Big Brother. There is no privacy and dissent is punished by torture, brainwashing and death. The main character in the novel, Winston Smith, tries to rebel against the system.


Seynt Valentynes day

The Parlement of Foules (parliament of fowls, or birds) is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer written in about 1381. It mentions Saint Valentine’s Day as a special day to find a lover:

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.The Parlement of Foules (lines 309-315)

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there to choose his mate
Of every kind that men can think of,
And that so huge a noise did they make
That earth and sea and tree and every lake
So full was, that scarcely was there space
For me to stand, so full was all the place.

You can see the British Library’s manuscript of the poem. The language is Middle English. (See also this online dictionary.)