Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird swept home as Oxford’s favourite book in the Oxford Student Big Book Survey; one of three twentieth-century American novels in the top five.
Lee’s novel polled almost twice as many votes as its nearest competitor; F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, soon to be adapted for the big screen by Baz Luhrman. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind all tied in third place.
In amongst such big names, Zafon’s presence might surprise some. The Shadow of the Wind is his first adult novel, published in 2004. Originally written in Spanish, the English translation has sold over a million copies in the UK, and has clearly captured imaginations in Oxford.
In the ‘Favourite Author’ category Virginia Woolf edged to victory, ahead of a four-way tie for second place. Clearly opinion was divided between classic literature and more modern favourites, with JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett sharing the spoils with Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
Rowling in particular had mixed success on the survey. Along with her second place in the favourite author category she also took second in the ‘most underrated’ poll. However this was counterbalanced by earning the dubious honour of being ‘most overrated’ as well.
In the latter category she pushed Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series into second place, with Jane Austen in third. A predictably divisive JRR Tolkien took fourth place, while Emily Brontë and Charles Dickens split fifth place.
Contrastingly on the underrated side, Canadian author Margaret Atwood came out on top, with her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale coming in for particular praise. Predictably a wide range of writers were seen as underrated, but Barbara Pym, Ben Elton, James Baldwin, John Steinback, Joseph Heller, children’s author Judith Kerr, Milan Kundera, Vladamir Nabokov and George Orwell all received multiple votes – Orwell’s Burmese Days and Down and Out in Paris and London picked out in contrast to his better known works.
Most of those surveyed felt that being in Oxford had slashed the amount they could read: 85% said that being at Oxford were reading either seriously or moderately less than they had done before University. Nonetheless 35% of respondents were still able to read more than 10 books a year for pleasure outside of the course, more than the national average for books read in a year.
And there was plenty of evidence that Oxford students could find the time to use reading to put on a show: 35% of students admitted reading a book ‘just to look intelligent’. The most common authors named were Dickens, Austen, Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce, but according to one student the label applies to ‘most classical literature I have read’.
The OxStu Big Book Survey was taken online by 151 students. If you think the people of Oxford have got it all wrong, let us know your favourites (or otherwise!) in the comments
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
JK Rowling (Harry Potter)
Stephanie Meyer (Twilight)