The ABC’s high-brow version of Big Brother, the interactive literary popularity contest My Favourite Book, has left many literary buffs scratching their heads. Where was Peter Carey, Bryce Courtney and co and just who was Col Stringer and why did he come in twelfth?

A Crikey subscriber has done some number crunching and questions the raw figures of My Favourite Book:

I thought the My Favourite Book program on the ABC was lots of fun on Sunday night.

However, I noticed we heard nothing about the details of the votes – no raw figures and even no percentages. We were only told the ranking of the top 10, and a few snippets about the top 100.

In the top 10, two books tied for equal ninth. What! That makes me suspicious that we are talking about really small numbers of votes here. In the SMH we are told there were 15,000 voters and 5,000 different book titles. An average of 3 votes per book.

Does anyone know the raw figures? My guess is that the winners got about 100 votes and the equal ninth books got about 10 votes.
Yours in statistics

Paul

Meanwhile, an ABC insider writes:

I’d just thought I’d let you know, although it’s probably un-provable, that members of the My Favourite Book production staff went around the ABC getting staff to fill out votes. I personally voted twice and one staff member was asked to vote 10 times for A Fortunate Life so it would make it into an appropriate placing.

In anyone’s language the results were massaged, not that it really matters in this instance, but if the mentality is to rig this, where else will they do it?

The books editor of The Age, Jason Steger, has also joined the debate in with this illumanating column: Are these really Australia’s favourite books?

Steger writes:

The real surprise of the poll is that someone by the name of Col Stringer appears to be one of Australia’s most-loved authors. Col who? Like most people, until Sunday I had never heard of this Gold Coast-based evangelist whose 800 Horsemen about the role of the Australian Light Horse in Palestine came in at No. 12.

Now perhaps there are thousands of Stringer enthusiasts out there – there must certainly be a quite a few Stringer voters – but I found it hard to track down one of his books in my regular bookshops. Clearly the Christian fundamentalist vote has come out in force – much as it did it last month in the US presidential election.

Block voting like this casts the whole exercise into doubt. Given that there were 5000 titles nominated, it would be interesting to know exactly how many votes managed to propel the Reverend Stringer to such dizzy heights. Similarly, Falun Gong adherents presumably voted Zhaun Falun by Li Hongzhi into 14th spot.

Those that didn’t make the ABC’s Favourite Book list

A respected newspaper journalist writes:

Never mind the quality, feel the width! How can the ABC seriously claim credence for a survey that resulted in only a handful of Aussie authors in the top 100 (do we count Bryce as one of us)?

Are we supposed to believe 15,000 Australians put their hands up for Captain Underpants And The Invasion Of The Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space by Dav Pilkey (who?) and Magician by Raymond E. Feist (who?) ahead of Peter Carey’s vast and popular output? Not one of Pete’s books on the list. Poor old Oscar, shattered Lucinda.

Does the ABC expect us to believe more people waded through – and voted for – Heart of Darkness, Atlas Shrugged, Anna Karenina and – good grief – War and Peace at No.62 than bought, borrowed and enjoyed the works of Carey, Christina Stead, George Johnston, Tom Keneally, Robert Drewe, Thea Astley, Ruth Park, and, yes, Patrick White?

Or did they see the movies or read the Classic Comics versions?

Even leaving the Aussies out, where is D.H. Lawrence? What, no one voted for Lady Chat? What about the other very popular writers of our time: Vonnegut, Doctorow, Lessing, Le Carre, Deighton, Dick Francis etc? People read and enjoyed War and Peace more than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

In response to “Respected Newspaper Journalist”:

A subscriber writes:

In criticising the ABC’s My Favourite Book list, Respected Newspaper Journalist has done more to parade his own personal biases and seek to be some arbiter of what people should like rather than find fault with the list. I can safely guess from his response that “he” is a middle-aged, white, male Anglo-Australian, who is stuck in 1978 (maybe 1983), has decidedly middle-brow tastes (but thinks of himself as cultured) and has no young children or grandchildren (or at least never asks what they read hence never heard of Captain Underpants).

I think the ABC list is a bit idiosyncratic and suffers from a recency effect but hey “readers” are not just middle-aged male curmudgeons with middle-brow tastes – they include kids (like mine) who devour Captain Underpants, Harry Potter and Deltora Quest and adults who read Matthew Reilly potboilers or Raymond Feist’s fantasy epics. Not my cup of tea, those books, but who I am to say what people should and shouldn’t like.

Brad Pragnell
Killarney Heights

Peter Who?… writes another subscriber:

Of all the Aussie novelists he mentioned, “…Carey, Christina Stead, George Johnston, Tom Keneally, Robert Drewe, Thea Astley, Ruth Park, and, yes, Patrick White” – I have only heard of Keneally and Patrick White (never mind reading them).

However, I have read every one of Raymond Feists’s books, and along with David Eddings, Feist is probably the best fantasy novelist who is currently still writing.

It all comes down to taste and likes/dislikes I suppose, and to admonish people for voting for Feist ahead of any of the writers he mentions and admires, illustrates a lack of regard for other’s opinions.

Out of interest did Milan Kundera, Gibran or Coelho make the top 100? – all wonderful writer’s especially the latter two.

Maybe we don’t regard Aussie writers as highly as we regard writers from overseas?

Tim Marsh

The problem with the ABC’s Favourite Books:

I was all riled up to chastise RNJ for his/her supercilious yet servile (wait, I’m sure you left out a few Miles Franklin winners there) dribbling, but Brad Pragnell beat me to the punch with more deadly accuracy than I could have summoned. Middle-brow curmudgeon indeed. Heart of Darkness, incidentally, whilst more turgid and introspective than your average potboiler, is a relatively low-overhead classic at less than a hundred pages, depending on the edition, and has, of course, many ingredients of action adventure readability. I like, incidentally, that Conrad has been stripped of his first name on the ABC website, like Cher.

Given that Mr Pragnell has beaten me to the vitriol, let me content myself with my raised-eyebrow moment from the list, which was the presence of the Bible. Of course it’s a great work of literature, but I still tend to think that most Bible fans are also Christians, rather than disinterested litterateurs, and therefore plugging the truth-value of God’s Word. I suppose it’s just a side-effect of the overwhelming preponderance of fiction on the list (was this a condition of nomination?), but surely it must be with mixed feelings that a true believer finds the Bible gazumped by The Lord of the Rings and edging out Harry Potter by a scant margin.

John Attridge

CRIKEY: Check out the ABC website for yourself to see if your favourite book made it into the My Favourite Book – Top 100