An insight into the current German psyche has been revealed in the country's largest ever poll of favourite books.
In a national project that mirrored the BBC's The Big Read, the German public placed The Lord of the Rings at the top of their most loved literature. The list of prized publications, in which the Bible ranked second, offers a glimpse into a German public which, according to some, is desperate to escape its "current air of pessimism". Around 250,000 people took part in Das Grosse Lesen, organised by the television station ZDF to raise the profile of reading in the lead-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Perhaps most surprising in the results was the success of New Labour's former darling, Ken Follett's book The Pillars of the Earth, which came third. It made only 33rd spot in the BBC's poll. When asked about the success of his book, Follett told ZDF viewers: "People predicted that a book about the middle ages wouldn't be successful, but the people of Germany have proved them wrong." The most popular books featured either escapist, moralistic or self-improvement literature, such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.
Although these books were dubbed "esoteric bibles" or dismissed as "kitsch" by members of ZDF's studio panel, the results could hint at the current mood which prevails in the country. Elisabeth Lienert, a literary specialist at the University of Bremen, said: "The mood of people in Germany is very low at the moment.
"This current air of pessimism is due to the deteriorating economic situation. People need some sort of way to escape and they are finding the answer in fantasy literature such as The Lord of the Rings and The Pillars of the Earth." Professor Lienert added that she was surprised at the success of the Bible, as it was "not usually popular to admit to reading the Bible". The BBC's Big Read results revealed the British public was largely loyal to its own authors, such as Jane Austen, George Orwell and Tolkien.
The results of Das Grosse Lesen shed light on a country which preferred to embrace international publications.
"One of the problems with the Germans is that they are not proud of their traditions and culture. They reject their own writers and turn to international bestsellers which are promoted by the media," said Prof Lienert.
ZDF's quest in launching Das Grosse Lesen was to raise the profile of reading in Germany. The head of the board of directors of the reading foundation, Dieter Schormann, said: "Putting reading in the limelight is the best thing that could have happened to Germany."
ZDF's Das grosse Lesen1 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
2 The Bible
3 The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
4 Perfume - Patrick Süskind
5 The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
6 Buddenbrooks - Thomas Mann
7 The Physician - Noah Gordon
8 The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
9 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
10 Pope Joan - Donna Cross
[from The Guardian]