British libraries pull in more visitors than football matches, with 405 million books borrowed every year.
World Book Day is being celebrated on 6 March and is opened online with Nigella Lawson's announcement that Britain reads more books than any other European country.
American Bill Bryson is the winning writer who best captures the zeitgeist of modern England in the festival's poll, beating Jeremy Paxman and Zadie Smith.
Welsh readers chose Work, Sex And Rugby by Lewis Davies, Scottish readers picked Me And Ma Girl by Des Dillon while Northern Ireland voted for Desire Lines by Annie McCartney.
What makes the British such bookworms? What do you like about your favourite book? Do you like Bill Bryson's writing on Britain? Have your reading tastes changed?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
I simply adore Eco's The Name of the Rose! It totally immerses you in medieval culture and politics, while still asking some rather wonderful questions about education, what is appropriate content, and how far ought one to go both to guard your heart as well as protect those over whom you have authority. It's wonderfully deep and delightfully simple all at the same time. Definitely a thinking book, but it reads like a thriller nonetheless!
It totally immerses you in medieval culture and politics
I have just read 1984 for the first time and it has blown me away. Possibly one of England's finest thinkers.
Ben Franklin, UK
Difficult choice. I can't decide between Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" or Huxley's "Brave New World". Very different I know but they both had a lasting impact on me.
Any book that you were supposed to read for school and actually enjoyed reading is a sign of a good book. For me, it was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fred Fenster, Uk
Jane Austen, every time - Pride and Prejudice or Emma. The most accomplished observer of human behaviour.
Also enjoy Shakespeare; can't bear Dickens; struggled through Lord of the Rings, not likely to try again; can't read Bill Bryson in public because he makes me laugh out loud! (Yes, I was that manic woman on the train!)
The most accomplished observer of human behaviour
All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque. At this time of indecision about the rights and wrongs of war, this is a must read for anyone not convinced of the human cost of battle, both physical and psychological.
USA, originally from Ireland
"Winters Tale" by Mark Helprin, sadly out of print in the UK. This is really a book that takes you away into a completely different world.
Peter Galbavy, UK
My all time favourite has to be Mikhail Bulghakov's "Master and Margarita" - intelligent, surreal and very funny. And nothing beats Terry Pratchett's Discworlds novels for a bit of light relief!
"Master and Margarita" - intelligent, surreal and very funny
My favourite of all time has to be series written by David Eddings, The Belgariad and the Mallorean along with the two prequels Belgarath the Sorcerer & Polgara the Sorceress. If you liked Harry Potter (can't wait for the 5th book!)you'll enjoy these.
Ned O'Brien, UK
Years ago I read a book of the true letters from a downed Second World War aviator. He knows he is dying from his burns and sees his life in brutal honesty. He knows he has been a liar and cheat all his life and doesn't hide it. He was also a man of great intelligence. It affected me greatly - so much so I joined the forces as well. The book is now out of print but was called The Pitcher and the Well by J D McDonald. It makes you reflect on the kind of human being you really are.
I enjoyed all Bill Bryson's books very much, but as another reader remarked, the ones in which he makes fun of Americans are much the funniest, so my favourite is Notes from a Big Country. However, Notes from a Small Island did capture something very truthful about our weird and wonderful country, especially the descriptions of the careless destruction of our heritage by pulling down or defacing beautiful old buildings. We have so much history that we have grown careless with it.
To choose a favourite book generally, is impossible, but I am currently enjoying the Lord of the Rings trilogy and feel that this also represents something about England. Middle earth, especially the Shire, seems to be Tolkien's image of a perfect rural England, maybe a England that never really existed, but one that is definitely part of our national consciousness.
Favourite? I have so many that I love to read and read. Top though would have to be anything by William Horwood - particularly the 6 Duncton books (Duncton Wood, Duncton Quest, Duncton Found, Duncton Tales, Duncton Rising and Duncton Stone) but his others are also great reads. Tolkien would then follow.
Claire Barber, UK
Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte, Cold Mountain Charles Frazier and Stupid White Men. Have had to buy all of these books twice as I have re-read and loaned them to friends them so many times the first copies fell apart!
The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Possibly the most important book one may read.
Nigel Lucas, UK
Well, although I wouldn't say it was my favourite book now, the books I most enjoyed in my "youth" were a couple of series called The Belgariad & The Mallorean by David Eddings. These are fantasy books (much in the style of The Lord of the Rings - my favourite). I would recommend anyone who likes this genre to give them ago.
Aquil Khan, England
Somehow I see the popularity of Bill Bryson's books on Britain as a sign of trying to sustain a somewhat false and cosy view of these Islands. Although there are still many wonderful places and much beautiful scenery; a lot of the country is ruined by poor architecture, ugly new housing and endless litter. We have little civic pride and taste in design. He does not expose these shortcomings enough.
I see the popularity of Bill Bryson's books on Britain as a sign of trying to sustain a somewhat false and cosy view of these Islands
My favourite book is Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master & Margarita". A wonderful book which effortlessly weaves together 1930's Moscow and Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion. The humour and observation are second to none, and the reflection on Stalin's Soviet Union adds spice.
Exhibitionism by Toby Litt, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor La Vey. Very different books with one thing in common - I couldn't put them down...
Richard, Leeds, UK
Right now I am going through the superb book" Best Democracy money can buy", written by an investigative American Journalist Greg Palast. I would suggest it to all who wants to see and understand how power works and corrupts!
Ali Ahmed Rind, Islamabad, Pakistan
Probably Burmese Days by Orwell, though Coming Up For Air is also very special. For Wales, How Green Was My Valley is still a classic.
Steve Wilcockson, Suffolk
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes remains a book that will haunt me.
My favourite work of literature of all time is
Don Quixote de La Mancha - it has everything, but
most of all a great deal of humour. This book had
me laughing out loud many times.
Having been born in the UK and educated in South Africa (1962 - 1974) I guess that I have a special interest in books from that continent. That is why Wilbur Smith is my favourite author and my favourite read has got to be River God. While it is not directly linked to South Africa it in many respects represents thoughts and situations of the world today
Les Bradshaw, England
Isabelle Allende's Daughter of Fortune and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon are my two favourites. Both women waste no words and can really put together a great story.
I have read many a book and still by far the best remains, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. He is a superb storyteller, providing outstanding characters, in an enthralling journey of a young boy growing up in rural South Africa, with a dream.
Chris O'Kill, UK
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Ever since an old girlfriend first gave me a copy. Maybe it's always reminded me of her because she had a Tess-like quality.
Steve B, Scotland
I would say that Louis De Berniere has to be one of the best 'The War of Don Emanuelle's Nether Regions' and the following two books in the series were amazing! A roller coaster ride of wonderful humour one minute and the terrible horrors of what man will do to man the next - brilliant! I couldn't put them down. Also Miss Reid, whose stories of quiet rural village life are so tranquil - no sex, no violence - so soothing in the modern world!
Stories of quiet rural village life are so tranquil - no sex, no violence - so soothing in the modern world
I re-read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice regularly. It has a magical ability to calm, charm and cheer, and its humour, wisdom and shrewd observation of human nature are unsurpassed. Its pure elegance is quintessentially 18th century, but for ease of reading it seems as if it was written today.
Susan Smith, Australia
Not one, but two, if that's O.K.!
Firstly, Times Arrow, by Martin Amis is just brilliant - none of his usual characterisations, just a simple, if bizarre, premise. Had me thinking for weeks after I'd finished it. Second; Lord of the Flies. Studied it at O-Level - interesting. Read it again some years ago, it is just superb.
Not having to pontificate is so liberating!
"Le Grand Meaulnes" by Alain Fournier & "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier. I'm also a huge fan of Bill Bryson.
Wendy, USA (A Brit in NY)
Louis de Bernieres' South American Trilogy - "The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts", "Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord" and "The Trobulesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman" are, in my view, outstanding. Brilliant Characters, humour, and in some sections stark brutality all go together with excellent story-telling to make a great read. Ten times better than Captain Corelli.
Try not to be on the bus/tube when you discover Damon Runyon's humorous/short stories e.g. "Guys & Dolls" and "Little Miss Marker" that not only transferred to stage/screen but in turn became a source of inspiration for Roald Dahl's style of writing. Character driven (but wickedly funny) stories you wish were all on screen!
My favourite book? For me it has to be the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in five parts) by Douglas Adams - Intelligent observations, witty, great characters, wonderfully bizarre and of course funny as hell! It still stands up today on what is probably my umpteenth reading. Highly recommended and helps you see the world through an altogether different pair of eyes.
My favourite read is "Catcher in the Rye" JD Salinger. It was required in English Lit and I still enjoy rereading it today.
Jeff Long, US
George Orwell's - 1984 - it remains the most powerful for me, although I'm unsure whether to class it as fiction or non-fiction these days.
1984 - it remains the most powerful for me, although I'm unsure whether to class it as fiction or non-fiction these days
Martin, England, UK
Anything by William Trevor is worth reading, but I think Fools of Fortune is outstanding. His latest collection of short stories, The Hill Bachelors, is breath taking.
Mary Monks, Ireland
I find Russian literature quite fascinating. Dr.Zhivago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich have always captivated me.
Sarah Mirza, India
My favourrite book is either Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand or Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. I just read Being There and the messages in it are so powerful. It really shows how people will believe whatever they want to believe. Regardless of whether it is true. Atlas Shrugged was so wonderful because it showed greatness and what happens to greatness within society.
I have read and re-read John le Carre's books, particularly "The Quest for Carla" trilogy and The Little Drummer Girl". Wonderful use of the language and plots that never cease to amaze. Why are we bookworms? Well, for my generation, it's because we were given our first library ticket at 7 years of age and had no television until we were 14. Bill Bryson's books are fun, but I preferred Paul Theroux's portrait of England in "Kingdom by the Sea"
One of my favourite books is called "The Gap in the Curtain" by John Buchan. I have not seen it for ages but it is a good'un. It seems more interesting to pick an unusual book rather than the usual suspects.
My favourite read is Dialogues of Plato. It is a timeless read. I try to read it once every year. It directs me to evolve the right way.
Agha Ata, USA
1984 is my favourite read, an excellent novel by George Orwell.
Gulliver's Travels still remains as pertinent today as it did when it was written. Swift's ability to recognise the flaws of man combined with his sense of irony makes this an indispensable read
Gulliver's Travels still remains as pertinent today as it did when it was written
Many of the great works of literature are wasted on me - I tend to give up as soon as it gets depressing! But I love anything by Terry Pratchett - every one of the Discworld series are great, easy going and amusing books but at the same time have interesting and thought-provoking takes on philosophy, science, religion and a whole host of other things that I probably haven't even noticed.
Tolkien's Lord of The Rings is my all time favourite read. It is a timeless classic. It blends imagination with the ever competing interests of good and evil. It has inspired millions of people to dream a little and will probably continue to do so for many more years.
Fiona Fraser, UK
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert Pirzig continues to be my favourite book of all time - it's a fabulous, multi-layered story that actually ends properly, rather than tailing off into nothing.
Without wishing to sound pretentious, I still find Shakespeare fascinating not only in the richness of the language but the plots are so contemporary. However, I love the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwall and Ben Elton always gets a giggle.
My favourite book of all time is Lord of the Rings, I can read it again and again and still find something new in it
Beloved by Toni Morrison is not altogether easy but all the more satisfying and rewarding. Toni Morrison is a weaver of words on how individuals and the notion of a community copes with and survives the degradation of slavery.
Morrison is clear not to assign blame and allows the reader to draw their own conclusion. I have read it now six times, studied it for A-level and degree and my love for it has grown.
Toni Morrison is a weaver of words
I'm not a good reader... but River God by Wilbur Smith was the first book that I couldn't put down. It's set in Egypt 3,000 years ago. It just proved to me that it's not the subject matter... it's the way you tell it!
I wish my English lessons hadn't been so dull, I might have discovered reading earlier.
Stupid White Men is by Michael Moore is superb and a must for all Talking Point Iraq pontificators. Re: Scottish writers, Iain Banks caters for more emotions than Irvine Welsh, from the disturbing Complicity and Wasp Factory to the more uplifting Whit.
De Bernieres' Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a fantastic read; epic yes, but the fusion of romance and tragedy rarely comes better. NEVER EVER watch the film instead though!
Those lucky enough to know George Sand (French 19th Century) should try either Mauprat or La Petite Fadette. Truly beautiful prose, and also great stories.
NEVER EVER watch the film instead
Anything Dickens, but at the moment Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, a great read.
Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie is the best book ever. I defy anyone to read the opening paragraph and then not finish the book.
La Symphonie Pastorale by Andre Gide is a charming short story, albeit a little disturbing.
I also belong to the Harry Potter fan club even though I'm 25 (which is also a little disturbing).
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. One of the best works of modern fiction there is. Totally uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. Amazing.
My other favourite is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I read it for A-level, many years ago and I found it fascinating.
I'd be interested to know what other people think of these two masterpieces.
At university I study quite a lot of obscure French and Spanish literature, and whilst I enjoy it considerably, there's still nothing like sitting down with an old favourite. When I was small I loved The Little Princess and The Secret Garden as well as Hound of the Baskervilles. Now I look to reading in English for respite rather than to further my education. I can read Len Deighton's Bernard Samson series of nine books over and over again, I love Harry Potter along with the rest of the world, and I admit that I'm currently reading a Jilly Cooper, the fact that it's complete rubbish making it all the more enjoyable!
I loved The Secret Garden as well as Hound of the Baskervilles
My favourite book is Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham. I must have read it a dozen times or more. There is something deeply disturbing about the breakdown of society which makes this book even more relevant these days Also Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells is another beauty. Lessons to be learnt!!
My best book at the moment is also very timely: Stupid White Men by Michael Moore. Go read it.
Anything by Terry Pratchett - wisdom and great humour without too many gags. Add to that, in Samuel Vimes, one of literature's greatest heroes - a cynical, hardbitten alcoholic whom we can all aspire to being!
Notes From A Small Island may be funny, but Bryson's other book The Lost Continent is the funniest thing ever written. I'm taking it on holiday with me for its sixth read.
It's FAR funnier listening to Bryson insulting Americans than insulting the English, I'm sorry to say, although admittedly it doesn't 'capture the zeitgeist of modern England'.
But then neither does my favourite novel of all time, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
Bryson's book The Lost Continent is the funniest thing ever written
Go read Fortunate Son. All about Bush's rise to power and his abuse thereof.
My favourite book is the Earthsea Quartet by Ursula le Guin. I grew up with it and, even as an adult, I still find it magical and full of insight and wisdom.