I was invited to celebrate the launch of the BBC’s ‘Novels That Shaped Our World’ campaign at New Broadcasting House on Tuesday night with other book bloggers and vloggers. It begins a year-long celebration of literature at the BBC and also marks the 300th anniversary of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which is widely considered to be the first modern English novel.
Six writers and critics – Stig Abell, Syima Aslam, Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal, Mariella Frostrup and Alexander McCall Smith – have come up with a list of 100 novels that shaped our world. The list itself is not going to please everyone. It consists of English language titles only and it also includes several series such as the Earthsea trilogy and Discworld, so to call it a list of “100 novels” isn’t strictly true. However, I think those bemoaning the fact that it is not a collection of “greatest” novels featuring lots of worthy tomes are slightly missing the point, as it is very much a list of books which have had personal impact on the panellists. That’s not to say that books traditionally thought of as great literature are not here because they are (‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Middlemarch’, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ are among those which made the cut). But it seems to have upset some people that they appear alongside more modern books considered to be guilty pleasures (‘The Twilight Saga’ and ‘Riders’ being two which are typically excluded from these kind of lists). Organised thematically, it’s a bit like an updated version of The Big Read series from the early 2000s but without a public vote, thereby preventing the overrepresentation of Jeffrey Archer and Jacqueline Wilson this time. Continue reading
I enjoyed reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson last year and her final novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ published in 1962 three years before Jackson’s death tells the story of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood who lives with her older sister, Constance, and their uncle, Julian, on a large secluded estate in New England. Six years earlier, half of the Blackwood family including Merricat and Constance’s parents were poisoned when the sugar bowl used at dinner was laced with arsenic. Although Constance was acquitted of the murders, the three surviving Blackwoods remain isolated from the rest of their small village. However, the arrival of their cousin Charles threatens their future and Merricat becomes increasingly suspicious of the real reason why he has suddenly turned up out of the blue. Continue reading
I originally intended to write a blog post about ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kesey during Banned Books Week (27th September – 3rd October). However, I fell a bit behind with my reviewing around that time and while it’s important to have these events to spread awareness, reading banned books needn’t be restricted to just one week of the year. First published in 1962 followed by an equally famous film adaptation in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson, the story is set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon and follows the lives of the patients who live under the controlled regime of Nurse Ratched. However, the arrival of a new patient, Randle McMurphy, who faked insanity to serve his prison sentence in what he believed would be more comfortable surroundings, soon changes everything.
Having read some slightly silly thrillers recently in the form of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, I thought it was time to read one of the very first “sensation” books of the mystery genre. Originally published in serial form between 1859 and 1860, ‘The Woman in White’ is Wilkie Collins’ most famous novel and also happens to be a book which has been on my reading list for a very long time. It opens with Walter Hartwright encountering a mysterious woman dressed all in white near Hampstead Heath. He is later hired to tutor Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe in watercolour painting at Limmeridge House in Cumberland. Walter falls in love with Laura but she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Although Walter learns that the woman in white is Anne Catherick, a local woman who has escaped from an asylum, he notices that Laura bears a striking resemblance to her. After their marriage, Sir Percival and Laura return to live in Blackwater accompanied by Glyde’s friend Count Fosco, one of the most formidable villains in literature who concocts a cunning plan to help Sir Percival get his hands on Laura’s money. Continue reading
I can’t really explain what made me pick up ‘V.’ by Thomas Pynchon from the library shelf three weeks ago. It’s likely to have been a combination of recently seeing a trailer for the film adaptation of ‘Inherent Vice’ and coming across an old article in The Guardian by Ian Rankin about Pynchon as well as the weird and wonderful cover design of this Vintage Books edition. Moreover, although I’ve read a lot of enjoyable and thought-provoking books in the past few months, it’s been a while since I’ve read something that has properly challenged me. Continue reading
Until last week, the prospect of Harper Lee publishing a new book fifty-five years after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ seemed about as likely as Donna Tartt churning out novels at the same pace as Stephen King or E. L. James winning the Man Booker Prize. But this is exactly what was announced by her publishers at HarperCollins last Tuesday.
Few details have been revealed so far other than that the book is about Scout Finch returning to Alabama as an adult twenty years after the events in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ was written before ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but Lee was persuaded by her publishers to focus on Scout’s childhood instead. The original novel was subsequently lost before it was rediscovered last autumn.
‘The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life’ is Andy Miller’s account of his journey through reading fifty books he had always intended to read. After years of pretending to have read classic novels he had never even glanced at and realising that the only book he had read was ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown in the three years since becoming a parent, Miller set about finally getting round to some of the great works of literature which had passed him by for so long. Continue reading
When you have a reading list as long as mine and you don’t know what to choose next, sometimes it’s just easier to just start at the top. A book which had been lingering for a long time on my list was ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov, a fantastical satire about Soviet Russia widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature. Although difficult to summarise a plot as such, ‘The Master and Margarita’ is essentially a story about the devil in the form of Woland the magician who visits Moscow and wreaks havoc with his accomplices including Behemoth, a cigar-smoking vodka-drinking cat. Embedded in the story is another novel written by the unnamed Master who has been incarcerated for writing a book about the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Nozri (or Jesus Christ) while his former lover, Margarita, seeks help from Woland to be reunited with him. Continue reading
A little while ago, I wrote a post about the books I will probably never read (unless I break a leg or something, in which case I might give them a try). I also have a list of other books which have been sitting on my shelves for months or years which I really do plan to read. My good excuse is that I have been trying to make the most out university libraries which I will only have access to until the end of September so my official reading list and my Kindle have been neglected for a very long time. My poor excuse is that I am also a pretty terrible procrastinator even when it comes to getting round to things I enjoy like reading.
Books I Have Neglected
‘The Devil in the Flesh’ by Raymond Radiguet tells the semi-autobiographical story of an unnamed narrator who begins a tumultuous love affair at the age of 16 with Marthe, a 19 year old married woman whose husband is away fighting at the front during the First World War. The affair is soon discovered by their families and friends. Naturally, tragedy ensues. Continue reading
I have been meaning to read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ for absolutely ages – as I’ve mentioned, I find it easy to take classic literature for granted, knowing that it will always be easily available especially in electronic format, so it tends to get pushed down to the bottom of my TBR list. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ should have been bumped up to the top of my list sooner. The novel tells the story of a young man named Dorian Gray, who has a portrait painted of him by Basil Hallward. Dorian meets Basil’s friend, Lord Henry (Harry) Wotton, who believes that youth and beauty are the only things which really matter in the world and Dorian subsequently becomes heavily influenced by his ideas about aestheticism. However, the story takes a sinister turn when Dorian makes a wish that only his portrait should age and wither while he would look young forever, thus selling his soul for eternal youth. As you can imagine, the moral of the story is something along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for’… Continue reading
I had planned to read ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker when I was studying ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley at school but never got round to it. This chilling story begins with a young lawyer called Jonathan Harker visiting Count Dracula in Transylvania to conclude a real estate investment only to find he is effectively a prisoner at his castle. He survives his ordeal but the nightmare does not end there – several strange events are occurring back in England involving Jonathan’s fiancée Mina and her friend Lucy. It is up to Doctor Van Helsing to try and stop Dracula before it is too late… Continue reading