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