Last year BBC Arts asked a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to come together and create a list of 100 books that impacted their lives, kicking off a year long programme of events in libraries across the UK. Marking the anniversary of the landmark publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719, the programme aims to celebrate the English language novel and the ways in which it has shaped our world. Divided into ten categories, the 100-title list is diverse and wide-ranging, although arguably eurocentric in its exclusion of translated literature. Encouraging readers across the country to join the conversation using the hashtag #MyReadingLife, BBC Arts aims to start a discussion about how books influence our thinking. You can find the full list of titles chosen by the panel here.
This is a blog post that I have been meaning to write ever since watching the BBC Arts launch last year, but couldn’t decide on a list that I felt truly reflected the novels that have shaped my world. After much deliberation, I eventually came up with the following ten books…
Trumpet – Jackie Kay
I personally believe that Jackie Kay’s Trumpet encapsulates the spirit of individual identity more than any other book I have read. Based upon the life of American jazz musician Billy Tipton, Trumpet depicts how the death of Joss Moody, a transgender man, impacts his friends and family. The novel illustrates how an identity is subjectively built by the individual and not just a product of categorization or labelling. Published in 1998, Trumpet is arguably an even more important book now than ever.
Love, Sex & Romance
Everything I know about Love – Dolly Alderton
I debated whether to include this book here as I only read it in 2018, but it is a book that has really stuck with me ever since putting it down. Told in a collection of lists, short chapters and even recipes, Dolly Alderton’s memoir perfectly encapsulates Love, Sex and Romance during your late teens and twenties. Whilst I can’t relate to all of the exerpiences in this book, there is a universality to Alderton’s take-home message that provides you with food-for-thought. Everything I know About Love is a book that I often revisit, finding more to take away from it each time.
The BFG – Roald Dahl
I couldn’t not include The BFG in this list. Anyone who knows me will know how much I love both this book and Roald Dahl’s other children’s stories. The BFG fills me with joy upon every re-read and I truly believe that if everyone read this book at least once a year the world would be a much kinder, more tolerant place.
Life, Death & Other Worlds
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the first novel I can remember becoming fully immersed in the world of. I remember my Grandma buying me a copy of this book from Liverpool, then me staying up late that night at their house to read it all in one go. This is probably the first book I remember reading where someone dies too so it is even more fitting for this category. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is truly magical and a book I will always treasure.
Politics, Power & Protest
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
No book encapsulates the capabilities of politics and power for me more than The Handmaid’s Tale. I have re-read this novel a few times and everytime it still manages to scare me. Depicting a totalitarian regime that polices the female body and women’s place in society, Atwood took inspiration from real-life acts of female oppression within both religious and secular societies when creating Gilead. The acts of resistance against the regime throughout this novel are illustrative of the endurance of humanity even under the most horrific of circumstances.
Class & Society
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
Trainspotting is one of my favourite novels of all time. Irvine Welsh skillfully weaves together multiple voices to create a snapshot of life in contemporary capitalist society at the end of the Twentieth Century. This book has taught me more about society’s injustices and failings than any other I have ever read, particularly the chapter entitled ‘Winter in West Granton’. Told from the perspective of society’s underclass, Trainspotting is a look at the alternative to ‘Choosing Life’ as it is offered to you by consumer capitalism. Plus, I wrote my undergrad dissertation on it so I couldn’t not include Trainspotting here!
Coming of Age
How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran
Despite being able to recognise this books many shortfalls now, when I first read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman as a teenager it was formative in shaping my understanding of feminism and what it can mean to be female. From periods to pubic hair and sex to stilettos, Caitlin Moran gave voice to the insecurities and confusions of hundreds of women and helped to make me feel comfortable in my own skin.
Family & Friendship
Little Women – Louisa May Allcott
When asked to think of a book that encapsulates family and friendship, it is Little Women that immediately comes to my mind. The March Sisters illustrate how different we can be from our family, yet how we love and cherish them all the same. This is a heartwarming tale about family, friendship and the many forms that love can take.
Crime & Conflict
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
No other novel is better suited for this category than To Kill a Mockingbird. Although it has been a long time since I last read Harper Lee’s classic, the story and its characters still feel vivid in my mind. To Kill a Mockingbird can teach us all something about standing up for what we believe in and doing the right thing no matter the consequences.
Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada
Based on the true story of a working-class couple who became part of the German Resistance during the Second World War, Alone in Berlin is the story of two incredibly brave and resiliant rule breakers. The first anti-Nazi book to be published by a German following World War II, Hans Fallada’s novel is a testament to those working to take down the regime from the inside-out. Following the lives of Otto and Elise Hampel as they drop anonymous postcards featuring anti-Nazi messages across Berlin, this is a novel rife with tension and brimming with humanity.
What books would you include on your list, and why? Feel free to join in the conversation using the hashtag #MyReadingLife, or leave a comment below!