The panel who picked a BBC list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World have set out the reasons for their choices, including defending the appearance of Riders by Jilly Cooper.
Revealed last week, the list is part of the BBC’s year-long celebration of literature and included a range of books from Jane Austen to The Hunger Games.
Books that had had a personal or cultural impact were chosen by Stig Abell, Syima Aslam, Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal, Mariella Frostrup and Alexander McCall Smith, who appeared at a panel discussion at the British Library on Friday (11th November).
Before the panel went through the full list, Dawson revealed she had pushed for the inclusion of Riders, which Whiley pointed out had received "a lot of attention" for its inclusion. Dawson explained, as one of the categories for choices was Love, Sex and Romance, she was “struck by how little sex there was”.
She said Fifty Shades of Grey also came up on the discussion, but added: “This was the one that I felt had the biggest impact on my group of friends. My friends have a WhatsApp group especially for discussions about Rupert Campbell-Black. It has shaped their world and I think it has shaped a lot of women’s worlds as well – and men.”
Frostrup explained the choices were personal, saying: “Once we decided that we weren’t going to try and compose a list that talked in inflated terms about books that have shaped the world as it is today, but rather books that shaped our world, we just had a really good time talking about books we loved and books we remembered and books that have triggered us in our lives and inspired us. In many ways it was one of the easiest judging processes I’ve ever been through.”
The broadcaster, who also said the nearly 50-50 gender split had happened by accident, said: “The biggest difficulty we had was getting rid of books that we felt had just appeared on too many other lists before. It doesn’t mean they’re not great books, but the whole point of this I think is to bring some new titles out into the ether.”
Hosted by Jo Whiley, the discussion was broadcast at libraries around the UK. Abell revealed he had particularly championed the inclusion The Hound of the Baskervilles and Pride and Prejudice, a book he goes back to every two years. He explained of the Austen classic: “I love this book, I think it’s one of the great books in English literature.”
Elsewhere, Aslam praised V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. She revealed she had even torn out a page including an “intensely beautiful love scene” from one of Pullman’s books to show to friends. She said: “The books are just absolutely amazing and I think this trilogy is the one you had to read first.”
Among others, De Waal spoke for Beloved by Toni Morrison and the “very angry” Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. “Everyone’s got to read this book,” she said of Alan Sillitoe’s novel. “There’s no great message, it really is a slice of working class life. It’s very, very funny, very sad, very bitter, when you read it you read it in black and white because it has that grainy texture to it.”
And McCall Smith admitted he had picked A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, despite never managing to finish it. He said: “I’ve started it on many occasions and I’ve carried it around the world. I really have taken it on eight to 10 trips and started it and got into it and I love it, it’s wonderful.”
The list of 100 novels kicks off a year-long celebration of literature at the BBC, spearheaded by the landmark BBC Two three-part series "Novels That Shaped Our World", that began on 9th November.
it will form the basis of digital reading resources that will be made available on the BBC Arts website from January 2020. Everyone is encouraged to share their own stories of the novels that have had the biggest impact on them, using the hashtag #mybooklife.