The Novels That Shaped Our World

When the Sunday New York Times “By the Book” section asks someone, usually a writer, to identify books they are reading or one with a powerful impact on their lives, I feel so connected to the person when a book I know is named. If it’s a book new to me, I usually look for it in the library.  Like many of you, I love finding book lists and recommendations.

So, when the BBC decided to ask a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose “100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives,” I could not wait to review the list. “These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners. Organized into themes, they reflect the ways books help shape and influence our thinking.”

I was equally surprised by the books on the list I had read, the books I had not read, and those I had never heard of. Some were predictable, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Some seemed fun to read but below the mark, like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary. Others were tempting to find, just by the title and author’s reputation, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both.

I’ve read only about a third on the list, some as required reading in my past life, but I was pleased to see a newer book – Homegoing.

My top ten from the list include these I’ve read – and still remember:

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  7. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
  8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  9. The Witches by Roald Dahl 
  10. Rebecca by Dapne du Maurier

If you are interested in checking out the complete list, you can find it at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/494P41NCbVYHlY319VwGbxp/explore-the-list-of-100-novels-that-shaped-our-world 

My next read should be fun – discovered from the list:

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse  

Free from Gutenberg Press but I want the pictures, so I’ve ordered it from my library.

 

 

Required Reading for Freshmen

Remember the summer reading lists when you were in grade school?  And the book you read the day before school started?

By the time you got to college, you’d figured out how to read enough to get by.  The freshman year experience usually orients new students to college with a course around a book.  The book that was to catapult me to new vistas of understanding and an easy transition to college life was Siddhartha.  I don’t remember the discussion, but I do remember the book.

In the New York Times Book Review section, Jennifer Schuessler lists some of the books ivy-covered and brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning are requiring for entering freshmen – Inside the List.  Have you read any of them?

  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer
  • Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  • Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers
  • The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
  • Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow

Wondering what other freshmen are reading?

Mount Holyoke’s required summer reading was Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  Tufts freshmen are discussing Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat.  The National Association of Scholars has a recommended list of 37 books for discussion.   

One of my alma mater’s is requiring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – have you read it yet?