7 Books I Would Have Added To BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped Our World' List
It’s difficult to even fault the BBC's list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. I went in expecting the absolute worst, a list of the same outdated novels mainly by dead straight, white men who lived in England, but this couldn't be further from the truth — the list was delightfully varied with something for everyone. This isn’t a catalogue for literary snobs; not every book is intellectually stimulating with complex prose. Here, children's cult fantasy tales are held to the same standard as complicated politically-charged stories.
Almost every book that’s had some significance in my life is on this list. Of course, with bright feminist eyes, I see the monumental flaws in vampire flick Twilight, but I can’t deny the (obsessive) impact those books had on my life as a teenager. I read His Dark Materials for the first time this year, and the breadth of Philip Pullman’s imagination practically induced an existential crisis. Noughts and Crosses crystallised what my brain wasn’t able to put into words about race as a child. And The Color Purple taught me more about myself and the world than I could ever put into words.
Seeing some of the most impactful novels in my life on the BBC list, means I trust it and will happily use this as my new reading list. I can’t really fault the BBC's 100 novels list, but I can add it. So here is a list of seven more novels that might not of shaped the world, but they definitely shaped mine:
'A Series of Unfortunate Events' — Lemony Snicket
This series about three orphaned siblings taught me that it’s okay to not always be happy, it didn’t sugarcoat life or patronise just because it was a children's book. Loved ones die and humans can be unkind, but it’s how you learn to navigate these things that's important. And, as someone with dyslexia, it was also the first proper “chapter” book I read that didn’t just look like words on a page — I could actually visualise the downtrodden Baudelaires and Count Olaf up to a new evil plan.
'Trainspotting' - Irvine Welsh
I'm sure I was far too young to read a novel about heroin users in Edinburgh when I did, but that’s the joy of reading at a school age — adults rarely check the content of your books. Trainspotting opened my eyes up to this underbelly in society, a parallel universe away from the law and societal norms. And it’s where I first learned about drugs and addiction. Also, it was a nice challenge reading a book written in Scots dialect.
'Trumpet' - Jackie Kay
I first read Trumpet as a part of my English Literature degree at a time in my life when I'd stopped reading for pleasure. Amongst the sea of novels by white, straight men, this tale sang to me. Jackie Kay’s debut novel beautifully explored gender, race, and sexuality through one family in Scotland going through a bereavement of a beloved father, husband, and jazz musician.
'Persepolis' - Marjane Satrapi
After my three year hiatus from reading for pleasure, I thought I'd ease myself back in through a graphic novel. (Although I soon learned, it would be no less complex because of added illustrations). The autobiography follows Marjane Satrapi’s formative years before, during, and after the Iranian revolution. It might be graphic novel and autobiographical, but I think it’s just as special as any other novel. It also dragged me away from a Western gaze, and made me realise how much more of the world I had to learn about.
'The Alchemist' - Paulo Coelho
For me, The Alchemist serves as more of a parable, self-help book mash up. In a time when I'd just graduated from uni and felt so lost, it gave me some sense of grounding. The story follows a shepherd in Spain who goes on a long journey to the pyramids in Egypt — the message is simple but effect. It's the kind of story you go to if you’re feeling a bit wobbly or looking for guidance in life. There’s a reason why it's one of the most translated book by a living author.
'Anne Of Green Gables' - Lucy Maud Montgomery
I always enjoy a mischievous girl in a book. Set in Canada, the book follows two middle-aged siblings who thought they were adopting a boy to help out on their farm but end up with a 11-year-old girl named Anne, instead. She’s talkative, dramatic and always getting herself into trouble. It reminds me of being cuddled up in bed as a child as my mum would read through it with me.
'The Kite Runner' - Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini appears on the BBC's list with A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I was first introduced to him through his debut novel The Kite Runner when I was a teen. The story looks back at two best friends living in Kabul, Afghanistan. But after a life changing incident, and political unrest, their lives are sent in two completely different trajectories. It taught me that some experiences of growing up are universal, and others are worlds away.