Category: Best of lists

Telegraph 500 must-read books

A must-read book?  Maybe for aspiring criminals.

A must-read book? Maybe for aspiring criminals.

The Telegraph has produced a list of what it calls must-read books. The telegraph did not publish the list online (the link is to someone else who did) but, as at least one of the purposes of the list is to flog the books to the unsuspecting punter, you can also effectively view them through their online bookshop. Must-read? The article in the paper starts by telling you what they don’t mean. They don’t mean, for example, that you must read them (sic!). It is a set of suggestions, a list of books to peruse as you might glance at a menu when hungry. On dear. It gets worse. If you look at their listings in the Review section (called Where To Go, What To See), you will note that even where there are as few as four listings, each section’s compiler gets a credit. No-one gets a credit for the 500 books. That’s not surprising. If I had helped compile this list, I would not want my name on it. I am a great lover of lists of all sorts and have looked at many lists of best books and, with the possible exception of the readers’ response to the Modern Library 100 best novels, this has got to be the worse I have ever seen.

Don't know much about history - at least if you're a Telegraph reader

Don’t know much about history – at least if you’re a Telegraph reader

They have divided the books into twenty categories. We start off with War and History. They include novels, such as A Farewell to Arms, The Naked and the Dead and Catch 22; indeed all the novels are English or US, apart from The Good Soldier Schweik and All Quiet on the Western Front. Though the category is War and History, the novels are all war novels, so no Dickens, no Mantel (though she does appear in British classics), no any number of historical novels and, for war novels, no War and Peace, no Parade’s End, no Dr Zhivago (though he is in Romance), no Iliad (which appears under Antiquity Classics), no Stendhal, no Shakespeare. As for non-fiction we have 1066 and All That, no Macaulay, nothing on the US or English civil wars, nothing on the US War of Independence or its early history, nothing on the Russian Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, nothing on colonisation or decolonisation, nothing on Asian, African or Latin American history… So here’s the perfect video for the anonymous Telegraph compiler.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

How could anybody consider this a must-read?

How could anybody consider this a must-read?

Moving along to the other categories, it is not much better. Latin America includes your obvious Latin American authors but also includes Graham Greene and, aaargh!, Paulo Coelho. Surely, J K and Dan Brown cannot be far behind. American Classics includes Lionel Shriver, Anne Michaels, Hunter S Thompson, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Bonfire of the Vanities, no Pynchon, no Faulkner, no Oates and two African-American women but no African-American men – no Invisible Man, no Baldwin. Money includes Ayn Rand (the one author who is absolutely a must-not-read) and Who Moved My Cheese?, another book that is… (yes, I have. Idiot boss.) Of the Asian classics, half are Indian, one quarter Japanese, one eighth Chinese (counting Timothy Mo as half Chinese), with the Arabian Nights being the token Middle East entry. Seven of the twelve African classics are by white authors and one of the five who is not is V S Naipaul. British classics includes four writers who are definitely not British (they’re Irish), Henry James, who is generally considered American, though he did become a British citizen on his deathbed and, God help us, Jilly Cooper (and, if that is the case, why not J K?) (I am being facetious with the last remark, by the way).

Terrible list but what, I suppose, one might expect from the Daily Telegraph. Here is a line from elsewhere in the paper – British wildlife would be in a poorer state without the unique contribution of shooting. Yes, it would be alive. As for Telegraph book list compilers, I am not so sure.

Ten best Spanish novels of the 21st century

The best Spanish novel of the 21st century

The best Spanish-language novel of the 21st century

Though we are only just over twelve years into the 21st century (yes, I can do the maths; the 21st century started on 1 January 2001), ABC has produced its list of the ten best Spanish novels of the 21st century. However, the first one on the list was actually published in the 20th century (yes, I am pedantic) – La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat) being published in 2000. Technically, it is Peruvian but apparently Vargas Llosa has Spanish citizenship so they are claiming him. Of the others on the list, three are on my site – Crematorio [The Crematorium], Tu rostro mañana (Your Face Tomorrow) (link to the first one – there are actually three in the series, all on my site) and Los enamoramientos (The Infatuations), though I hope to get to some of the others soon. Sadly not all have been published in English.

Granta’s Best Young British Novelists

One I have read

One I have read

Being away last week, I was able to peruse the Granta Best of Young British Novelists 4 at leisure and let others more competent than I comment on it. If you missed it, here they are: Naomi Alderman; Tahmima Anam; Ned Beauman; Jenni Fagan; Adam Foulds; Xiaolu Guo; Sarah Hall; Steven Hall; Joanna Kavenna; Benjamin Markovits; Nadifa Mohamed; Helen Oyeyemi; Ross Raisin; Sunjeev Sahota; Taiye Selasi; Kamila Shamsie; Zadie Smith; David Szalay; Adam Thirlwell; Evie Wyld. (If you want to see what they look like, The New York Times has a slideshow as does the Daily Telegraph). I have now read at least one book by all of the twenty linked above and, I must say, most of them are very fine authors. However, there have been some complaints. Firstly, are they up to it? People were not very impressed with the quality of the writers on this list, except, perhaps for Sarah Hall and Zadie Smith. They were compared unfavourably with writers on previous lists, particularly the first one, as well as with current US writers. This is probably unfair as US writers do get more publicity and it really is too early to tell for most of them. The second complaint is whether they are really British. The key criterion was that they had to hold a British passport so presumably that was checked. But quite a few of these writers were from somewhere else and quite a few do not live in the UK. This, of course, does not exclude them.

Not on anyone's list (except mine)

Not on anyone’s list (except mine)

The third complaint is what was omitted. Various people made various suggestions. I have combined their suggestions and mine into the list below. A few comments. Peter Hobbs (like Kamila Shamsie, who made the list) was born in 1973. I cannot determine if he was born before or after the April cut-off date. Some of these may not be British citizens, the other key criterion. Ciarán Collins and Paul Murray are Irish, Tahmima Anam Bangladeshi and Neel Mukherjee Indian. But are they also British?

Alice Albinia
Jenn Ashworth
Iphgenia Baal
Sam Byers
Chris Cleave
Ciarán Collins
Sophie Cooke
Fflur Dafydd
Joe Dunthorne
Stuart Evers
Samantha Harvey
Ed Hogan
Kerry Hudson
Rebecca Hunt
Anjali Joseph
Stephen Kelman
Nick Laird
Caryl Lewis
Owen Martell
Julie Maxwell
Jon McGregor
James Miller
Neel Mukherjee
Paul Murray
Stuart Neville
Courttia Newland
Alex Preston
Tom Rachman
Anna Richards
Gwendoline Riley
Francesca Segal
Owen Sheers
Helen Walsh

An interesting list and I shall certainly read some of them over the next few months and maybe decide whether they have been unfairly omitted. Let us hope that they are not neglected because they did not make the list. Hilary Mantel did not make any of the earlier lists! Have I missed any? Let me know.

Winstonsdad added an interesting list for under 40s from the rest of the world

Granta best 20 young novelists – Part deux

Samantha Harvey's first novel.  Will she make the list?

Samantha Harvey’s first novel. Will she make the list?

Back in January, I commented on the forthcoming Granta list of the best 20 young novelists and, in particular, Philip Hensher’s comments thereon. Hensher had made his own suggestions as to who should be on the list – ten certs: Jon McGregor, Zadie Smith, Ned Beauman, Ross Raisin, Joe Dunthorne, Sarah Hall, Adam Foulds, Samantha Harvey, Nick Laird, and Paul Murray and ten possibles: Stuart Neville, Naomi Alderman, Evie Wyld, Neel Mukherjee, Courttia Newland, Tahmima Anam, Owen Sheers, Helen Walsh, Alex Preston, and Gwendoline Riley. Former Granta editor and Guardian columnist Alex Clark has now published her suggestions as well as an article on how the list is chosen (she was on the selection committee ten years ago). Clark just has one list. Those in bold above are on Clark’s list. She also has
Sam Byers, Edward Hogan, Stuart Evers, Stephen Kelman (of whom Hensher says I think the judges will pass over A.D. Miller and Stephen Kelman, relics of the worst Booker shortlist ever in 2011), Rebecca Hunt, Francesca Segal, Helen Oyeyemi and Kerry Hudson.

Zadie Smith - not on Clark's list as she was on the last list

Zadie Smith – not on Clark’s list as she was on the last list

There are a couple of surprises. Clark has no Zadie Smith (though she does say that she may well appear again – she was on the list ten years ago). There is a precedent for writers appearing on two lists, with Adam Mars-Jones appearing on the first two lists despite the fact that his first novel was not published till after the second list was published. And Smith is younger than Sarah Hall who (quite rightly) appears on both the Hensher and Clark list. The same applies to Adam Thirlwell who is under forty but appeared on the last list. Neither list seems to be very strong on Welsh or Scottish authors. From Wales, what about Cynan Jones, Caryl Lewis or Gee Williams? And, from Scotland, there are Alan Bissett, Sophie Cooke and Eleanor Thom. Helen Oyeyemi did not make Hensher’s list though she has definitely moved up the rankings in the last couple of months. However, apart from Oyeyemi, Smith, McGregor, Hall and Paul Murray (who is not British but Irish), few have much of reputation, I would have thought.

The results are published by Granta on 15 April and you can bet that there will be a few surprises, including at least two or three who are not on either Hensher’s or Clark’s list and possibly including, as has happened before, two or three writers who have yet to have a novel published. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had on their list a writer who writes in Welsh, Gaelic or some other non-English language? Naah, it’s not going to happen.

Best books of the year


I am not going to do a best books of the year post for the very simple reason that most of the best books I have read this year (and other years) were not published this year. Indeed, most were not published in this century. As you can see from my chronological list, I have read fourteen books published this year, an unusually high number for me and the best thee are all by women – Bring Up the Bodies, NW and In the Shadow of the Banyan. Several of the books were quite disappointing though I did quite enjoy Carlos Fuentes’ last novel (see cover at left), which won’t appear in English till next year. As for other people’s best of lists, I always turn to Large-Hearted Boy’s list. I have waded my way through several of the lists he links to, where I have found several intriguing lists, some odd choices and some books that I wonder why are included. As he limits himself to English, I was going to do a post of a few non-English lists but, inevitably, Michael Orthofer at the Literary Saloon beat me to it. Nevertheless, I will try and supplement his lists.

A book that made Bill Gates think

A book that made Bill Gates think

But let’s start with Bill Gates. Yes, that Bill Gates. Bill has published his list of ten books that made me think. I must confess that I have not read any of them nor am I likely to do, though my significant other read the Pinker and very much enjoyed it. There are, sadly, no novels in his list but Bill also kindly gives us a list of his reading for the year. This is also a fascinating list of worthy works. It also includes four novels and here, I am afraid, Bill somewhat lets us down. The four are: The Hunger Games, Michael Ondaatje‘s The Cat’s Cradle, which I have not read yet but probably will, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, a book I read many years ago, and which was first published in 1959 and A Catcher in the Rye, first published four years before Bill was born. Didn’t he read it in high school? Well, he read many worthy non-fiction books so he can perhaps be forgiven for not putting much effort into his novel reading.

Moving on to the foreign book lists… As Michael Orthofer points out in the post linked to above, best of lists tends to be an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. In the English-speaking world these lists all too often appear early in December when there is still time for some worthy books to appear but other nationalities do some of their lists later. So here are some other lists I have found:


    Lire's best foreign novel of the year

    Lire’s best foreign novel of the year

  • The respected French literary magazine Lire does not have a list on its site of the best books of the year, though it does have a list of the ten books you should read before the end of the world (this post being written three days before the world ends on 21 December). However, Nicole Volle publishes the list that appeared in Lire magazine in her blog. It is divided up into categories and there is only one book per category so there are not many novels. I do have a copy of the foreign book (Antonio Muñoz Molina‘s La noche de los tiempos, which I hope to get round to.
  • Tribune libre offers a sort of a list, with selections by Internet readers as well as by critics. Kathryn Stockett’s Help is the best foreign book
  • L’Express also likes the Muñoz Molina but likes Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time even more
  • Not much else. Various bloggers have their lists though a few seem to like 50 nuances de Grey


Maria Paola Colombo's Il negativo dell’amore, an Italian favourite

Maria Paola Colombo’s Il negativo dell’amore, an Italian favourite



Catalans like Josep Pla

Catalans like Josep Pla


No, not a very exciting list but I do hope Bill Gates will read more novels next year. There are a lot of good US ones, Bill.

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