The BBC's "100 Novels That Shaped Our World"
November 13, 2019 10:30 AM   Subscribe

The BBC has asked a panel to come up with a list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

The Bookseller quotes panel members on why they chose some of the books.

The Telegraph calls it "a short-sighted list that will please nobody".

The Irish Times says it is "terrible in a very particular way".

The Spinster's Library (video) discusses the list and makes other suggestions.
posted by paduasoy (44 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
CTRL-F "1984": no results. I suppose "most accurately predicting the present-day surveillance state" was tough to fill with 9 other books.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:35 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Try "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
posted by sjswitzer at 10:39 AM on November 13, 2019 [29 favorites]

Apropos not much but I really enjoyed the tone and flavor of the linked critique from The Irish Times. I could do with more of that type of thing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

This might be 100 Novels That Shaped Our World but it's not The 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. I enjoyed Riders – Jilly Cooper, and the Adrian Mole Diaries, but ??. Some interesting inclusions - I recommend So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell.
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what a list of 100 books that shaped the world should be, but I like that they at least tried to proceed with a planned structure to the list and tried to be more purposeful in making a broad based group of selections. It's better than the more usual just ask some people to compile lists, mash 'em together and see how it all ends up method. This is more like an attempt at a canon in the sense of it being fit to a ideal instead of an ad hoc and incoherent grouping.

None of that is to say this list actually is ideal (though I'm personally pleased to see Tenant of Wildfell Hall get the Bronte spot for a change) just that I appreciate them going with a different concept.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Six panelists who selected 10 books in each of 10 categories. They included some trilogies as novels. (Lord of the Rings, for example.)

Identity - I have read none of these books completely, although I am aware of about half of them, and have read excerpts of one.
Love, Sex & Romance - I have read one book. I am familiar with three more.
Adventure - I have read two "books" and am aware of most of the rest. I think they're stretching the meaning of the term "novel" here.
Life, Death & Other Worlds - I have read six of these "books" and, again, have seen most of the others.
Politics, Power & Protest - Back to single books. Read three; saw movie for one.
Class & Society - I have read zero of these books. I recognize exactly one title. Obviously, this is not my genre.
Coming of Age - Read two, familiar with two more.
Family & Friendship - Also zero, but have seen one tv adaptation, and am at least aware of four of them.
Crime & Conflict - Read one. Recognize one other. Also not my genre.
Rule Breakers - Read one. Aware of two others. I don't know what "rule breakers" means here, but I'm pretty sure that nothing published in 2011 or 2014 can reasonably be said to have "shaped our world."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:54 AM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

The word "Our" is doing a lot of lifting there. Too much, methinks.
posted by lalochezia at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was pleased to see that their Montgomery choice was Emily of New Moon rather than the usual Anne.
posted by paduasoy at 10:57 AM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by Gwynarra at 10:58 AM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

The lack of Ulysses or any Joyce seems like a glaring omission.

Edit: The linked criticisms take issue with this as well :)
posted by Alex404 at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

That Irish Times review of the list is something else.
Page-turners that can be easily read when stirring soup abound.
That's a top shelf put down.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:05 AM on November 13, 2019 [10 favorites]

The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian

No doubt they mean The Stephen Maturin Novels by Patrick O'Brian?
posted by chavenet at 11:06 AM on November 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

No amount of chuckling like a nincompoop will untangle the crossed allegiances in the BBC list.

The Irish Times almost got a MetaFilter:
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:15 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

A very awkward list that seems to be trying to balance out some of the classics with more popular titles, which the Irish Times review notes. (And I'm puzzled as to what the "Life, Death & Other Worlds" section is about, if not SF&F without calling it that)

That being said, I believe there is an argument to be made that "page-turners that can be easily read while stirring soup" might have more of an impact on our world than 19th century classics that most of the great unwashed haven't touched.
posted by nubs at 11:19 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Books that shaped our world:

On the Measurement of the Earth, Eratosthenes
Aryabhatiya, Aryabhatta
Tiezeragitut’iun, Anania Shirakatsi
Tractatus de Sphaera, Johannes de Sacrobosco
Ge zhi cao, Xiong Mingyu
posted by kyrademon at 11:20 AM on November 13, 2019 [10 favorites]

Our Mutual Friend by Dickens over A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Bleak House?
The Big Sleep over The Maltese Falcon?
She by H. Rider Haggard under Adventure.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:21 AM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Well, I for one was happy to see that

1) the panel wasn’t all men
2) it wasn’t all white people
3) the list of books wasn’t all by white Western men

I think the Irish Times actually nailed it with this rather slyly self-deprecating paragraph:
This list seems, nonetheless, doomed by its stubborn refusal to pick a side. The better class of literary critic can fold the high-brow in with the low when allowed sufficient space to stretch out across the page. Click-bait lists don’t work that way. Anthony Burgess came close to making sense of such a balance in his essay Ninety-Nine novels. That (highly recommended) list was as happy enjoying Goldfinger as it was puzzling over Finnegans Wake. Burgess’s trick would have been harder to pull off in the Age of Instant Digital Fury. We need to know whether we’re furious about the chart being too dumb or too snooty.
(As an aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Canadian authors on there.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Searched for "tom," looking for Uncle Tom's Cabin, which helped start the U.S. Civil War. Not listed.

-1 point

Found the So Long, See You Tomorrow, which far passes Uncle Tom's Cabin as literature.

+1 point
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:32 AM on November 13, 2019

Regarding, She, via Wikipedia.

She is one of the most influential novels in modern literature, with authors like Rudyard Kipling, Henry Miller, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Margaret Atwood all acknowledging the importance of the work to their own and others' writing. With over 83 million copies sold, the work is one of the biggest selling fictional titles of all time and has been translated into 44 languages. ... Such was the popularity and influence of the novel that it was cited in the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:38 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Aubrey - Maturin novels, all 29 of them, seems like cheating. That's a lot more than a trilogy. But they are wonderful.

The Hunger Games? That's a stretch.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Searched for "tom," looking for Uncle Tom's Cabin, which helped start the U.S. Civil War. Not listed.

I have trouble deciphering what the "our" in "our world" means. The British world? The Anglo world? The English-speaking world?

It is rarely the world world.
posted by vacapinta at 11:54 AM on November 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Lithub did a decade-by-decade group of lists of English-language books of the 20th century starting here which is a little more informative about books in their time.

I do think this list is moving in the right direction because it's moving toward the specific, but it's really more of a " some significant books of the 20th century" list than anything else.

My proposal is that from now on such lists are either very specific ("Twenty English-language novels of the 20th century that influenced popular ideas about space flight") or very personal ("Janelle Monae's 20 most influential science fiction novels") because really, for the most part we're either looking to construct a historiography of some aspect of the novel or looking to read good books. Generic "best of" lists will always fall short.
posted by Frowner at 12:03 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I were a literary-type who didn't know enough to credit comics artists as well as writers I would probably would Habibi was important.

Weird list; sometimes feels like people fudging to avoid putting the usual suspects, like V For Vendetta rather than Watchmen, Oryx & Crake instead of The Handmaid's Tale, etc.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2019

Heart of Darkness changed the view of empire. I would even have accepted The Secret Agent.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold marked a shift in how we saw international politics.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:05 PM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

The title is unhelpful, I think. Frostrup says (Bookseller link)
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. ... "
I think they're aiming for the "very personal" end of the spectrum Frowner describes, but the title makes it sound as if it's books that have affected The World as a global thing. Making the Worlds plural might have helped. The most truthful version might have been something like "100 Novels That Our Panel of 6 British-Based Journalists and Authors Said Shaped Their Worlds and Those of People They Know", but that is possibly a bit long.
posted by paduasoy at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

No doubt they mean The Stephen Maturin Novels by Patrick O'Brian?

I have this image of a Book 27 where Jack and Stephen get trapped on the ice and Stephen ends up cutting Jack open like a tauntaun, thinking nothing of it really, to complete the nullification of JA.
posted by fleacircus at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think they're aiming for the "very personal" end of the spectrum Frowner describes, but the title makes it sound as if it's books that have affected The World as a global thing.

Yeah, there's a very strange slippage between what apparently started out as "what shaped your world, you specifically" and then ended up as "what shaped our world, in general." From a literary-historical POV, the list makes no sense at all. (Although from a literary-historical POV, it's also not clear that a list of novels currently considered canonical would make any sense.)

But now I know that there are still people who read Walter Scott for fun, so there's that. Personally, I prefer The Bride of Lammermoor.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:41 PM on November 13, 2019

Metafilter: terrible in a very particular way
posted by Chrysostom at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I read Ivanhoe "for fun" a couple of years ago, largely because my mother told me her primary school teacher read it to the class in the 1950s and how gripped the whole class were, particularly the boys. It was a lot stranger than I expected.
posted by paduasoy at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Huh. I took one English class in college, and we read three out of the ten books in their Class & Society section, plus a different Coetzee. Anyway, interesting choice to pick The Moor's Last Sigh but not Midnight's Children. Also, I completely adored Ballet Shoes as a child, but did it really change the world? I'm not even sure it changed children's literature! There are several books on that list that I would put on a list of books that I love but probably leave off of a list of books that were influential.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:07 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

This list is infuriating for many reasons, most having to do with not matching its title, as others have noted. But the laziness of including all of Discworld (47 books?), Sandman, etc is especially annoying. "Months of enthusiastic debate" and you can't pick a representative Narnia book? Why then bother to single out other books that are part of a series, like "The Hound of the Baskervilles", or "Dune", or "Oryx and Crake"? It just feels inconsistent and badly edited.

There are so many places where you can feel the editors straining to pick the less-obvious novels by big names. Sometimes it's more fun this way. But having Melville represented by "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (a short story) is basically trolling.
posted by oulipian at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've read a bunch of these and though there's none I hated (Confederacy of Dunces come close), there's only one I've ever recommended to anyone and which I've reread: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell.
posted by dobbs at 2:15 PM on November 13, 2019

fucking lord of the fucking flies. I HATED that book in highschool english and hate the fact that my kids have to waste one of their cirriculum slots so they can HATE it in their highschool english. BAH.
posted by hearthpig at 2:20 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like this list because I've read most of them and that gives me a sense of accomplishment that is sorely missing from my daily life. A few thoughts:

(1) Slaves of Solitude is amazing and I'm sorry that I put off reading it for so long because I thought the title made it sound tedious. If I were an Influencer, my Insta stories would all be me drinking pink gin every time the characters do.

(2) GRRM shouldn't be on any good lists until he finishes writing his damn books.

(3) Anne being the only Brontë feels like vindication of some kind. And Emily of New Moon over Anne of Green Gables feels even better.

(4) Psmith is my fave, but why did they choose the one that is unfortunately very much a product of its time?

(5) Game of Thrones series, Chronicles of Narnia series, Aubrey/Maturin series, Earthsea trilogy, LOTR trilogy, Dune Only Dune.

(6) I thought the series is known as Aubrey/Maturin, but maybe that's from first hearing of it through AO3.

(7) Stig Abell looks like they stole his blazer (he is blazer and jeans man) and told him to look less like he is someone who still works with print.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:02 PM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a weird list, but Kevin Barry is great and City of Bohane is fantastic and more people should read it.
posted by thivaia at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2019

You know, during a very bad week, I read James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans". It took my mind off things and I remain very grateful to it. However, I would never try to convince you that you should read it. [Somehow, I have read 41 of the books on that list, and I'm not sure I agree any of them are world-shaping in general or to me].
posted by acrasis at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Otherwise, what the Irish Times said.
posted by thivaia at 3:20 PM on November 13, 2019

No Dracula??
posted by jamjam at 3:52 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

A dubious list, but at least Angela Carter got in.
posted by vicusofrecirculation at 4:01 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

No Hundred Years of Solitude? No Borges?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:53 PM on November 13, 2019

I think it's only English-language novels.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:58 PM on November 13, 2019

Things to like about this list:
- Better gender balance than most equivalent lists
- Better cultural and ethnic diversity than most equivalent lists
- At least a couple of queer authors
- Genre fiction, graphic novels and YA fiction included
- Not exclusively, boringly, predictably full of the most well-known authors' most well-known works

BUT. (Because of course there has to be one.)

As if we needed confirmation, Antipodean authors are spectacularly unsuccessful at shaping the English-speaking literary world, with only one from Australia (Tim bloody Winton's bloody Cloudstreet; yes I loathed it) and zero from New Zealand. We're just for hobbits and dangerous animals I guess.

Also I agree that it's at least lazy, if not cheating, to list an entire series.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:24 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Harrumph. An odd mess of a list. As others have said, "our" and "world" are quite... partial terms.

That said, I was glad to see science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels allowed in.
posted by doctornemo at 9:06 PM on November 13, 2019

METAFILTER: A dubious list, but
posted by philip-random at 12:39 AM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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