First, I suppose I should ask, have you heard of the word listicles? I had not until I read Ann Leary’s The Children, a novel in which one of the characters refers to articles that include lists, which seems to be an increasingly popular trend, a way to entice people to read on. Like: 10 Cutest Puppies…Ever, 15 Ways to Improve Sex (tell me more!), 12 Ways to Calm Down When Your Children Are Doing Crazy Things. I imagine you are now sufficiently familiar with the term listicles…
So, to the topic at hand. I frequently receive emails with lists of books: 100 Novels to Read Before You Die. Top 10 All-Time Favorites. 25 Classic Novels for Your Bookshelf. Then there are the lists of finalists for various literary prizes, as in the PEN/Faulkner, Pulitzer, Man Booker, Nobel Prize for literature, and so on. You catch my drift.
The other day I received a list titled: “12 Contemporary British Novels We Can’t Live Without” (by Caitlin Kleinschmidt, published in the Huffington Post). This caught my eye. Why? Because I have always loved British writers and their novels, have at times (dare I put this in print?) even considered them superior to us American novelists, a tribe I can now include myself in, though even as I write this, I do so humbly and in lower case. Back to the subject. On seeing the title of this particular list, I wondered which 12 contemporary British novels would they include and are they the same ones that I cannot live without?
The author of the piece suggests that her choices are “some of the most exciting contemporary novelists across the pond that every self-respecting Anglophile should read.” Hmm, I thought, really? But with considerable hope and enthusiasm I scanned the list quickly.
Here it is:
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Since this doesn’t appear to be an alphabetical list, I will assume the author meant the list to be in order of her favorite first, and so on. I won’t address this, because I would most certainly disagree, but rather will divide the list of books into several categories:
1) novels I’ve read;
2) authors I’ve read, but not the listed novel;
3) novels I’ve never heard of;
4) authors I’ve heard of but have not read; and
5) novels based on the brief description offered by the author that will go on my Goodreads’ “want to read” shelf.
So, for category 1 (books I’ve read): I’ve read one-third of the books on this list. For those of you who are not math whizzes, that’s four. These include the ones by Zadie Smith (White Teeth), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Ian McEwan (Atonement) and Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). Of those, I would definitely include The Sense of an Ending in my top 20 British novels, and possibly also Atonement. I enjoyed the novel by Zadie Smith, but didn’t love it, and I imagine I am in a smallish group of people who did not like/was not able to appreciate Wolf Hall. (There’s so much more I could say about this, but that’s not what this blog post is about…though I would love to hear from those of you who either loved or hated this novel.)
Okay, category 2 (authors I’ve read, but not the listed novel): this includes David Mitchell and Kate Atkinson. I enjoyed immensely both authors’ novels (including David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and The Bone Clocks; and an earlier novel of Atkinson’s, titled Case Histories). Hence, I would willingly add the two listed titles to my “ want to read” shelf.
Category 3: novels I’ve never heard of includes In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Girl Next Door, and Me Before You. Quite frankly, this shocks me. I consider myself well read and tuned in to the latest authors. I read tons of books, frequently get pinged by Amazon (if you liked XX, you’ll love XX), read book reviews quite frequently, etc. Apparently, I’m not as well read as I thought! So of these novels, based on their brief descriptions:
Dark, Dark Wood: “this gripping, suspenseful, and darkly twisted literary debut” (this one sounds fantastic and is right up my alley);
Me Before You: “opposites-attract love” story … that will make you laugh and weep and want to re-read it… is enough to make me want to read this by Jojo Moyes;
The Girl Next Door: “discovery of human remains in a long-forgotten tin box sends shockwaves across a group of longtime friends in a psychologically explosive story” definitely appeals to me.
So, oh, dear I’ve just added five (!) novels to my “want to read” shelf.
Category 4: authors/novels I’ve heard of, but haven’t read: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The first one I believe I tried but wasn’t drawn into, though possibly I’d try it again; the second doesn’t appeal to me at all, and the third is at the top of my “must read” list. The reason for this centers around the fact that in my own next novel (the one I’m currently writing) there is a Nigerian whose family fled their country and moved to England and faced the usual immigrant hardships. I would be reading it as a form of research for background on my own character.
Category 5: (see above description) turns out I didn’t need this category after all since I’ve now added 6, possibly 7, novels to my bookshelf!
Note to self: must read more. Must find way of extending the day. (Sleep less?)
Update: Already bought Little Bee and reading it! Totally into it. If I didn’t have to write my novel now, I’d be reading it instead!
Final update: At the bottom of the article there were several more listicles! The audacity! Here’s one:
“10 Cross-Cultural Novels that Illuminate the World We Live In”