So, how to celebrate World Book Day? How about – for the simple fun of it – selecting one book published in each decade since 1880. (Why 1880? It got harder before that to know which decade a book was published in). The list below is not intended to be the best book in each decade – much too controversial – but just a spontaneous choice off my bookshelves. It’s necessarily eclectic, and I realise it could be contentious, but here goes anyway:
1880s: It’s tight, but The Woodlanders (1887) [Thomas Hardy] gets my vote. Actually I prefer it to Tess.
1890s: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) [Hardy again]
1900s: The Hound of the Baskervilles () [Conan Doyle] – Conan Doyle had to get in there somewhere.
1910s: Mr Standfast (1919) [John Buchan] is my favourite of the Richard Hannay series, and I have always thought these to be classics of the time.
1920s: A Passage to India (1924 [EM Forster]) – mysterious and charming: a beguiling book even when I read it as a 17 year old.
1930s: The General Theory (1936) [JM Keynes] – so good that as an undergraduate economist, I went out to buy it because I wanted to own it. Well written, revolutionary, brilliant.
1940s: 19 Stories (1947) [Graham Greene] The best set of short stories I have ever read – later published as 21 stories, but that would put it in competition with the next decade.
1950s: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950) [CS Lewis]. A rich decade for books – this choice prevented my choosing a John Wyndham, which was painful, but what a classic.
1960s: Dead Cert (1962) [Dick Francis]. Ok, so it’s not a classic, but picked for the contribution to railway journey reading that he made: clever plotting, gripping and interesting.
1970s: The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (1979) [Douglas Adams]. So different at the time that it was intoxicating – a marvellous book.
1980s: The Remains of The Day (1989) [Kazuo Ishiguro]. Marvellously evocative!
1990s: Possession (1990) [AS Byatt]. A huge work of fiction – the greatest suspension of disbelief: I simply couldn’t believe all that poetry was part of the fiction.
2000s: Bleachers (2004) [John Grisham]. A novella which is so much better than Grisham’s reputation.
2010s: Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) [Kahneman]. Guaranteed to change the way you see the world – brilliantly light, wonderfully profound.