Thursday, 7 March 2013

Celebrating World Book Day

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.


  1. SO many wonderful books published in the 1950s, but I think my favourite would have to be 'The Go-Between (1953) [LP Hartley]

  2. Did you mean only books in English? Otherwise 1880s would have to be Brothers Karamazov (just!), and you would have to include Kafka, Borges and Marquez somewhere.

    You have to find space somewhere for Salinger. I would go with "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction" and say goodbye to Dick Francis.

    And there has to be a Copeland in there. I would choose "Girlfriend in a Coma", although "Hey Nostradamus" would be a 2000s preferable to Grisham.

    And Ishiguro is horriby overrated. How about Amin Maalouf's rather excellent "Samarkand" (OK it was written in French).

    Good to see HHGTTG get in there though - even though it pushes out the remarkable "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid".