The BBC have created a list of 100 Novels - and I’m going to read them all.

During 2019 the BBC gathered a panel of broadcasters, authors and editors to debate a list of 100 Novels. This is a pretty common activity among the literati - curate a list of the best, or most important, or overlooked novels of all time, or those with the oddest covers, or whatever criteria you can imagine. Even a cursory Google search will reveal more than 100 lists of 100 ‘best’ books, with extensive overlaps. The BBC did a similar exercise themselves in 2003, although that was voted on by the public.

This list is not all that different, except that it’s the latest one. And it does at least have a different angle than just selecting the ‘best’ - something that will always be hugely subjective. Their approach was to identify the 100 books that shaped the readers’ world. In the words of the curators:

Stories have the power to change us. We asked a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose 100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives, and this is the result. These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners.

The final list is broken down into broad categories, for ease of comparison. Rather than ‘Sci-Fi’ vs ‘Thriller’, the categories are:

  • Identity
  • Love, Sex & Romance
  • Adventure
  • Life, Death & Other Worlds
  • Politics, Power & Protest
  • Class & Society
  • Coming Of Age
  • Family & Friendship
  • Crime & Conflict
  • Rule Breakers

The fact that there are 10 books in each of these 10 categories suggests that the list was massaged slightly - but I was nonetheless curious when I discovered I’d only read about 20 of them. For comparison, I’d read almost 50 out of the previous list of 100 that the BBC published in 2003. For most lists that are published I’ve read a healthy proportion of the top 100, if not more than half.

Had I really missed 80% of the most world-changing books?

Even allowing for this new list counting entire series as a single entry (e.g. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series) versus the previous one breaking out a number of books as individual entries didn’t reduce the proportion by much. Clearly there was a gap in my reading.

So I had the idea of reading them all. Perhaps I would not complete every series where one was selected, but at least the first in each would give me something on which to base an opinion. And so I’ve started to do exactly that.

I recently re-read Brave New World which is on the list under Politics, Power & Protest, so I started with that since it was fresh in my mind. You can read my synopsis and review here. The complete list is accessible under ‘BBC 100’ at the top of every page here, and as I write a review of each book it will change from greyed out to highlighted on that list. If you’re curious about any of the books on the list, even the greyed out ones will give you a synopsis and the Goodreads community review if you click on them.

Obviously reading 100 books is going to take a while - I doubt I’ll get it done in a year, as that’d require completing more than two books a week - but I look forward to discovering some amazing novels that have previously passed me by.