The Handmaid’s Tale, The God of Small Things and A Clockwork Orange are among 70 books from across the Commonwealth chosen to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee.
Ten books for each of the seven decades of the Queen’s reign were selected by a panel of librarians, booksellers and literature experts from readers’ recommendations spanning 31 countries.
The Big Jubilee Read includes “brilliant, beautiful and thrilling writing” in novels, anthologies of short stories and poetry published since 1952, the organizers said. They were “shared stories that define our social and cultural heritage”.
But there was controversy over some omissions, including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Susheila Nasta, the emeritus professor of modern and contemporary literature at Queen Mary University of London, said there had been a “big discussion” over JK Rowling as the panel whittled down 152 recommendations to a final list of 70.
“Lots of fantastic books were suggested for the list but the feeling in the end was that… [Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone] was primarily a children’s book, ”she told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“In terms of the space over that decade, which was the 90s when more and more books were coming out across the Commonwealth, it was decided to make space for a book that was good and equally well received.”
In the past two years, Rowling has faced criticism over her rejection of the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of the word “women”, with some accusing her of transphobia.
A number of high-profile books, such as Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, also failed to make the final list, said Nasta. “The Golden Notebook… was a huge influence on me, but we had to drop some… There were two books for every place.”
The Big Jubilee Read, created by BBC Arts and The Reading Agency, embraces prize-winning books such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and Seamus Heaney’s 1966 Nobel prize-winning poetry collection Death of a Naturalist.
The winners of the Booker prize in the past two years – Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and The Promise by Damon Galgut – are included in the final decade.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel, whose stage and screen adaptations won Olivier awards and Oscars, is on the 1992-2001 list.
Earlier titles include A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul, The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros.
The Big Jubilee Read campaign will include events and activities in libraries and bookshops, with resources available for reading groups across the country.
Suzy Klein, the head of arts and classical music TV at the BBC, said the list was “a real opportunity to discover stories from across continents and taking us through the decades, books that we might never have otherwise read, and read authors whose work deserves a spotlight to be shone on it. ”
The Big Jubilee Read list
The Palm-Wine Drinkard – Amos Tutuola (1952, Nigeria)
The Hills Were Joyful Together – Roger Mais (1953, Jamaica)
In the Castle of My Skin – George Lamming (1953, Barbados)
My Bones and My Flute – Edgar Mittelholzer (1955, Guyana)
The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon (1956, Trinidad and Tobago / England)
The Guide – RK Narayan (1958, India)
To Sir, With Love – ER Braithwaite (1959, Guyana)
One Moonlit Night – Caradog Prichard (1961, Wales)
A House for Mr Biswas – VS Naipaul (1961, Trinidad and Tobago / England
Sunlight on a Broken Column – Attia Hosain (1961, India)
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1962, England)
The Interrogation – JMG Le Clézio (1963, France / Mauritius)
The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark (1963, Scotland)
Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe (1964, Nigeria)
Death of a Naturalist – Seamus Heaney (1966, Northern Ireland)
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (1966, Dominica / Wales)
A Grain of Wheat – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1967, Kenya)
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay (1967, Australia)
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Kwei Armah (1968, Ghana)
When Rain Clouds Gather – Bessie Head (1968, Botswana / South Africa)
The Nowhere Man – Kamala Markandaya (1972, India)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carré (1974, England)
The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough (1977, Australia)
The Crow Eaters – Bapsi Sidhwa (1978, Pakistan)
The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch (1978, England)
Who Do You think You Are? – Alice Munro (1978, Canada)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (1979, England)
Tsotsi – Athol Fugard (1980, South Africa)
Clear Light of Day – Anita Desai (1980, India)
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (1981, England / India)
Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally (1982, Australia)
Beka Lamb – Zee Edgell (1982, Belize)
The Bone People – Keri Hulme (1984, New Zealand)
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (1985, Canada)
Summer Lightning – Olive Senior (1986, Jamaica)
The Whale Rider – Witi Ihimaera (1987, New Zealand)
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro (1989, England)
Omeros – Derek Walcott (1990, Saint Lucia)
The Adoption Papers – Jackie Kay (1991, Scotland)
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton (1991, Australia)
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje (1992, Canada / Sri Lanka)
The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields (1993, Canada)
Paradise – Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994, Tanzania / England)
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (1995, India / Canada)
Salt – Earl Lovelace (1996, Trinidad and Tobago)
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (1997, India)
The Blue Bedspread – Raj Kamal Jha (1999, India)
Disgrace – JM Coetzee (1999, South Africa / Australia)
White Teeth – Zadie Smith (2000, England)
Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2001, Canada)
Small Island – Andrea Levy (2004, England)
The Secret River – Kate Grenville (2005, Australia)
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2005, Australia)
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006, Nigeria)
A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam (2007, Bangladesh)
The Boat – Nam Le (2008, Australia)
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel (2009, England)
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James (2009, Jamaica)
The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna (2010, Sierra Leone / Scotland)
Chinaman – Shehan Karunatilaka (2010, Sri Lanka)
Our Lady of the Nile – Scholastique Mukasonga (2012, Rwanda)
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton (2013, New Zealand)
Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue (2016, Cameroon)
The Bone Readers – Jacob Ross (2016, Grenada)
How We Disappeared – Jing-Jing Lee (2019, Singapore)
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo (2019, England)
The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo (2019, Malaysia)
Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (2020, Scotland)
A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasam (2021, Sri Lanka)
The Promise – Damon Galgut (2021, South Africa)