100 Books

Last month the BBC produced a list of ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’, and in response Nina Allan challenged writers and readers to make their own lists of 100 novels that have shaped them personally. Here’s mine. A list like this is an exercise in painful exposure, showing up all kinds of prejudices and limitations. Looking at the authors of the books on my list, I’m keenly aware of the gender imbalance and the cultural and ethnic narrowness. Whereas a ‘public’ list like the BBC’s needs to be representative and inclusive, for the private list-making citizen the imperative is to be honest — and in doing so you discover a lot about where you’ve come from. It’s also an exercise in recognition.

I like this game because it feels truthful to the way a reading life works: you assemble a private canon that is deeply shaped by coincidence and caprice, by encountering a certain book at the point in your life when you’re ready for it to make its impression. Your private canon is a tradition visible only to yourself, and it may or may not have anything in common with the traditions of others. It’s a coded autobiography of childhood and adolescence, and of the way adolescence continues in secret down the decades.

My list is in rough chronological order of reading; I’ve kept to the rule of one book per author, but I’ve stretched and broken the definition of ‘novel’ to include novel-ish experiences that come in the form of story collections, poetry collections, plays, comics, memoirs, whatever.


Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Saga of Erik the Viking by Terry Jones

Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All by Tony Robinson

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

Legend of the Shadow Warriors by Stephen Hand

Mort by Terry Pratchett

The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

Red Shift by Alan Garner

Earthsea sequence by Ursula Le Guin

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Young Men in Spats by P. G. Wodehouse

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov

Dune by Frank Herbert

Ghost Stories by M. R. James

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Company by Samuel Beckett

Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Maus by Art Spiegelman

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Stories by Franz Kafka

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland

Dubliners by James Joyce

The Books of Blood by Clive Barker

The Dark Half by Stephen King

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Stories by Anton Chekhov

Emma by Jane Austen

Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Faust by Robert Nye

The Magus by John Fowles

The Immoralist by André Gide

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The Mysterious Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

Blood by Michael Moorcock

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman by Angela Carter

Mefisto by John Banville

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Slaughtermatic by Steve Aylett

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Fludd by Hilary Mantel

Continent by Jim Crace

Little, Big by John Crowley

I am Legend by Richard Matheson

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Father and Son by Edmund Gosse

I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Myles by Flann O’Brien

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Lanark by Alasdair Gray

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

In Viriconium by M. John Harrison

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

The Book of Revelation by Rupert Thomson

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

Iron Council by China Mieville

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Crow by Ted Hughes

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

Conundrum by Jan Morris

The Strings Are False by Louis MacNeice

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Another Country by James Baldwin

How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti

Murmur by Will Eaves

The Unseen Hour by James Carney *

If All The World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton


* Disclosure: The Unseen Hour is not a book but a serial horror-comedy podcast in the style of The Goon Show, and its creator is my brother. But I include it here because it has been one of my most joyful readerly experiences of the last couple of years — listening to its fifty-odd episodes has often felt like reading a peculiar, anarchic serialised novel.








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