April 22, 2022
The Big Jubilee Read: 70 books are selected to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 year reign
by Nikki Griffiths
This summer marks The Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in British history, who has been on the throne for 70 years, since 1952.
As part of the celebrations, The Reading Agency and BBC Arts have partnered together to produce The Big Jubilee Read, a list of 70 books from across the Commonwealth, ten from each decade of the Queen’s reign, which spans 31 countries and six continents.
An expert panel of librarians, academics, booksellers and literature specialists selected the final 70 books from from a long list of 153 titles suggested by the public, which includes: A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and The Promise by Damon Galgut (see below for the full list).
The decision, however, has not been without its controversies. Several fan favourites have not made the cut, including books by JK Rowling, Ian Fleming, JRR Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett. Controversy over Rowling’s recent public outpourings, which have been condemned by many as transphobic, raise questions as to how selections were made and if “cancel culture” is coming into play.
One of the selection panel, emeritus professor of modern and contemporary literature at Queen Mary University of London, Susheila Nasta, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (as reported by the Guardian):
“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…
“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.”
Even Terry Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna Pratchett, took to Twitter to defend the selection process.
Dad didn’t make the list either. This really isn’t bias. https://t.co/lNaVvvQYM2
— Rhianna Pratchett 🇺🇦 (@rhipratchett) April 19, 2022
Choosing only 70 books published over the last 70 years was never going to be easy, and was never going to please everyone. Ed Power writes for the Telegraph:
“The fantasy-free Platinum Jubilee reading list is pure literary … With glaring snubs for Rowling, Tolkien and Pratchett, the ‘reader-driven’ Big Jubilee Read bears no relation to reality.”
Perhaps he has a point … the list is laden with prize-winning books, almost exclusively of the literary persuasion. But there are some cracking reads on the list. Suzy Klein, Head of Arts and Classical Music TV at the BBC said in a statement:
“The list of 70 books—one for each year of Elizabeth II’s reign—is a real opportunity to discover stories from across continents and taking us through the decades, books that we might never have otherwise read, and reading authors whose work deserves a spotlight to be shone on it. It’s a really exciting way to share the love of books with readers of all ages, and to give book groups and book borrowers a plethora of great titles to try, borrow, share and discuss.”
The Big Jubilee read, which received funding of £185,000 from Arts Council England, will see events and activities in libraries and bookshops, supported by Libraries Connected and the Booksellers Association. There are reading groups resources available and programming reflecting the Big Jubilee Read across the BBC.
Isobel Hunter MBE, Chief Executive, Libraries Connected said:
“The Big Jubilee Read showcases the best of Commonwealth writing and helps libraries to introduce readers to writers they might not have come across before. We are delighted to join publishers, booksellers and libraries to work with the BBC and The Reading Agency to help local communities to experience 70 years of fantastic writing.”
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)
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.