Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

I don’t want to call this a challenge, or even worse a meme (do you remember when we all did those back in the day?), yet I am thinking that this could be a fun exercise if you lovely lot would like to join in. What the funk am I talking about, well you would be right to ask as once more I assume you dear reader/s get updates from me telepathically. Enough waffle Savidge, just get on with it. So as some of you will know I host/co-host a couple of book based banter podcasts; You Wrote The Book, Hear… Read This and The Readers. My normal co-host for the latter, Gav, is having some time off and so I have been joined by the lovely Thomas and seeing as Thomas is in Washington we have been looking at America and the UK, or even America vs. the UK. A fortnight ago we discussed American classics and I came up with the idea of both Thomas and myself creating two separate lists of the ten books that sum up our countries for us and ones we would give to someone if they moved to their country to ‘read up on it’. So I thought you lot might like to join in…

17451-01Initially I have to admit that I thought this would be stupidly easy. The British Isles are relatively piddly in comparison to the mammoth size of other countries. I didn’t envy Thomas and his 50 states to cover in ten books. As I thought about it more and more though I suddenly realised it was actually much more of a mission than I had supposed. For a start we had agreed to only have authors from our own counties books. So instantly one of my choices ‘The Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks was discounted, as it is set in Eyam (the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and self sacrifice itself to save others) which is just down the road from my home town in Derbyshire but she is from America. First hurdle.

Second Hurdle. I wanted the book to reflect a current vision of the British Isles, as I went through my shelves I was surprised (especially as I think I don’t like them, clearly I am a liar to myself)  how many of the British Isles books I owned were about WWI or WWII. This then meant a book like Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’, which depicts war torn London, was therefore banished. However eventually I got there, though I have since realised I missed Edward Hogan’s bloody brilliant The Human Trace’ out of it, and found my eleven books – yes I cheated a tiny bit with an additional novel, but I made this game up. I wonder if Mr Monopoly ever tried that at Christmas gatherings, anyway here it is with the book title, author, place and mini summary for you…

The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy (London) – Set in Loughborough Junction in South London, this is the tale Robert, owner of a dry cleaners, as he says goodbye to his business and the area he knows. It also looks at the customers who come, from all walks of life, to his shop and the little things they leave behind that they forget yet which tell many a tale.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Birmingham) – Frank is a local news presenter and personality. Recently he has become rather obsessed both with the people and the places of his city that others seem to forget. What about all the people with no one to care for them, who die alone and what of the bits of our cities architectural and cultural heritage are we all too quick to gloss over or tear down  and cover with something prettier?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Norfolk) – Not officially set in Norfolk, that is just my guess, this is the tale of Arthur Kipp as he settles the eerie estate of Eel Marsh House and Alice Drablow. A book which wonderfully conjures the atmosphere of some of Britain’s coastal villages, and the literary heritage of a cracking good ghost story.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Edinburgh) – Possibly not the most evocative tale of Scotland but this is something I clearly need to address. This is set during Edinburgh’s famous festival and really brings the hustle and bustle of that place to life as well as being a great crime novel with a very good sense of black humour, you will laugh.

The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway (Northern Ireland) – Grace Quinn is a woman deeply unhappy living in the rural wilds of the North Irish countryside. However after a turn of events (which will make your jaw drop) she heads to Dublin and the home of her son. Ridgway looks at the differences between city life and rural life in Northern Ireland and also the differences between the generations.

The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall (The Lake District) – One of the most ‘earthy’ books I have ever read, yet if you asked me to explain the term ‘earthy’ I would find it very hard to explain. Set in the infamous heat wave of the 1970’s Spencer Little is a stranger who settles in a village in the middle of nowhere, but why? A tale of suspicious townsfolk and one which also lifts the lid on the secrets behind closed doors, especially as the heat makes people do unusual things.

The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough (Wales) – Set in the Welsh Countryside this tells the story of two very different neighbouring farms and the sons of which who make friends. One, Robin, from a hippy family the other, Andrew, from a family so impoverished he is almost feral – why does he choose to sleep with the farm dogs rather than his family?

Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death – M.C. Beaton (The Cotswolds) – A bit of light relief amongst these books with the no nonsense former PR Director now come amateur sleuth as she moves from London to the idyllic Cotswolds only sometimes people don’t welcome an outsider… Murder and mayhem ensue in the most wry and cosy of mysteries with a thoroughly modern Anti-Marple.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale (Cornwall) – A book that celebrates Cornwall and also a sense of everyone’s nostalgia from younger years. We follow Julian back to a fateful summer holiday in Cornwell which leads to many family secrets being revealed and how we see things differently as adults.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (Brighton) – Going back in time a little and looking at the place no deemed the gay capital of England, and a celebrated seaside resort, when it had a much more underground and shady sense of place. We follow Marion and Tom who are both in love with the same man and how society at the time informs their decisions and their lives.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (Great Britain all over) – My slight cheat as I think this book, which travels all over England and Scotland, really looks at English society from the 80’s which is very similar to today and the real sense of what it is to grow up working class in our country rather than the often emphasised ‘Hampstead’ view.

So there you have it, that is my list of books that encapsulate the British Isles for me. I know that Thomas is working on his list of ten books which as soon as it goes live I will link to, its is now live here. I can say I have read two of them (one a major hit, one a bit of a dud with me) and am really excited about trying all of them. In the meantime you can hear us talking about them on this fortnight’s episode of The Readers.

What do you think of the list? I know it might not be the most conventional but to me it seems the truest for me personally. Which of them have you read? Who fancies giving this a go themselves? I would so, so, so love if some of you did be you in the UK, America, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, France… anywhere, and spread the word. Basically have whirl, over a few days (it took me four) and link back to it here so I can come and have a nosey, go on, you know you want to…



Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

67 responses to “Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

  1. gaskella

    Going to have a go at this …. 🙂

  2. This is a fantastic idea, especially as I haven’t read any of these books so I’ll have a lovely list of 10+ books to go through once Thomas reveals his list. I look forward to the podcast. I am tempted to try this out, but I’m honestly not sure I’ve read enough books in different locations or modern books – which is a tad embarrassing. If I manage to complete the list I’ll link back.

    • They don’t have to be modern books Alice, we only decided to do this because it made it a bit harder, I could think of way, way more older novels that would have done the trick. If you give it a whirl do link back, yes please.

  3. I love this idea, and it’s one of the best “memes”/challenges I’ve seen! I also am not well read enough to be able to come up with a decent list, though it would be fun to research and experiment. I might try it for the US (my home country) and/or Japan, where I lived for some time.

  4. As I said on Twitter, a great idea and a fun list (although Dublin isn’t in Northern Ireland, I’m afraid! Or perhaps you knew that, and the countryside was the N. Irish part) – the only one I’ve read is One Good Turn, which I much enjoyed. At the time I hadn’t been to Edinburgh, and now I’ve been a couple of times I should re-read.

    I’ll spread the word at some point, and might well give it a go myself, but find it hard to remember where the books I read are set. But now that I’ve heard your comment about Oxford, perhaps I should make a list including it! 😉

    • Cough, Nothern Ireland is in the book a lot too Simon 😉

      Do give this a whirl and spread the word it would be lovely to see even more people – or just more people – taking part. I just completely forgot about Oxford I have no idea why. Awkward.

  5. 52 states Simon? You got it right on the podcast, must be a typo here…perhaps you are including DC (as I did in my list) as well was Puerto Rico. It is possible both might become states at some point.

  6. Louise Trolle

    Listing 10 Danish books here only makes sense if they’re translated into English I guess, so here goes:

    The Keeper of Lost Causes
    Smilla’s Sense of Snow
    Seven Gothic Tales
    Either/Or: A Fragment of Life
    Prince: A Novel
    The Exception
    The Snow Queen
    Jeppe of the Hill
    The Boys from St. Petri

  7. great idea, but wow, so tough in 10 books.
    maybe you could specify a few criteria for us? I’m organizing a Books on France challenge, basically people link their reviews of any book having a connection with France. But would love to do something along your line, but I need help to zoom in 10 books: like 10 different categories? classic? nonfiction? French author or not? oh my so many books could fit in.

    • It needs to be tough though or the list would be never ending ha, ha, ha!

      Do please make some lists about French literature of all sorts I would love to know about more French literature, it is only over the pond and I should know more, shameful.

  8. I will have a think and bash at it and see what I come up with

  9. Oooh, I wish I had seen this before my recent trip to Scotland. I was looking for Edinburgh books!

    Otherwise, the only one I’ve read is The Woman in Black, which I do think conveys a great sense of place.

    • Thomas makes a valid point about the Edinburgh choice, it isn’t seeped in the atmosphere of that city but it is very present. I am trying to think of a book that really makes me think of Edinburgh, tricky…

  10. I’m going to make an attempt at a list, but I don’t read nearly as much American lit as I do British, so it may be harder than I think.

  11. Pingback: 10 books that sum up Britain | Reading Shoes

  12. Love it. Spent a perplexed hour musing on my own list of UK books… Here’s what I came up with:

    • Brilliant list Layla, I just went and had a gander, and several books I knew nothing about so I shall go and look them up too – see this is a lovely way of discovering more books, hoorah!

  13. So pleased to see The News Where You Are on your list. I thought O’Flynn did a fantastic job of not only constructing a very strong sense of a particular place and time, but also of renegotiating how character, reader and writer interact with their literal and figurative landscapes.

    • It is a fantastic book isn’t it? But I am a huge fan of O’Flynn over all, in fact I really need to read her latest one actually, it has been on the shelves for quite some time. Shameful.

  14. I mostly read British Lit, but I may attempt a Southern Lit list. I’ll tweet the link when I get it posted!

  15. What an interesting list, and how have I missed The Claude Glass (especially as I live in rural Wales)? Very difficult – I’m going to have to go and spend ages rereading things … what a hardship!

  16. I just might have a go at this on my blog. Let me think of a list for India.

  17. mee

    Geraldine Brooks is Australian and remains Australian even after getting American passport in recent years. Sorry, just need to get it out there, as I always count her as Australian in my “reading the world” mission, also I am currently reading The Year of Wonders, so it’s all very fresh for me 🙂

    ps: I haven’t read any on your list despite my effort to read more UK literature! The most recent one I enjoyed was Fingersmith – Sarah Waters.

    • While one may quibble with where she is “from” (depending on the meaning one attaches to that word), I feel the need to point out that it is not wrong to say Brooks is American. She is now both Australian and American even if she may self-identify more with one nationality than the other. So she can kill two birds with one stone for any reading around the world challenge. 🙂

    • Drats! I made a few mistakes with the list it seems but hey managed to cleverly sneak in some additional titles don’t you think?

  18. Pingback: India in {Ten}ish Books | Nishita's Rants and Raves

  19. A variation of this question came up one time when my colleagues from various parts of the world got together for dinner after work. We made it even harder on ourselves by limiting our choice to just one book per country. I have that list somewhere so will dig it out.
    In the meantime you might get more ideas from a series I’ve featured on my blog where I asked people from different countries to talk about the literature from their homeland

    • Oooh what a great idea for a series. I am off to have a look at them shortly, see which countries I can find out more of the literature in. You clearly work somewhere fabulous too. The furthest anyone in my last office was from was Chester.

  20. Roy

    Surely trainspotting for Scotland?

  21. Pingback: Ten Books that Represent Great Britain | Annabel's House of Books

  22. This is one of those worms that burrow into your mind. I’ve been pulling books off the shelves trying to get ten (on Ireland) with what seems like the right balance. It’s difficult, like all these short lists and going through my shelves is a sharp reminder of all the unread novels I’m accumulating.
    By the way, Keith Ridgway is from Dublin and The Long Falling is set in the Republic of Ireland. Great book though.

    • Drats, that is another fail with where Ridgway is from, oh bottoms. Nevermind, I had a list of 11 so I was cheating anyway and it might have sent people in the direction of a brilliant author regardless 😉

      I would love to see a list of ten Irish books. I need to go to Ireland I really do.

  23. Delighted by your inclusion of ‘The News Where You Are’, and sad that ‘Year of Wonders’, which I thought was a very fine book doesn’t qualify. My year of Reading from Home ends on December 31, so I in looking for a new concept (and as a Scot) I’ve been thinking about Reading England – reading a book set in every county (and possibly every city) in England, ideally read when in situ, thus making me explore my 25-years-temporary adopted home. I’ll be spending a lot of time in Scotland next year, so it won’t work for me in 2014, but remains the top contender for 2015, I think. I’m not sure whether to try a Scottish or a GB or UK list.

    • The News Where You Are is wonderful isn’t it? Nevermind that Year of Wonders doesn’t technically count as I still managed to mention it somehow ha! Keep me posted about Reading England would be interesting to see a list of books by shires if you do one.

      • Yes, it is. A friend agreed to get me ‘Mr Lynch’s Holiday’ for my birthday, but has clearly forgotten – fingers crossed for Christmas! I need to get my spreadsheets off to the accountant this week, but will start having a proper think about ‘Reading England’ links after that – and once I’m off for the festive season, in about 16 days time.

        I had hoped to do my 10 books, but realised that I couldn’t think of a book I’d read in recent times set in (near) contemporary Wales. I have now remedied that with Susan Fletcher’s Costa Prize-winning debut ‘Eve Green’. Still need to think about Northern Ireland – my copy of ‘Ripley Bogle’ remains unread! I am rather ashamed of this…

        I think my Scottish book(s) may be a bit different to those already in the frame!

  24. Pingback: Sunday Caught My Interest | Reflections from the Hinterland

  25. Hi Simon! Have you heard of the Canada Reads challenge? Every year a group of five finalist books are championed by five well-known Canadians to be the book that everyone should read. In 2013, the books were chosen according to geographic region, and here are the Top 50 (10 from each of the five regions):

    and here are the five finalists that were debated and discussed on CBC Radio:

    It’s a terrific way to get people talking about books. This year the search is on for “one book that could change the nation.”

    • Lee-Ann this is a brilliant source of Canadian books, what a terrific way to get people talking and reading books too. Thanks for these links, lots of books I haven’t even heard of to look into! Hoorah!

      Only question am pondering is how easy it will be to get my hands on some of these. Why can’t books come out internationally everywhere at the same time? Ho-hum, I shall go hunting!

  26. It’s a great challenge! I’ve not read most of your choices and would probably protest One Good Turn to represent Scotland but my experience of the UK is stronger in terms of music rather than literature (we’re talking Martin Carthy, etc).
    I took the challenge for Spain. I took your 10ish literally-mine is 11

    • Brilliant list Teresa, thank you so much for these. I have only heard of one of these books so lots and lots to look into. I think bar Carlos Ruiz Zafon I have yet to read any other Spanish authors, though I could be – and most probably am – wrong!

  27. Pingback: India Through 10 Books | The Greedy Reader

  28. I loved this challenge and though I’m slightly late it was such an enjoyable journey across my country India through 10 books 🙂

  29. Pingback: No Sign Of Mel Gibson!!………Ten Books That Represent My Country |

  30. I am late by a mile plus some more but I had to do it. It was really good to go back the memory lane. Here is mine –

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