Saturday, January 05, 2008

Great British

The Times has listed what it reckons to be the 50 greatest British authors since 1945, and Erica Wagner invites your comments. (Click on each name to read about them and find out which titles are particularly recommended.)

1. Philip Larkin

2. George Orwell

3. William Golding

4. Ted Hughes

5. Doris Lessing

6. J. R. R. Tolkien

7. V. S. Naipaul

8. Muriel Spark

9. Kingsley Amis

10. Angela Carter

11. C. S. Lewis

12. Iris Murdoch

13. Salman Rusdie

14. Ian Fleming

15. Jan Morris

16. Roald Dahl

17. Anthony Burgess

18. Mervyn Peake

19. Martin Amis

20. Anthony Powell

21. Alan Sillitoe

22. John Le Carré

23. Penelope Fitzgerald

24. Philippa Pearce

25. Barbara Pym

26. Beryl Bainbridge

27. J. G. Ballard

28. Alan Garner

29. Alasdair Gray

30. John Fowles

31. Derek Walcott

32. Kazuo Ishiguro

33. Anita Brookner

34. A. S. Byatt

35. Ian McEwan

36. Geoffrey Hill

37. Hanif Kureshi

38. Iain Banks

39. George Mackay Brown

40. A. J. P. Taylor

41. Isaiah Berlin

42. J. K. Rowling

43. Philip Pullman

44. Julian Barnes

45. Colin Thubron

46. Bruce Chatwin

47. Alice Oswald

48. Benjamin Zephaniah

49. Rosemary Sutcliff

50. Michael Moorcock

I am surprised by Philip Larkin appearing in first place, but it makes me want to run back to his poetry. Would personally have placed Rushdie much higher, and also Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. And I think Burgess should have made the top 10 (sorry, personal prejudice!). It's nice to see Alan Garner (a favourite of my teen years) make the list. Benjamin Zephaniah too.

But then, how on earth can you weigh up authors as if they were vegetables on a market scale? In the end there can be no absolute measure. As Wagner says, it's all about kick starting a conversation. And that's always a good thing.

(I've read books - and in some cases more than one - by 38 of them.)

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah this is totally weird. I mean, what's the difference between, say, rank 38 and 39?!? I think I agree that the 50 choices on the list were/are all very significant figures but I wouldn't have ranked them -- I would've just said, these are the 50 greatest, in alphabetical order. Ranking implies objective criteria and empirical inquiry, and that's a little silly when it comes to literature.

I think one glaring omission is Auden -- Larkin is pretty great, but how come Auden isn't on there at all?!? They had to leave off Yeats because he was Irish, but I'm not sure why Auden was ignored.


-- Preeta

Glenda Larke said...

And just look at how many sf-fantasy authors there are up there, even several in the top 10! Why, then, is the genre itself so despised by the literati??

bibliobibuli said...

preeta - auden wasn't even on the list of 50 more names who nearly made it! (i'm looking at the print version of the newspaper and i don't think it's online). in the posted comments someone else pointed out this very obvious omission.

you're so right glenda. i hope you will use this list as ammo. incidentally, having grown up on sci-fi and fantasy i don't feel like being at all sniffy about the genres! good stuff is good stuff.

Anonymous said...

So ,What about Alistair Maclean, Gavin Lyall or even the great Tom Sharpe?

-Diablo

kam raslan said...

No George MacDonald Fraser? He died a couple of days ago and he was terrific.

Anonymous said...

And where's Jackie Collins? How can the Great Storyteller, the Scheherazade of the Stars be left out????

- Poppadumdum

bibliobibuli said...

tom sharpe was on the list of almost made its, but not the others.

i am very sad that oliver sacks isn't on it ...

also william trevor is listed on the long list, but surely her is irish. we (brits) keep appropriating irish authors as if they were our own

Rob Spence said...

Interesting that Burgess's advocate was another maverick, DBC Pierre. And yes, Trevor is definitely Irish, though he has lived in England for over 50 years. And Ireland is part of the British Isles...

Anonymous said...

Tom Sharpe almost made it!? God, what has happen to the British sense of humor?
Most likely, had too much of PC for breakfast.

Oh! Forgot to add to my earlier comment ...What about Hammond Innes? The wreck of the Mary Deare was my all time favorite from him.

-Diablo h

Janet said...

Graham Greene is missing! :)

kam raslan said...

You're right, Graham Greene is missing. But that must be because he was first published before 1945. The same must be why Evelyn Waugh isn't there. But then again, wasn't George Orwell published before 1945.

Jackie Collins not being on the list is not so surprising because she's absolutely awful.

bibliobibuli said...

bloody hell! you're right janet and kam. greene is missing. he isn't even on the longlist!!!!!! the criteria states "their most enduring works" must have been published since 1945 and several of his greatest ones came later inc

# The Heart of the Matter (1948)
# The Third Man (1949)
# The End of the Affair (1951)
# The Quiet American (1955)

oh please do tell me again that j.k. rowling is a greater writer

Janet said...

It's a conspiracy, I tell you! ;)

Have also often wondered why Graham Greene never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Heard it was because he rubbed the right people the wrong way, or something along those lines.

I really enjoyed one of his more lightweight books (or maybe the ONLY lightweight book), Travels With My Aunt.

Anonymous said...

And J.K. Rowling is better than J-K Collins???? No way!

Anonymous said...

So where are J. M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll ? and Louisa May Alcott ? they're still going to be read long after JK Rowling becomes ancient history :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:08, Louisa May Alcott was American.

Maybe the "most enduring works" clause is why Auden, Greene, and Waugh (also James Barrie and Lewis Carroll) aren't on the list. Otherwise it's bloody baffling.

Did someone really say Jackie Collins? Was that a joke?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Oh -- I misread that list, Sharon. So Greene's most enduring works *were* published after 1945 -- then I don't know what explains his absence. Very weird!

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

lewis carol, anon? erm ... wrong century?

they had to have been alive and writing after 1945 i think to qualify

but no greene is a shocking oversight

bibliobibuli said...

janet - i loved "travels with my aunt" too. read it 35 years ago. fancy that. can also remember quite a lot about it, unlike a lot of books i've read since. discovered greene via piles of books in the english stockroom at school and used to sneak in and illegally borrow them. read several of his novels back to back. "the third man" is a real favourite, maybe because of the film and the music (which i will sing to you when next we meet)

jacky collins? to each his or her taste. mind you, a convincing case needs to be made for the rest of us!

Anonymous said...

Bib, I just realized they left of James Herriot, of all the people. I mean, you don't get any more British than James Herriot :)

Anonymous said...

Similarities between JK and JC:

1. They have written a series of books featuring the same character: JK - Harry Potter. JC - Lucky Santangelo

2. They've sold millions of these books featuring their recurring characters, and have encouraged a generation to read.

2. Characters always go on shopping sprees in their books: JK - at Diagon Alley. JC - Rodeo Drive. And characters who hate each other always meet up at these places and trade insults while shopping.

3. Their books have characters who are whiny bitches (in JK's case it's Ron, and Hermione and Malfoy), in JC's almost every one except her beloved Lucky Santangelo

4. They name drop brand names like mad.

5. Their books are set in a fantasy land (Hogwarts for JK, Hollywood for JC).

6. Their characters use magic powder frequently - 'floo in JK, and cocaine in JC. Both send one flying through the air. 'Floo's more dangerous.

7. Liberal use of coincidences to propel their plots

8. JK seems to be using JC's hairstylist now

9. JC's books are steamy. That train station in JK's books is always full of steam.

10. There's a lot of frenetic wand-rubbing and wand waving in JK's and JC's books.

bibliobibuli said...

anon 1 - funny thing was, i was just thinking about james herriot as i sat down at this computer this morning and wondering if my vet had read him and wondering whether to buy him the books if he hadn't. i think he'd like them because of the way they show that vets are always having to treat the people as much as their animals (and this train of thoughts occurs because i have another very sick cat to take care of ...)

anon 2 - i did enjoy that. what a nice way to start my morning. i think now that jc should be up there with the rest. how could she have been left out? wand-rubbing, indeed!

thesiegeison said...

Hi, Shar!

I totally agree on Rushdie being higher than he is on the list. :)

Have a fantastic New Year filled with books!!!

From the islands just across,

Siege.