Tuesday 30 August 2022

'Great Reads...'

 I must admit I had no idea there was such a thing as the Big Jubilee Read going on until I stepped into my local library today and noticed a display table devoted to it, promising 'Great reads by celebrated authors from the Commonwealth'. There were a dozen or so volumes displayed, including some that seemed worthy choices – Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas, Derek Walcott's Omeros (represented only by a Study Guide, oddly) and... Henry James's What Maisie Knew, two copies of which, in different editions, were on display. Could Henry James conceivably be described as a 'celebrated author from the Commonwealth'? What was this Big Jubilee Read anyway? I checked it out, and found the full list of 70 titles, compiled from readers' suggestions and the thoughts of librarians, booksellers and 'literature specialists'. England and the home nations are represented in the list, with mostly rather worthy titles that carefully skirt anything like popular literature or even such obvious behemoths as Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) is fortunate in representing both Dominica and Wales, while Muriel Spark (The Girls of Slender Means) is there for Scotland. Nineteen of the 70 titles have won the Booker Prize – a telling fact... And Henry James? No, he is not on the list, which only goes back as far as the 1950s. So presumably it was a mistake – perhaps someone misread one of the titles on the list, Marlon James's The Book of Night Women? Who knows, but let's hope some reader picks up What Maisie Knew, enjoys it, and decides to read more James. Libraries are all about serendipity, or should be.  


  1. Perhaps someone forgot to update the status of the thirteen colonies? But Henry James did become an English citizen very late in life.

    1. He did indeed George, and a very patriotic one (in his Jamesian way).