Exploring friendship and family

This summer, we’re diving into the BBC’s list of 100 novels that  shaped our world.

One of the categories is identity, and the BBC panel selected these 10 books:

  • A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  • Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  • Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot
  • Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
  • The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
  • The Witches – Roald Dahl

Tales of the City and its sequels have found a new audience recently, following a Netflix adaptation. It is a book that has brought comfort to many young LGBT+ readers, who may yearn for a chosen family (or ‘logical family’, in Maupin’s words) like that of 28 Barbary Lane. Writing for the BBC, Hugh Montgomery, says that:

What the series has meant to gay readers, in particular, over the years is incalculable: living within its pages has provided them with a community, even when real life may have not.

If you want to hear Maupin talk in his own words about his life and work, there’s a great interview by Jonathan Groff on YouTube.

Another book on this list that has been recently adapted for TV is A Suitable Boy. The new series is the first time the BBC has had a historical drama cast entirely with people of colour. The book is huge – over 1400 pages – so it will be interesting to see how many people actually read it after enjoying the series!

A considerably shorter book is childhood favourite, The Witches. Something that’s strange if you stop and think about it, is the number of adults in children’s books and films who hate children. The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dahl’s malevolent witches are enough to give any child nightmares. James Curtis explores this issue of child-hate in a journal article, using The Witches as his case study.

Talking of unlikeable characters, Quoyle’s wife didn’t mar Bob Pomfret’s enjoyment of The Shipping News. Bob, from Design and Media Services told us:

When I found The Shipping News on the list I was so pleased. Pretty much everyone, including Quoyle himself, thinks he is the ultimate loser. When his wife dies (don’t feel too sad, she is definitely not a good person) things have to change. Somehow he manages to gather up his daughters, drive them out of New York and away to a very different life in Newfoundland. It is definitely not all a bed of roses after that (roses would never grow at Quoyle’s Point), but Quoyle (we never do learn his first name) and family have found a world where they can survive and eventually begin to thrive. A book of wonderfully written characters, and best of all a book of hope.

Bob Pomfret holding The Shipping NewsFinally, the artist Gillian Wearing tackles the legacy of Middlemarch in her experimental film, Everything is Connected. This film uses the words and locations of Eliot but uses a diverse cast of contemporary voices.

What books do you think best capture family and friendship. It could be one of this list, or your own choice.

Tag us on Twitter (@brookeslibrary) or Instagram (@oxfordbrookeslibrary) to let us know…



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