The Big Jubilee Read: 70 years' worth of books to inspire you this summer

By Fiona Evans
Thursday, 9th June 2022, 5:00 pm
The Big Jubilee Read celebrates books by authors from across the Commonwealth  (photo: Adobe)
The Big Jubilee Read celebrates books by authors from across the Commonwealth (photo: Adobe)

Seeking inspiration for summer reading material? With 70 books, the Big Jubilee Read could be just the ticket

The landmark bank holiday weekend may already seem a distant memory but there are good times aplenty to embrace as we head into summer.

Many people will be looking forward to their first holiday abroad for several years while others map out staycations and day trips.

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Whether you plan to bask in the heat of an exotic beach or simply chill in your back garden, what better time than these brighter months to lose yourself in the pages of a good book.

And if the galaxy of titles out there has left you feeling flummoxed, you could do worse than peruse the relatively small canon of books curated for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read.

This “reading for pleasure campaign” celebrates books by authors from across the Commonwealth to coincide with Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

It was not entirely without criticism when earlier this year BBC Arts and The Reading Agency announced the 70 titles that would comprise the list - much of which appeared to be for what was left off, rather than on the inventory.

But with the rich literary tradition of the Commonwealth’s various countries to choose from, whittling it down to a mere 70 was never going to gratify everyone. And that in itself is no reason to dismiss the enterprise.

The Big Jubilee Read features 70 titles (photo: Adobe)

The titles consist of 10 books from each decade of Her Majesty The Queen’s reign and according to the official line, they offer “a brilliant selection of beautiful and thrilling writing produced by authors from a wide range of Commonwealth countries” including Australia, Canada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and the UK.

Among some of the titles’ better-known authors are Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood, John le Carré, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.

There is also work by E. R. Braithwaite, Anthony Burgess, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marlon James, Andrea Levy, Arundhati Roy, Douglas Stuart, Derek Walcott and Markus Zusak.

“Nineteen years on from the Big Read, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee feels like the perfect opportunity to foreground some of the greatest writing from across the Commonwealth in our Big Jubilee Read,” said Suzy Klein, head of arts and classical music TV at the BBC.

“The list of 70 books - 10 for each decade 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 books were chosen by an expert panel of librarians, booksellers and literature specialists from a “readers’ choice” longlist.

Delivered with public libraries, reading groups, publishers, bookshops and authors, it is hoped that the Big Jubilee Read campaign will use the proven power of reading to unite the public around the shared stories that define our social and cultural heritage.

Supported by events and activities in libraries and bookshops, the campaign also features online resources for reading groups across the country.

With Arts Council England funding and support from Libraries Connected and the Booksellers Association, the campaign follows on from other collaborations between The Reading Agency and the BBC, including the national Big Read survey in 2003.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with BBC to celebrate the proven power of reading at this historic moment of national celebration,” said Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency.

“The Reading Agency hugely values the support of our library partners bringing this fantastic book list to life in the heart of communities across the country this summer.”

For more information about the Big Jubilee Read, including resources for your reading group, visit: https://readinggroups.org/big-jubilee-read

Big Jubilee Read titles

1952-1961

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite

The Guide: A Novel by R. K. Narayan

The Hills Were Joyful Together by Roger Mais

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard

My Bones and My Flute: A Ghost Story in the Old-Fashioned Manner by Edgar Mittelholzer

In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming

Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain

A House for Mr Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

1962–1971

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Interrogation by J.M.G. Le Clezio

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney

When Rain Clouds Gather And Maru by Bessie Head

The Girls Of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

1972–1981

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

The Nowhere Man by Kamala Markandaya

Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Who Do You Think You Are? by Alice Munro

1982–1991

Omeros by Derek Walcott

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay

Summer Lightning & Other Stories by Olive Senior

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell

1992–2001

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Salt by Earl Lovelace

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

2002–2011

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

The Boat by Nam Le

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2012–2022

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

The Promise by Damon Galgut