You may remember that a couple months ago I got a new job (and it’s amazing—thanks for asking). Which means I’ve officially been inducted as a True Californian through the rite of passage that is the Los Angeles freeway system.
What’s kept me sane while sitting in traffic for three hours every day is one thing: the BBC World Book Club. Every month, the BBC World Book Club chooses a book to discuss with its author. The audience is encouraged to read along and then submit questions for the author. An invited audience is present at the time of the recording to ask questions as well. You get a great mix of questions from people all over the world, and often the most interesting part is listening to a young man in Ethiopia or a young Muslim woman in Turkey express how one of these books changed their lives.
The BBC World Book Club podcasts are available for free download in iTunes, thankfully. And with over ten years’ worth of podcasts, I’ve gotten an earful of books. Listening to them has already had a great impact on my To-Read list. Some books (The Color Purple) and authors (Joyce Carol Oates) I was excited to listen to and had wanted to read, but after hearing the author (Annie Proulx) interviewed, I changed my mind. But many authors whose books have never really grabbed my attention suddenly sparked my interest. Their interviews were touching or fascinating or funny or all three, and it makes me think that their books might be as well.
So here are the books that I’ve added to my To-Read list because of the BBC World Book Club:
About a Jamaican couple who immigrates to the UK and faces the trials of living in post-World War II Britain, what really captivated me about this book was hearing Andrea Levy read part of it and perfectly render the Jamaican accent of her characters. Apparently Levy’s parents are Jamaican, and I know that when I get around to reading this, her voice will be in my head. Really, the podcast is worth listening to just for that accent.
This book has been showing up in my periphery for a while, but it took the BBC podcast to really make me look at it. Half of a Yellow Sun is a complex novel about the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. I’m ashamed to say that most of what I know of Nigeria comes from reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, so hearing about the Nigerian-Biafran War from Adichie was fascinating and horrifying all at the same time. What really makes me want to read this, though, is her description of her characters. They simply seem so relatable, and I’m always a sucker for moral dilemmas. Recently, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie also came out with another book, Americanah, which is also now on my To-Read list.
This book already has a leg up just for having “wife” in the title. Of course I need to read it now. On top of that, it’s about an evangelical Christian community and the struggles of one woman to conform to that community’s expectations. Let’s just say these topics combined attract me almost as much as Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream ice cream.
I didn’t expect to want to read this one. I’ve seen The Sense of an Ending and other Barnes books all over the place, and they’ve never appealed to me. But Julian Barnes himself… he was so jovial during his interview. He kept laughing this full, buoyant chuckle and I just wanted to give him a hug. Also, I loved reading Madame Bovary and Gustave Flaubert is an intriguing author, so I think the story’s premise is interesting.
Yes, this one was already on my To-Read list before I heard Toni Morrison on the BBC. But hearing her made me that much more determined to read it. Do you know what this book is about? It’s about a ghost baby that revisits her mother who killed her! I had no idea. I truly didn’t know what the book was about before; only that it was required reading for many English majors and somehow I’d missed the boat.
I was always reluctant to read The Kite Runner because I saw the movie when it came out and I think I was a little too young to handle the violence. I’ve never done well with graphic violence. But the appeal of good writing and a powerful plot is enough to overcome my distaste for violence. Plus, I want to read his other books and I feel like I should read this one first.
Usually, the words “detective,” “crime,” and “mystery” turn me off a book. Apart from Nancy Drew, I’ve had a strict no-crime policy in reading (see above re: distaste for violence). But the character Precious Ramotswe intrigues me, and I’d love to see the very serious topic of women and violence in Africa handled with good grace and humor. Plus, Alexander McCall Smith just seems so nice.
From the interview, I don’t really remember what the book is about—though after looking it up on Goodreads I know it’s about “a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets.” What I do remember while listening to this podcast is being impressed by A. S. Byatt’s intelligence and the theme of possession—what it means to own something, what it means to be owned and controlled. It almost wouldn’t matter what the book is about; something about Byatt’s conviction urged me toward this book.
Midnight’s Children is about a boy born at midnight when India achieved independence, and how that coincidence ties him to the land, the people, and his family. Apparently, the 1000 children born on the night of India’s independence have special powers, and the main character, Saleem, seeks them out. I was hooked by the first line when Salman Rushdie read it: “I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time.” The book appeals to me because of its touch of the fantastic and heavy dose of powerful meaning.
Once upon a time, I was warned away from this book, and I wasn’t particularly impressed by The Bean Trees, so I decided Kingsolver probably wasn’t for me. But I didn’t know what The Poisonwood Bible was about. It’s about the Price family, led by the father Nathan, an evangelical Baptist missionary. He takes the family to the Congo, but they are unprepared for the way their lives and faith will be tested there. I might not like the book when I get around to reading it, but that plot is interesting enough to me that I would like to try.