Leading article: Everybody's talking books

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The Independent Online

The massive response to our suggested literary canon for school leavers has touched a nerve.

The massive response to our suggested literary canon for school leavers has touched a nerve. It shows how many people are interested in the books and authors that well-read teenagers should be reading - interested enough to e-mail us with their views from as far afield as Siberia, Western Australia and the states of Oregon and New Hampshire in the United States. Much of the reaction was positive, applauding us for our list even if the correspondents didn't agree with its contents. Some of it was negative, accusing us of stifling creativity by having a canon at all and choosing books that would turn working class children off reading.

We feel that we didn't do enough to explain our criteria. Our attempt was to make the reading list as global as possible, reflecting the world in which we live. Today's pupils are growing up in a society that is much more culturally diverse than the one their parents experienced. Some children attend schools containing pupils from more than 40 countries. They have friends who come from the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent or Eastern Europe. That was why we deliberately sought out great writers from these regions. VS Naipaul is not only a noted author, but he writes about the West Indies. Salman Rushdie is one of India's best writers. Haruki Murakami writes about Japan and modern life in an urban setting.

In addition, our reporter Hilary Wilce made an effort to seek out some of the best female writers. Toni Morrison, the author of Beloved, was chosen not just because of her sex but because she writes so movingly about slavery, a defining issue for a large part of the English-speaking world. We realised that some of the choices would be controversial - Virginia Woolf seemed to irritate people the most - but she is an important writer nevertheless. With hindsight, as one correspondent said, perhaps we should have chosen A Room with a View because it is a more accessible book than To The Lighthouse.

We could have included the authors that children love to read, such as JK Rowling and Philip Pullman, but we wanted to produce a canon consisting of classics that would stretch pupils and stand the test of time. That is why the list is made up of writers that are either dead or have been around for a long time and why we have left off the newer, more cutting-edge writers that some of our critics argued should have been included.