Librarians have last word on millennial reads

LIKE MANY lists, it is an arbitrary selection. But the books chosen by Britain's chief librarians to take into the next millennium reveal a more eclectic choice than one might expect.

It ranges from Marx's Communist Manifesto to Tara Road by Maeve Binchy and, although it includes a smattering of Dickens and George Eliot, some of the books, such as Happy As Dead Cat by Jan Miller and Wendy Perriam's Born of Woman are certainly unexpected. The list was compiled at the recent Public Library Authorities Conference in Torquay when librarians were asked for their choice of book.

Pat Beech, acting chief librarian in Shropshire, who helped compile the list, said she was surprised by some of the books but it showed the choices of widely read people. "It's not like a Waterstone's list, which might include more classics or bestsellers. This is people who read very widely and also they were asked to make a quick decision. Many of the choices were simple gut instinct, which can be more revealing that weighing up the literary merit of one book versus another for ages."

She chose The Reader, by Bernard Schlink, because "it is about illiteracy and, as a librarian, I couldn't imagine not being able to read every day. This book made a huge emotional impact on me and it is also beautifully written. Everyone should read it."

Sherry Jespersen, of the Libraries Association, said the list was compiled informally.

"Only a handful of the delegates took part but because they are all bookish people their choices are interesting. There is a current mania for lists and everybody loves to read them but the breadth of this list, however informal, shows the depth to which librarians are involved with books and literature."

Peter Pan was a charming choice, as was the unsurprising appearance of Captain Corelli's Mandolin but there were also such classics as Middlemarch, Bleak House and David Copperfield.

FROM BINCHEY TO WOLFE, TEN OF THE FAVOURITE BOOKS

`The Reader'

Author Bernard Schlink

Outline:Hanna Schmitz, a Berlin tram conductor, takes on the sexual education of schoolboy Michael Berg, later abandoning him. They next meet at a war-crimes trial where she is a defendant.

`Bonfire of the Vanities'

Author: Tom Wolfe

Outline: Wolfe's fictional debut cast a satirical stare over Eighties New York and the greed of the yuppies, sweeping from Manhattan to the Bronx to show the high and low side of city life.

`Peter Pan'

Author: J M Barrie

Outline: Peter Pan, a motherless magical boy, flies through the nursery window of Wendy, Michael and John and takes them to Never Never Land, peopled by fairies and Captain Hook.

`The Secret History'

Author: Donna Tartt

Outline: A group of students at an elite American college, who are cerebral, obsessive and finally murderous. This first, and so far only book by Tartt, was hailed as compelling and brilliant.

`Neuromancer'

Author: William Gibson

Outline: A pessimisitic vision of life in the 21st century ruled by global corporations. Awarded all three big science prizes - the Hugo, the Nebula and the Philip K Dick.

`Tara Road'

Author: Maeve Binchey

Outline: Two women lead very different lives until they decide to swap houses for the summer. Ria goes to elegant, empty New England and Marilyn experiences the richness of life in Dublin.

`Communist Manifesto'

Author: Karl Marx

Outline: This slender polemical work gave us some of the best-known quotes and misquotes over the years, such as "the proletariats have nothing to lose but their chains".

`Bleak House'

Author: Charles Dickens

Outline: Deals with a long drawn-out battle between Jarndyce and Jarndyce over an estate's division. It ends when they realise the costs have absorbed most of the estate's worth.

`Quarantine'

Author: Jim Crace

Outline: Recreation of Jesus's 40 days and nights in the wilderness, accompanied by other fasters: a barren woman, a Greek-influenced philosopher, a nomad and a dying man.

`Satanic Verses'

Author: Salman Rushdie

Outline: Interlocking sequences dealing with identity, migration, religious revelation. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie and the publishers - since dropped.

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