Main content

Discover 100 amazing novels with brand new BBC Sounds podcast

7 February 2022

New podcast Turn Up for the Books features Bastille vocalist Dan Smith, writer Irenosen Okojie and book vlogger Simon Savidge delving into some of the greatest English language novels of all time with the help of a collection of very special guests.

In the first episode, Skunk Anansie star Skin reveals how the quiet refuge of Brixton Library helped to set her on the path to rock stardom.

Brixton Library was my library... Sometimes I wouldn't even read, I'd write lyrics in there and I'd write songs in there
Skin on the pivotal role that her local library had on her future career

In a wide-ranging conversation for Turn Up for the Books, Skin explained that space was at a premium during her childhood in a Brixton two-up, two-down house.

She said: "I have three brothers and until I was 12, we all lived in the same room. In the winter I spent all my time in a corner in the library.

"Growing up as a child, Brixton Library was my library. I felt like I owned it. It was just peaceful for me, and it was my personal, peaceful space. And it was the only time in my life where I had a quiet space to just suck in information and be me.

"It was kind of like Alice in Wonderland, just like going through this door and there were books everywhere. I remember that dusty smell of the library, which I actually really love to this day because I have so many memories attached to that dusty library smell.

"I was always taking out books and taking them home and then having to bring them back and getting fined because I brought them back too late and stuff like that.

"It was like a second home, like a living room. I used to go to the same corner in the library, in the same place, and I would just sit on one of the stools and read my books in the corner. It was the only place I had in my whole life that was mine, and that belonged to me, that I could go and just be myself and be quiet.

But Brixton Library was more than just a quiet place to read. In fact, it was in this location that Skin laid some of the foundations for her future career as the frontwoman of Skunk Anansie, the rock band who had 10 Top 40 hits in the 1990s.

She admitted: "Sometimes I wouldn't even read, I would just sit there and just watch other people reading and just take stuff in. And I'd write lyrics in there and I'd write songs in there - I’d be pretending to read.

"I think I would have actually been a different person if I didn't have that in my life as a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old child."

What is Turn Up for the Books?

Turn Up for the Books is the podcast full of fascinating recommendations about what to read next as well as lively chat about all things books with three people who love all things literary.

Irenosen, Simon and Dan will be joined by guests, including Skin, Juno Dawson, Jed Mercurio and Rev. Richard Coles, to talk writing, explore literary themes as well as revealing the important role that libraries have played in their lives.

Professor Bas Groes from the University of Wolverhampton will also appear in each episode with fascinating statistical reveals drawn from the Big Book Review.

Irenosen Okojie
Simon Savidge
Dan Smith

The novels featuring in Turn Up for the Books were selected by a panel of six leading British writers, curators and critics.

If you'd like to find out more about the themes and novels that Turn Up for the Books will be covering over the next 10 weeks, you'll find a full list and links to further reading below.

Rule Breakers

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville

Habibi – Craig Thompson

How to be Both – Ali Smith

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

Orlando – Virginia Woolf

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

Orlando | AF Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Identity

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Small Island – Andrea Levy

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Read more: Ten remarkable novels about identity.

Love, Sex & Romance

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

Forever – Judy Blume

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Riders – Jilly Cooper

The Far Pavilions – M. M. Kaye

The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

The Slaves of Solitude – Patrick Hamilton

Read more: Get passionate over these ten stories of Love, Sex & Romance

Adventure

City of Bohane – Kevin Barry

Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

Ivanhoe – Walter Scott

Mr Standfast – John Buchan

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

Read more: Spine-tingling tales: Ten of the best adventure stories ever told

Life, Death & Other Worlds

A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri

Dune – Frank Herbert

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis

The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett

The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman

The Chronicles of Narnia | Image: Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Politics, Power & Protest

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman

Strumpet City – James Plunkett

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Unless – Carol Shields

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore

Class & Society

A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul

Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

Poor Cow – Nell Dunn

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Read more: Living together: What ten classic novels tell us about society

Coming of Age

Emily of New Moon – L. M. Montgomery

Golden Child - Claire Adam

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell

Swami and Friends – R. K. Narayan

The Country Girls - Edna O’Brien

The Harry Potter series - J. K. Rowling

The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ - Sue Townsend

The Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer

Family & Friendship

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

The Witches | Pictorial Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Crime & Conflict

American Tabloid – James Ellroy

American War – Omar El Akkad

Ice Candy Man – Bapsi Sidhwa

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Regeneration – Pat Barker

The Children of Men – P.D. James

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Quiet American – Graham Greene

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

More on brilliant books from across the BBC

Latest from BBC Arts