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Led by James Naughtie, a group of readers talk to acclaimed authors about their best-known novels

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J K Rowling

James Naughtie a group of young readers talk to author J. K. Rowling about her phenomenally successful book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, from which she also reads an extract.


1 Aug 1999

Rank #1

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Oliver Sacks

James Naughtie talks to Dr Oliver Sacks about The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, a collection of case studies into neurological disorders, all written from the point of view of the Dr.


3 Jul 2005

Rank #2

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Max Porter - Lanny

Max Porter talks about his highly acclaimed novel Lanny, which was nominated for the Booker Prize 2019, and recently released in paperback. Max is one of the most exciting literary talents to emerge in recent years, with Lanny his follow-up novel to his 2015 debut, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.Lanny is the story of a family who've recently moved to the countryside and whose village is peopled by the living and the dead. Lanny is a young boy with a gift for friendship, who adores roaming free in the countryside, making art, leaving traces of enchantment in the closely woven lives around him. Observing it all, and orchestrating a tapestry of village voices, is Dead Papa Toothwort, a sinister and mythological creature who has woken from his slumber and who follows the boy Lanny in his daily life, seeing him as a kind of kindred spirit. It is a novel full of ideas about the environment, art, village life, parenting, as well as the strangeness of every day life.Presented by James Naughtie and including contributions and questions from an invited group of readers.To take part in future Bookclubs apply at bookclub@bbc.co.ukJuly's Bookclub choice : Presumed Innocent by Scott TurowPresenter: James NaughtieProducer : Dymphna FlynnProduction Co-ordinator : Belinda NaylorStudio Manager : Matilda Macari


7 Jun 2020

Rank #3

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Patrick O'Brian - Master and Commander

With James Naughtie. In a special 200th edition of the programme we celebrate the centenary of author Patrick O'Brian and Allan Mallinson is our guide to the first in his hugely popular series of Napoleonic naval stories, Master and Commander. Known as the Aubrey/Maturin novels, the twenty books are regarded by many as the most engaging historical novels ever written. Master and Commander establishes the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, who becomes his ship's surgeon and an intelligence agent. O'Brian won fans not just because of the story-telling and his power of characterisation but also his detailed depiction of life aboard a Nelsonic man-of-war : the weapons, food, conversation and ambience, the landscape and the sea. Master and Commander was first published in 1969 and the twentieth novel in the series Blue at the Mizzen, in 1999, a year before O'Brian died. Allan Mallinson also writes novels about the Napoleonic wars and knew O'Brian. And as always on Bookclub a group of invited readers join in the discussion. December's programme marks the 200th edition of Bookclub which began in 1998 and has featured the world's leading authors from the late 20th/early 21st century like Toni Morrison, JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Alan Bennett. James Naughtie's impressive list of guests also includes writers who are no longer with us like Muriel Spark, Gore Vidal, Douglas Adams, Carol Shields, and Sue Townsend. All are available online to download and keep forever, via the programme's website bbc.in/r4bookclub . Presenter : James NaughtieInterviewed guest : Allan MallinsonProducer: Dymphna FlynnJanuary's Bookclub choice : A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.


7 Dec 2014

Rank #4

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David Mitchell

From the Hay Festival, James Naughtie and an audience of readers talk to David Mitchell about Cloud Atlas, the novel that made him an overnight literary star.


3 Jun 2007

Rank #5

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George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia

John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor and writer Hilary Spurling discuss George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, as part of the Radio 4 Real Orwell Season. Homage to Catalonia was first published in 1938 and is political journalist and novelist George Orwell's personal account of his experiences and observations in the Spanish Civil War. This pivotal time in his writing career led in later years to Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm. James Naughtie presents and a group of readers ask the questions.March's Bookclub choice : Pure by Andrew MillerProduced by Dymphna Flynn.


3 Feb 2013

Rank #6

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Barbara Kingsolver

James Naughtie and an audience of readers discuss American author Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible.


4 Nov 2007

Rank #7

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Bill Bryson

James Naughtie talks to author Bill Bryson about his book A Short History of Nearly Everything.


6 Feb 2005

Rank #8

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John Irving

James Naughtie and readers talk to celebrated American author John Irving about his novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany. The novel starts with a shock - the eponymous hero hits a foul ball in a baseball match and kills his best friend's mother. It then moves through to spooky premonitions during an amateur performance of A Christmas Carol, to a drunken psychiatrist driving down school steps, to a bloody end during the Vietnam war. Yet there is pattern and meaning in such bizarre antics, and part of the fun for the reader is to work them out. Irving reveals the mysteries of one of fiction's most extraordinary characters, Owen Meany - the little guy with the falsetto voice.


6 Dec 2009

Rank #9

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Jonathan Franzen - The Corrections

The author Jonathan Franzen discusses his novel The Corrections with James Naughtie and a group of readers at the British Library in London.


7 Jan 2007

Rank #10

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie joins James Naughtie and readers to talk about Half of a Yellow Sun, winner of last year's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.


4 May 2008

Rank #11

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Marilynne Robinson - Gilead

American writer Marilynne Robinson talks to James Naughtie and readers about her novel Gilead, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.Marilynne Robinson enjoyed great success with her first novel, Housekeeping, when it was published in 1980. She reveals to Bookclub why there was a gap of twenty-four years before she was able to write Gilead, her second book; and how the voice of the narrator came to her when she found herself alone in a hotel one Christmas. Gilead is the autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, an elderly pastor in the small, secluded and fictional town of the same name, who knows he's dying of a heart condition. Writing in the late 1950s, Ames tells his story in the form of a letter to his seven year old son, who will have few memories of him. And as well as revealing his fears about what will happen to his family when he's gone, the account traces the family's history back to the time when the prairies around Kansas and Iowa were being settled, through the Civil War and up to the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.The voice of John Ames captivates the Bookclub audience, and Marilynne discusses his life and work with themes relevant to her own - solitude and religious contemplation.November's Bookclub choice : Skellig by David AlmondProducer : Dymphna Flynn.


7 Oct 2012

Rank #12

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Zadie Smith

James Naughtie talks to Zadie Smith about the impact of her debut novel White Teeth.


2 Jan 2005

Rank #13

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Owen Sheers - I Saw A Man

Owen Sheers talks about his novel I Saw A Man with James Naughtie and a group of readers at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea.After the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves from Wales to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters.The friendship between Michael and the Nelsons at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, and then one Saturday afternoon in June 2008 Michael steps through the Nelsons’ back door, thinking their house is empty and everything changes. Meanwhile thousands of miles away, just outside of Las Vegas, a man is setting in motion a change of events which eventually come to puncture life on that Hampstead Street. And Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a secret.Presenter : James NaughtieProducer : Dymphna FlynnSeptember's Bookclub Choice : The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (2011)


4 Aug 2019

Rank #14

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Bernard Cornwell

James Naughtie talks to the novelist Bernard Cornwell. He joins an audience of readers to discuss the first novel in his series set in Saxon England, The Last Kingdom. The novel centres on the story of Uhtred Ragnarson, a Northumbrian boy captured by the invading Vikings and raised as one of their own, who returns to the Saxons after the Danish warrior who raised him is killed.


1 Feb 2009

Rank #15

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Kazuo Ishiguro

A group of readers join James Naughtie to talk to Kazuo Ishiguro about The Remains of The Day, his acclaimed novel about life above and below stairs in the years leading up to World War II.


7 Apr 2002

Rank #16

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Bookclub - Don DeLillo on Underworld

James Naughtie talks to Don DeLillo about his novel Underworld


4 Sep 2016

Rank #17

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Elmore Leonard

In the 100th edition of Bookclub, James Naughtie is joined by American crime writer Elmore Leonard to discuss his book Rum Punch. The novel is set in Florida and features the character Jackie Burke, who became Jackie Brown in the film of the same name by Quentin Tarantino.


6 Aug 2006

Rank #18

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Erin Morgenstern - The Night Circus

American author Erin Morgenstern talks about her fantasy novel The Night Circus which has become a cult favourite with readers. James Naughtie presents and an invited group of readers ask the questions.It's the story of a mysterious Victorian travelling circus that only opens at night and is constructed entirely in black and white. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists Le Cirque des Rêves is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. the circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the rêveurs, the dreamers.At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters they find themselves locked in a deadly contest and the two rivals defy all the rules of the game by falling in love.You can hear a reading of The Night Circus on BBC Radio 4 Extra Monday 6 January - Friday 10 January at 1800To take part in future Bookclubs apply at bookclub@bbc.co.uk February's Bookclub Choice : The People's Act of Love by James Meek (2005)Presented by James NaughtieProduced by Dymphna Flynn


5 Jan 2020

Rank #19

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Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

With James Naughtie.Khaled Hosseini talks about his global bestselling novel, The Kite Runner with a group of invited readers.The book describes how the happiness of an afternoon's kite flying competition in late-1970s Kabul is broken when young Amir fails to help his best friend Hassan avoid a terrible incident. The effects on the duo's friendship are devastating. Over 20 years later, Amir returns to Afghanistan from America, determined to redeem himself.Khaled Hosseini explains the unequal relationship between the two boys that lies at the heart of the novel, and how the reader has a sense of dread and impending catastrophe as the story develops. He says that although the West has a view of Afghanistan as a violent culture, he remembers that for most of the twentieth century, Afghanistan was a peaceful place, and that the West has exoticised Afghans as being 'warrior' like.March's Bookclub choice : Disobedience (2006) by Naomi AldermanProducer : Dymphna Flynn.


2 Feb 2014

Rank #20