I’ve rather neglected my 100 Years of Books project, and this is my first 10% report in more than a year.
There was a time when that would have horrified me, but I’ve learned to be more relaxed about the whole thing.
I’ve learned that the way to enjoy the project is to take my time; to focus on it when I want to and to put it to one side when I want to read other things. I’m reading the books I want to read. Sometimes I realise that a book I want to read will fill a year; and sometimes I think it’s time I filled another year and see if I can spot a book to fill a gap.
I’ll fill the 100 years one day, but I don’t know when that will be.
The couple of books I’ve added to my list recently have re-awakened my enthusiasm for the project.
I have books I’m eager to read to fill more gaps. In between the books from years already filled, the books from authors already on the list, and the books from years outside my project. That’s why it’s going to take some time!
I do still think that I can do this, and that I won’t have to read any ‘duty books’ along the way.
I want to see the final list one day – 100 years, 100 books and 100 authors!
Today though I just have my latest ten books – here they are:
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1855 – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Mrs Gaskell constructed her plot very cleverly, drawing in all of her character in the north and in the south. It is in a large part driven by familiar devices – a misunderstanding and an inheritance – but they are woven in so well, every thing that happens, every character, every relationship, every interaction, rings completely true. On my second journey through ‘North and South’ what struck me was the wonderful depth of everything: character, plot, time and place. The has things to say about people, families and communities that are timeless; and it speaks equally well about its period, about the consequences of industrialisation; about the social history of a particular time and place.
1861 – East Lynne by Ellen Wood
I could tell you that ‘East Lynne’, a huge popular success in its day, has unremarkable writing, is horribly contrived, holds no real surprises, drifts into silliness and goes on for much too long.But I could also tell you that I had to keep reading, that I was very well entertained, and that the book was very easy to read.
1877 – Pendower: a story of Cornwall in the time of Henry VIII by Marianne Filleul
I’ve read many novels that consider the reformation at court, and in the light of the marriages of Henry VIII, but I don’t think I’ve read one before that considered its impact on the country. Marianne Filleul caught the fear and the confusion perfectly, and presented the question in its simplest form. Should mass be said in Latin, that sounded beautiful was not understood, or should it be said in plain language for all to understand?
1885 – Called Back by Hugh Conway
After its first publication, in 1885, ‘Called Back’ was a great success. It sold in huge quantities, it was adapted for the stage; and yet it vanished into obscurity quite quickly. Maybe because the author died young, and maybe because there were other authors who wrote this kind of story – a mixture of sensation and detection – very well. Wilkie Collins is the first name that comes to mind; and I have to say that Hugh Conway wasn’t quite in his league. But he clearly knew how to spin a yarn and how to keep readers turning pages.
1898 – Victoria by Knut Hamsun
This is a very slim novel, and it tells a story that had been told a great many times over the years – the story of young lovers from different classes, pulled together by love but pulled in different directions by life – but it is so well told and so distinctive that I found it irresistible.
1899 – Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley
Mary Cholmondeley plotted her story so cleverly, twisting it again and again; and making my heart rise and fall so many times as I followed the fortunes of a cast of characters who became so very real to me. The two storylines are separate, meeting only as the two friends meet, but the book works because each storyline is so good. There are echoes of great authors, there is glorious satire and wit, there is passionate advocacy of a woman’s right to set the course of her own life; and that is all held together by the most compelling of human dramas and writing that is full of heart and intelligence. It feels like a Victorian novel, but it also feels wonderfully subversive.
1919 – The Tunnel by Dorothy Richardson
Reading Dorothy Richardson requires the ability to notice small things and to accept that there are some things that you many never know. I spotted a reference to Miriam’s employment having been found by a family friend, but how she found her lodgings, how she came to know her friends, I don’t know. To complain about that though would be missing the point. This is the story of Miriam’s journey, filtered through her consciousness, and the best way to appreciate it is to stay in the moment with her. There is so very much to appreciate.
1942 – The Vienna Melody by Ernst Lothar
Towards the end of the 19th century Christopher Alt was a renowned piano-maker. He was a master of his craft; the best in Vienna, the best in Austria, and quite possibly the best in the world. When his life ended, he left behind a will containing an extraordinary clause. Because he was a strong believer in family, because he wanted his children, his grandchildren and the generations that followed to remain close, his will said that his descendants must live within the walls of the family home at number 10 Seilerstatte to claim any inheritance . He had hoped to create a harmonious family unit that would live happily side by side and continue the work that he had started, but the reality was rather different.
1947 – The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison
Naomi Mitchison spent the Second World War in Carradale, Kintyre. She welcomed evacuees and refugees into her home, she managed the farm, she organised the local Labour Party, she was involved with her local dramatic society, and she wrote a diary for Mass Observation, of more than a million words. She also wrote this novel; beginning in the dark days of 1940 and working slowly and carefully because she knew that what she wanted to say was important. She wanted to write about the need for peace and reconciliation after war; and she did that in a story set early two hundred years earlier, in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745.
1948 – Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright
June Wright constructed a very good story of suspense; she doesn’t play entirely fair, withholding significant information from the reader and playing fast and loose with police procedure, but it works well enough.It works because the time and place, the people and relationships are so very well drawn. As she tells her story June Wright illuminates the lives of the telephonists, the work that they do and the lives that they lead. She brings the telephone exchange to life, and she uses her knowledge of the telephonists’ work, of the hierarchy of the telephone exchange, and of the procedures that they must follow to excellent effect as she tells her story.
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