A Box of Books for 2019

Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close.

I have always loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child. And yet I find it difficult to sum up a year of reading in a list or two. And so I approach things a little differently.

I assemble a virtual box of books that would speak for my year in books; and I stick a virtual post-it note to each book, with my thoughts when I read it, to remind me why that book was in my box.

I try to pick my favourites, the books that stay with me and the books that call me back; and I also try to pick a cross-section of what I’ve read, so that when I look at a box I know where I was in my life as a reader that year.

Before I show you what is in my box, there are people I really must thank – authors past and present, publishers, sellers of books both new and used, fellow readers – who have all done their bit to make the contents of my box so very lovely.

And now all I have left to say is – Here are the books!

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The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

I think that the best books are the ones that capture all or part of a life – or lives – with real insight and beautiful expression, and that the very best books do all of that and say something important to its first readers and to readers who come to it years and years later. This is one of the very best books; telling the story of a pioneering young woman scientist who becomes deeply involved in the campaign for votes for women.

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam

It was a plain hardback book without a dust jacket, sitting on a shelf waiting to catch somebody’s eye. Many people would have passed it by but I recognised the name of an author who has been published by both Virago and Persephone. It had a title that I was sure I had read about, and that suggested the book might well be my kind of book. It was.

Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

The story of this year in Hilary’s life is charming, and it is clear that its authors understood the workings of a big department store, and how it would strike a newcomer to that kind of world. Her voice is wonderful. She is bright, she is witty and self-deprecating, and she is wonderfully interested in the people she meets and the world around her.

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett

The journey through this series of book is for the faint-hearted; but for those prepared to commit time, heart and intellect, they are richly, richly rewarding. The quest in the first book was to find justice and the right place in the world; while the quest in this book is to find an infant, hidden away far from the place he should know as home, and in the power of a ruthless, devious and very clever enemy.

* * * * * * *

A Welsh Witch by Allen Raine

Anne Adaliza Beynon Puddicombe – who wrote under the name Allen Raine – was a popular novelist in her day,  selling more than two million books and seeing some of them turned into very early silent films. I can understand that success, because this book was beautifully written and the story it told was captivating.That story tells of the lives of four young people who have grown up in a  sea-side village of Treswnd on the Cardiganshire coast.

 The Flower of May by Kate O’Brien

I can think of few coming of age stories more profound than this one. It moves from immature feelings about love and life, though loss and grief, to an understanding that acceptance of responsibility without sacrificing ambition would bring both security and spiritual grace.

The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray

The writing in this book is so honest and so insightful that Helen’s feelings and experiences were palpable, and though there were times when I felt so sad for her that it was difficult to read I couldn’t look away. Her story speaks profoundly for the generation of women who lived through the Great War, and it does more besides.

China Court by Rumer Godden

The narrative moves back in time to tell stories of previous generations who lived there, not in the way of most novels that have stories set in different points in time, but in a way that feels completely natural and right. Sometimes a thought, a sound, a sight can spark a memory can stir a memory; sometimes of just a moment of time and sometimes of a whole story of people, places and incidents long past.

* * * * * * *

Mad Puppetstown by Molly Keane

I loved the arc of the story, and I loved the different arcs of the lives of the different characters. The country house and the people who lived and worked there came wonderfully to life; and their stories spoke profoundly, about family, about home, and about Irish history. I’d love to know what happened next; but I’m happy to be left to wonder, and to think about those halcyon childhood days at Puppetstown.

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming

This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the illumination of love between mothers and daughters.

Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby

Susan Alice Kerby had the knack of using the fantastical to enhance and enrich a story set in the real world, rather than writing a fantasy, in the same was that Edith Olivier did in ‘The Love Child’ and Sylvia Townsend Warner did in ‘Lolly Willows’. This story might not be as deep as those, but it has other attributes that make it a joy to read.

Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp

It was lovely to spot themes and ideas that would echo through Margery Sharp’s novels. Many of those novels are more accomplished than this one, but ‘Rhododendron Pie’ is a particularly accomplished first novel. There could have been a little more subtlety, a little more sophistication in the way that Ann determined her future ; but this book  is beautifully constructed, the quality of the writing and the use of language is sublime, and that carries the day.

* * * * * * *

I am wishing for reissues of ‘A House in the Country’, ‘The Flower of May’ and ‘Rhododendron Pie’; and I am eagerly awaiting the reissue of ‘Business as Usual’ by Handheld Press next March, as I really didn’t want to return my library copy.

Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2019? What do you plan to read in 2020?

And please let me wish you the happiest of New Years!

12 thoughts on “A Box of Books for 2019

    1. I love your creative way of “boxing” your books. There are a number of books here that I’m putting on my TBR list based on your book notes. Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2020!

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  1. Included in my box of books for 2019 would be The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, an author I was unaware of until your review of Pawn in Frankincense. I shall always be grateful for the time and energy you put into your blog; I’ve added multiple books to my Want to Read shelf because of your excellent reviews. Happy New Year!

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  2. Your list reminds me I want to read the first Dorothy Dunnett book and more Rumer Godden. I will put together a box of favorite books I read this year to share in a future blog post, I like the idea.

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  3. A fantastic selection of books Jane. A few I have read myself, delighted to see The Call, The Happy Tree and Mad Pupperstown included. I am looking forward to reading Business as Usual in the New year and China Court is also on my shelf waiting to be read. I would love to find a copy of that Ruth Adam book.

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  4. Happy new year, Jane! What a wonderful array of books. I’ve already got my library trying to track down a copy of Rhododendron Pie and will now start looking out for Business as Usual, too. Thanks for lots of great ideas to start off my reading in 2020!

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  5. Lots of intriguing selections. I thought I had read all of Rumer Godden but now I am unsure if I ever read China Court. I think Pawn in Frankincense is my favorite Dunnett. Meeting her was a huge thrill!

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  6. Happy New Year, Jane! Such a lovely box of books that made up your year. Many that I’d like to explore further. Was actually interested in Laura Cumming’s ‘A Face to the World’ so am glad to see her name featured in your box. 🙂

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  7. Jane, I often think that I should like to follow in your reading footsteps and simply read what you read; your choices are always so special and your thoughts so subtle and insightful. So I would happily borrow your entire box of books from 2019 and make them my goals for 2020 🙂

    Wishing you another year of reading treasures. Bledhen Nowydh Da!

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  8. Some lovely books there including one I WILL read in 2020 and some I hope to read! I love reading about your book box and it’s a comfort to find this post among all the others. I just posted my best of 2019 which was 12 books, and not quite representative of the balance of fiction and non-fiction I read! Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful posts and I look forward to more!

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  9. That’s a lovely box of books, as always. The only one I’ve read is Pawn in Frankincense, which I loved, but I would like to read most of the others. I still haven’t read anything by Rumer Godden, but I’m determined that 2020 will be the year that I do. Happy New Year!

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