10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

Time to ponder my 20th Century Reading Project. First there were ten, then  twenty, then thirty, and now there are forty books.

The plan was to complete the century over two years, sixty in year one and forty in year two, as it gets more difficult as there are fewer spots to fill.

So I’m rather behind schedule but I’m not going to worry about it too much. This has been a difficult year, and I’ve read the books I wanted to read without particularly looking for books that fit the project.

That’s left me with more than a dozen books that have had to be ruled out because a year was already taken or because an author was already represented.

I’m sure there will be books like that again next year, but I’m going to be more focused on reading books from years with slots to be filled, and books by authors who are still waiting to be represented.

But enough rambling, this is a 10% report, so here are another ten books:

1922 – The Heir by Vita Sackville-West

Blackboys was home, and its faded grandeur gave him beauty, comfort, and a place in the world, a point in history. He came to realise that slowly, as he walked through galleries full of family portraits, as he looked across beautiful gardens towards rolling hills, as he sat, peacefully in his  wood-pannelled library.

1924 – The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The very, very best novels leave me struggling for words, quite unable to capture what it is that makes them so extraordinary. The Home-Maker is one of those novels. It was published in the 1920s, it is set in small town American, and yet it feels extraordinarily relevant. It is the story of the Knapp family – Evangeline, Lester and their children, Helen, Henry and Stephen. A family that was unhappy, because both parents were trapped in the roles that society dictated a mother and a father should play.

1925 – Streamers Waving by G. H. B. Kitchin

Miss Clame had accomplishments, she had social graces, and she had a wide circle of friends and a busy social life. But it wasn’t enough. She was acutely aware that she was a second-class citizen, that married women would always be one step ahead of her.

1939 – Heaven Lies About Us by Howard Spring

It wasn’t conceived as a memoir. Not long after he became a published novelist Howard Spring was asked to speak at a fundraising event in his home town. He spoke about his childhood and his first steps as a writer and, some years later, his lecture became this little book.

1952 – Catherine Carter by Pamela Hansford Johnson

There is a lovely moment, near the end of the story, when Mrs Carter is able to draw on her own experience to help her daughter with an aspect of a role she found troubling. Her happiness at being able to give something to her daughter was so clear, and I shared in it. There were so many moments like that, when I recognised an emotion, a reaction, and incident, and they all helped the story to sing.

1957 – The Happy Ending by Leo Walmsley

Castle Druid was just as wonderful as the name suggested, but there was much to be done to make it habitable as a family home. Walmsley was just as engaging as I had hoped he would be as he wrote about the dreaming, the planning, the scheming, the working, and of Clow, the local mason, who had family ties with Castle Druid.

1958 – Down to the Sea in Ships by Ursula Bloom

Ursula had become a  bride in 1916 and a widow in 1916, but she knew that she was luckier than most. She shared a house in Frinton-on-Sea with her brother and she had already had three novels published. She was ready for the future and she loved it. Trading in her corsets for cami-knickers! Learning the tango! Going to the cinema to see Rudolph Valentino! And, most daring, most exciting of all, she had her long hair cut and shingled! And then she fell in love.

1964 – Memories and Gardens by Marion Howard Spring

I realised when I read the introduction that Marion Howard Spring was a very near contemporary of my grandmother (my mother’s mother). She was born in the 1880s, she remembered Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, she saw the coronation of Edward VII, indeed she lived the reign of six monarchs, and through two world wars. But this wasn’t a book about that .

1976 – Tea by the Nursery Fire by Noel Streatfeild

Now this was a lovely idea: an author beloved by generations of children, towards the end of her life, telling  the story a much-loved figure from her own childhood. The story of her Gran-Nannie.

1986 – Tin Toys by Ursula Holden

And along the way Ursula Holden made me think of a number of other Virago authors: Molly Keane, Maura Laverty, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and the aforementioned Barbara Comyns. I can’t help thinking of them all as literary cousins. A distinguished company, and though I haven’t read enough yet to draw any real conclusions I am inclined to think that Ursula Holden belongs there.

That’s another ten!

And the next ten is underway. Book 41 has been read, and books 42 and 43 are in my library pile.

I’ll be browsing the lists of others for ideas for my missing years – especially those brave souls who are doing a century in a year – and you’ll find a link to my master list at the top of the page if you’d like to make any recommendations.

11 responses

  1. I really love these 10% updates, Jane. It is so fun to see what you’ve picked and to be reminded of reviews that I might have missed the first time around.

    I am one of those ‘brave souls’ doing it in a year – only three books left to read (and I’m halfway through one of them)! It is true that the closer you get to the end, the more difficult it is to find books for the years you haven’t completed and the more frustrating it becomes when all the books you want to read are from years you’re already done with. It has been a wonderful project and I’m hoping to do it again in 2014 but I’m also excited to have 2013 stretching ahead of me with no reading projects in sight. It will be nice not to let the publication date dictate what I read!

    • You have done brilliantly Claire. This year I’ve kept librarians busy retrieving books from the archive but I think next year I have to ease up and go through my own books to see what gaps I can fill.

      I don’t rule out doing it all over again, but I’m going to need at least a year off, and them maybe doing things a little differently. A decade at a time maybe …

  2. I am in awe of anyone who can take on a project like this – I’m simply not disciplined enough to follow it through. I write lists for myself, and join book challenges, but all sorts of other books crop up that need to be read immediately, so plans go awry!

    • That’s why I’m doing two years – I need to read other things, and I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m pushing away books that don’t fit. I’ve given up on shorter term challenges, but I need longer term projects like this to keep my reading on track.

    • I’d defininitely recommend this project – I’ve picked up some great books along the way. it’s not a challenge with fixed rules, so you can do it at whatever pace and with whatever criteria you like.

  3. And what a great set of ten books that is!

    I have six books left for mine, but I am reading five of them at the moment – so I think I’ll finish off ok. Phew! I had horrors of finishing 99 of them – how frustrating that would be!

  4. The Home-Maker is one of my favourite Persephone reprints, a good choice to re-read for any reason.

    Hope that 2013 is a good year for you.

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