10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m so pleased that I picked up my 100 Years of Books project and began again.

I’ve read two and a half books since my last update; I’ve rediscovered the joy of digging up books to fit difficult years; and I already have ten ore books to present to you, because I found a good number of books to match up with years that needed them from my reading in the time between putting down and picking up this project.

Here they are:

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1853 – Bleak House by Charles Dickens

“The stories told by the two narrator overlap and characters move between them. The story of the consequences of the chancery suit and the story of the illegitimate child, a story that had been buried but will be disinterred, work together beautifully, although they are linked only by a small number of characters who are involved in both. I loved the diverse elements, I loved the wealth of detail; and although I can’t sum up the plot and the relationship I had no problem at all understanding all of the implications, and I was always intrigued.”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“I might have loved Anna if I had met her when I was younger, but I am afraid that I found her infuriating. I loved her spirit, I loved her vitality, but I could not accept that she was so oblivious to anyone else’s feelings and while it might be wonderful to want everything – to live with your lover, to have your child with you always, to hold a high position in society – it is not always possible to have everything you want; life sometimes demands compromises.”

1884 – Jill by Amy Dillwyn

“Jill was the much loved daughter of a prosperous squire, but her life changed when her mother died and when a gold-digger succeeding in luring her father to the altar. She hated her step-mother’s new regime, especially when she realised she wouldn’t be allowed to come out until her two step-sisters had been found husbands. That was why she decided to run away and to earn her own living in London.”

1887 – The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

“The Canterville Ghost haunted Canterville Chase for more than three hundred years, but things changed when his home was sold to an American family. Lubricating oil was proffered when he clanked his chains, detergents were deployed when he left bloodstains, and young children aimed their peashooters whenever they caught sight of him. He deployed every trick he had in his armoury, but nothing worked. One final, desperate act had unexpected consequences, and led to exactly the right ending. There’s so much here – gentle but knowing satire of English and American attitudes, real pathos in the plight of the ghost, and a lovely thread of romance – it all works together beautifully.”

 1893 – In the Vine Country by Somerville & Ross

“There is much to be enjoyed here: accounts of travel by train and by boat; observations of people, places and so many things that the ladies see long the way;  time spent at vineyards, where they saw the harvest and the treading of the grapes; visits to chateaux, where they were most impressed by the great barrels that lay maturing. Along the way they sketched, and they were very proud of their Kodak wherever they went.”

1895 – The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

“It’s heart-breaking, watching two grown-ups – three when the governess arrives – getting things so terribly wrong. Thank goodness that the children had each other, that they were resilient, that in their innocence it didn’t occur to them that anyone could ever have anything other than good intentions, however inexplicable their actions might be. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful their lives might have been in the hands of the right grown-up; somebody with the wisdom to gently guide them, to tactfully explain things, to understand the magic of childish imagination and play.”

1912 – Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

“I must confess that I didn’t really remember ‘Alexander’s Bridge’, Willa Cather’s first novel, from 1912; but I did remember that she hadn’t written a book that she didn’t like. Now that I’ve read it again I have to sat that it isn’t her finest work. The story is a little underdeveloped, a little contrived; the writing, though lovely, is sometimes a little less than subtle. But it is a very accomplished and very readable first novel. Her understanding of character, her skill in evoking places was there; I could see so many signs of the fine novelist she would quickly become.”

1915 – I Pose by Stella Benson

“At the beginning I felt that Stella Bowen was presenting a puppet show; later I felt that she was staging a production at the theatre, but by the end of the story I had been drawn into a very human story. It was a story that explored the relationship between the poses we present to the world and our real concerns in all of its complexity with wit and with such understanding. I don’t know what Stella Benson did, I don’t know how she did it, but she did it quite brilliantly.”

1937 – Enchanter’s Nightshade by Ann Bridge

“The story is of a family that has grown so big that it has become  a community, spending the summer months in the country. Days drift by as they exchange visits, go on picnics, and make trips to places of especial interest. The young are kept busy with lessons in the mornings before that are given their freedom in the afternoons and evenings. One family has a Swiss governess of many years standing who is wise and capable, and who has tactfully and effectively managed the household since the death of its mistress. Another family is awaiting the arrival of a new governess from England.”

 1938 – The Wild Geese by Bridget Boland

“Britain and Ireland were ruled by the House of Hanover, but the throne was contested by Jacobite rebels, supporters of the descendants of the deposed King James II. Catholics were repressed by their Protestant rulers: they could not own land, enter many trades and professions, educate their children in their faith, or worship as they chose. Many could not live with those laws, and this story tells of the implications of those laws for one family. It’s a story told entirely in letters.”

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first three 10% reports are here, here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already. It may take me a while to get there but that doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying the journey.

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I ditched my 100 Years of Books project when I made a new design for my reading life towards the end of last year.

I didn’t miss it at first, but in time I did, especially when other people – SimonAnnabel – I’m looking at you! – started lovely new projects!

I’ve learned that I need a project, but I also need plenty of space to read other things.

And so I’m picking up the threads again.

 100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

But I’ve taken away the deadline. It’ll be done when It’s done.

If it can be done.

I’m not going to read books that I don’t want to read just to fill in missing years so I might never finish. But I think I can, if I do a little re-shuffling of books and authors along the way, so that the authors with many books can fit around the authors with not so many.

I’m going to carry on with my 10% reports every 10 books, and because I’ve read a few books from missing years since I ditched the list I’m able to say – here’s my third 10% report!

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1865 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

1867 – Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton

The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …

1891 – Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon

At first I thought that Mona might be a little too nice, a little too good to be interesting, but she grew into a very fine heroine. She continued to be good, but she was ready to stand up for herself, she learned to be practical and capable, and she coped well with some very tricky situations.

1903 – The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon

She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.

1910 – The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I had to love Laura. Her letter’s home were a riot. I loved that she delighted the invitations to tea that the other girls dreaded, because it gave her a chance to examine new bookshelves, and that made the fear of being called on to recite or perform fade into insignificance. I loved her joy when an older girl look her under her wing; and her outrage when she found that she had a young man.

1920 – The Adventurous Lady by J C Snaith

I was intrigued to see J C Snaith described as a ‘teller of enthralling tales.’ I had never heard of the author, and when I went to look for him I found that he was very obscure, but I found a book titled ‘The Adventurous Lady’ that promised so many things I love – a train, a governess, a country house, a play – and so I had to start reading.

1927 – Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

1928 – Grey Mask by Patricia Wenworth

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

1935 – Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

Caroline  – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger. They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….

1945 – Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

I read that Katharine Susannah Prichard travelled with a circus when she was researching this novel, and I think it shows. The pictures she paints of the people and their world are wonderful.

* * * * * * *

The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first two 10% reports are here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already, but I have lots more years to fill and so recommendations – especially for the earliest years – would be very welcome.


10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

It’s taken me a very long time to get to this second report for my 100 Years of Books project.

That’s partly because I’ve read a couple of big books that were published before 1850 – The Count of Monte Cristo and Vanity Fair – and partly because I ‘ve been going back to authors – Margaret Kennedy, Anthony Trollope, Angela Thirkell – and I want 100 authors for my 100 years so each author only gets one appearance.

And it’s also because I began to have doubts about whether this was the right project. Because I feel differently about the two centuries I’ve brought together. The twentieth century is home and the nineteenth century is somewhere I love to visit, so I thought that maybe I should have two projects, one short term and one long term.

That thinking distracted me for a while, but in the end I decided I would stick to the original plan; to read the books I picked up naturally and to read the books that I didn’t pick up quite as naturally but really appreciated when I did.

I may struggle to fill some of the earlier years but …. I think I have to try.

So, my first report is here, and this is the second:

1866 – Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade

“Charles Reade was once a very popular author; and, though his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ was his most acclaimed work, ‘Griffith Gaunt’ was his personal favourite. You might call it a sensation novel, and it is a sensation novel, but its much more than that. This is a book that grows from a melodrama, into a psychological novel, into a courtroom drama ….”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Listening highlighted the quality of the storytelling, the characters, the prose, and the wonderful, wonderful rhythm of the words. That was something I would never have picked up if I’d read from a book. It didn’t take long at all for me to be smitten ….”

1911 – Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole

“Mr Traill is a new master, in his first teaching post. He knows that it is first step on the ladder. He is young, handsome, athletic, charming, and the boys love him. But he is oblivious to the tension in the air, and he is incredulous when one of his colleagues warns him to get out as soon as he can ….”

1923 – None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

“I found myself listening  to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened  when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.”

1925 – The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton

“It was not easy to feel sympathy for a woman who had abandoned her daughter, but I did. Because Kate Clephane was a real, complex, human being, and she was as interesting as any woman I have met in the pages of an Edith Wharton novel. “

1932 – Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley

“I learned recently that Leo Walmsley’s father, Ulric, studied art in Newlyn under Stanhope Forbes. and that pointed me to the best way that I could explain why this book is so readable: Leo Walmsley captured his fishing community in words every bit as well as Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries captured the fishing community in Newlyn.”

1934 – Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

“‘Wild Strawberries’ is the story of one aristocratic English family and one glorious summer in between the wars. And it is set in Angela Thirkell’s Barchestershire, a place where every single person, however high or low their situation, is happy and accepting of their situation and the role they are to play. You need to be able to accept that – and I can understand that some might not be able to – but I can, and if you can too, you will find much to enjoy in this light, bright and sparkling social comedy ….”

1939 – Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish

“When I read the extract from her book I fell in love with her voice; it was the voice of a woman talking openly and honestly to a friend, a woman with lots and lots of great stories to tell. I so wanted to read everything that she had written, but there was not a copy of her book to be had. Until I found that I could borrow a copy from Open Library ….”

 1940 – The English Air by D E Stevenson

“The story played out beautifully, moving between Franz and his English family. It grew naturally from the characters I had come to like and to care about; it caught the times, the early days of the war, perfectly; and though it wasn’t entirely predictable it was entirely right. Even better – maybe because ‘The English Air’ was written and published while was still raging – the ending was uncontrived and natural. And that’s not always the case with D E Stevenson’s novel ….”

 1941 – The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

“This is a story of the darkest days of World War II, when only England stood against the Nazi forces advancing across Europe, and when the fear of invasion was very, very real. Elizabeth Goudge lived on the south coast of England then, close to the eye of the storm, it was during the war that she wrote this book, and it was clear as I read that she knew and she that understood ….”

And that’s it! It shouldn’t be such a wait for the next report ….

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m ten years into 100 Years of Books project and so I think it’s time to take stock.

I’d hoped to be at this point a little sooner, but I’ve had a busy couple of months and I’ve been a little distracted by The Count of Monte Cristo – I’m 33 hours in and I have 19 hours to go!

But I’m not going to worry about it – I’m going to read what I want to read, keeping an eye on the years in need of books, and it will be done when it’s done.

Here are the first ten.

(It wasn’t planned but I’m pleased I’ve read five books from the 19th century and five books from the 20th century)

1854 – Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern

“It begins beautifully, with Ruth, our heroine, looking out at the night sky on the eve of her wedding. Her mother had died when she was very young and her father, a man who was both wealthy and parsimonious, had sent her away to boarding school. He would be glad to have his daughter off his hands. And she was happy, because she was in love and the future seemed full of promise.”

1863 – The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

“Tom had to learn to live with the other water creatures. He had to learn not to tease, he had to learn to make friends, and he had to learn what to do when there was conflicts between his friends. I think that this was my favourite part of the story; everything was so nicely described, but not over described, and the characters of the creatures – some real and some fantastic – were drawn subtly and well.”

1879 – Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer

“She was trying to take down a message that was being sent far too quickly for her to transcribe, she was being interrupted by  a customer asking foolish questions, and then she upsets a bottle of ink all over herself. Of course she had to ask “C” – who was sending that message from another telegraph office – to stop and repeat quite a  few times. “C” lost patience with her , but when “N” stood up for herself and explained exactly what she was having to deal with  “C”  understood. The pair went on chatting over the wire – in Morse code – whenever things were quiet in their respective offices.”

1886 – A World of Girls by L T Meade

“My sympathies shifted as the story unfolded. It took in  practical jokes, midnight feasts, competition for honours, an adventure with gypsies, and though I had an idea how things would work out I was never sure quite how the story would get there, and I always wanted to keep reading.”

1894 – Esther Waters by George Moore

“Esther’s story began as she left her home and family to take up a new position, as a kitchen maid in a big house on a country estate. She was apprehensive, but her pride made her hold her head up, and her spirit made her stand up for herself when the cook suggested she get straight to work without changing her dress, which might have been shabby but it was the best that she had.”

1907 – The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson

“Ada Leverson wrote with such wit and such humour; she laughed at her characters, their foibles, their situations, and it was lovely because it was the laughter of a friend. I never doubted that she knew them well, that she understood them completely, and that she cared about what happened to them.”

1924 – Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

“Lucian recognised Juliana’s description of Jane; he knew that she was the intriguing woman she had seen, maybe in a dream, maybe in an altered state, maybe though some supernatural power. He realises that Juliana might be offering his only chance of seeing her again. And he is desperate to seize that chance …..”

1926 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“As her nieces and nephews grew up Laura began to feel the gap in her life, and the country and its traditions began to call her back. All she could do though was fill the house with flowers. Until one magical day when the stars aligned, and Laura realised that she could have the life she wanted, a life of her own.”

1930 – The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

“I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways. I never doubted that the Provincial Lady understood, that she cared, and that she poked fun at herself just as much as she did at others. “

1949 – The Auction Sale by C. H. B. Kitchin

“Miss Alice Elton was attending the sale, because she had many happy memories of Ashleigh Place, just ou
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflatem. She had been secretary to Mr Durrant, and she had become companion and dear friend to his wife. That part of her life was over, but she remembered it with such love. For the people for she knew, and for the timeless beauty of the house itself. She just wanted to see it again, to remember, and to bid on one of two lots that held particular memories.”

Next up – 1932!

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century – The End – or maybe not …..

I can’t quite believe it but my Century of Books is done.

100 books! 100 authors! 100 posts!

I’m am so glad I’ve done it. There are times when I thought the search for books for particular years was going to drive me mad, but it hasn’t – quite – and I have made so many wonderful discoveries along the way.

You can see my complete list here.

I’m a little light-headed now, as I get used to the gap where the project used to be. It was a push to finish by the end of the year, but I have, and now I can read whatever I want!!

And now, for the sake of completeness, if there were one hundred books there should be ten 10% reports. So here is the tenth one

1913 – The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

“Now I find myself wanting to do what Alice did at the end of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I want to throw you in the air and say, “You’re just a fictional character!” But I can’t. Because you are so utterly real; not a heroine, not a villainess, but a vivid, three-dimensional human being, with strengths and weaknesses.”

 1932 – Conversation Piece by Molly Keane

“He is enchanted by the house, and by the cousins, and he describes them simply and beautifully. I really did feel that he was telling his story, speaking or writing, and he brought a house, a family, and a way of living to life on the page.”

 1933 – High Rising by Angela Thirkell

“It’s a simple story, but it plays out beautifully, because it is adorned with so many lovely dialogues, so many interesting incidents; and because everything works beautifully with the characters and their situations.”

 1940 – Rochester’s Wife by D E Stevenson

“There are some lovely scenes along the way. It became clear that Mardie cared for Kit as much as he cared for her. Jem – who had a wonderful talent for imitating the people around him – was always a joy. And there was a wonderful trip to Scotland. The story was readable, and was always going to keep reading to find out what happened.”

1943 – The Landslide by Stephen Gilbert

“Wolfe sets out, with his grandfather, to look at the changes that the landslide has wrought. What they find is extraordinary, not rocks and rubble, but lush new growth, trees and plants; it is as if the landslide has uncovered another world ….”

1945 – When All is Done by Alison Uttley

“Charity loves her home, she has become part of its fabric, and she finds great joy in being its custodian and the matriarch of her family for the rest of her days; and as she grows up Virginia discovers the same joy. In her home, in the world around her, in the changing seasons, in the way that lives are lived, have been lived, for generations. Life pulls Virginia away from the farm, but it always brings her back. She will, like Charity, be its custodian, and her life and the life of the house will be knotted together.”

1948 – Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith

“It is a wonderful adventure for three young women  – Nanette, Emma and Charity – all from conventional, middle-class backgrounds, who have completed basic training and have been dropped into the very different world of the boating fraternity.”

 1965 – Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

“It begins with their arrival in Cornwall, and it was clear from the start that Susan Cooper knew and understood Cornwall. She caught it perfectly, and that reassured me that I was in the safest of hands.”

 1973 – The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge

“The story is set in Liverpool in 1944,  a time when the city was worn down by the war and all that it meant, and when the end wasn’t quite in sight. And it tells of  two middle-aged women and their seventeen year-old niece. They brought her up, because their brother couldn’t manage after his wife died.  They are ordinary, unremarkable, working class women, but, seemingly effortlessly, Beryl Bainbridge makes their story fascinating, and suggests that something is going to happen.”

 1977 – The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

“The book is utterly beautiful. Its pages are facsimiles of Edith’s original, and it holds so much and is so lovely that it would be easy to spend so many hours in its company. But I read one month every month, following Edith’s year is real time, wishing that I could have walked alongside her, or maybe that I could have been one of her students. “

There might be another century; it might be the same or it might be different; it might start now or it might start later.

I’m still mulling over ideas, and I’ll write about them – and about what I’ve learned from this century – in a day or two.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

My 20th Century Reading Project is nearly over!

This is my ninth update, so I’ve read and written about ninety books, and I have the final ten lined up. One is read, two are in progress and so the century will be complete by the end of the month

My previous reports are here and the full list is here.

I’m so pleased that I’ve reached the point where the difficult years have been dealt with, and I’m even more pleased that I saved some particularly lovely books and authors for the very end of the project.

Edith Wharton, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Goudge, Dorothy Whipple …..

But, for tonight, here are those last ten books:

1901 – My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

If you took equal amounts of Becky Sharp, Cassandra Mortmain and Angel Devereaux, if you mixed them together, with verve and brio, and you might achieve a similar result, but you wouldn’t quite get there, because Sybylla Melvyn is a true one-off. She’s also nearly impossible to explain; a curious mixture of confidence and insecurity, tactlessness and sensitivity, forthrightness and thoughtfulness …. She’s maddening andshe’s utterly charming …

1903 – The Daughters of a Genius by Mrs George Horne de Vaizey

Philippa was sensible and practical, but she struggled in stressful situations and needed her sisters to help her through; Theo was the confident one, the one who went out and made things happen; Hope was quiet and thoughtful, doing her best to support her sisters, while she pursued her own goals; and Marge was the bright bubbly sister, determined to hold things together and to sell her art and pay her way. They all had their ups and downs, and it was lovely to watch them. I was drawn into their home and into their lives, because so many moments, so many details, were captured so beautifully.

1916 – Come Out of the Kitchen! by Alice Duer Miller

Mr Crane and Miss Falkener were inclined to be entertained, but Mr Tucker and Mrs Falkener were inclined to be severe. After a number of wonderful incidents – including the escape of the cook’s cat, a rather pushy suitor and a dispute over a fashionable hat – three of the servants had been dismissed and the house party fell apart. Only the host and the cook were left, and that was most improper …

1917 – Painted Clay by Capel Boake

A new friend drew her into a Bohemian circle of aspiring artists. She was painted, and she was drawn into a relationship with the man who bought her portrait. Helen loved the freedom, the independence, the joy in living, that she found in her new world, but she had a nagging fear that she was becoming ‘painted clay’,  just like the mother who had abandoned her.

1970 – The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone

The pictures in words were lovely, and the sketches, so distinctively Ardizzone echoed them beautifully. But there were only hints of emotions, because this is a book of memories as pictures. And, as that, it works beautifully.But this isn’t a book to explain, it’s a book to love for what it is.

1979 – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

An intriguing story began in the next chapter, and the chapter after that came back again to address the reader searching for the right book, and searching for understanding of the writer and his writing. And the story kept bouncing back and forth. Reader. Story. Reader. Story. Reader. Story ….. I started going back and forth too, happy to read the wonderful words addressed first to one and then to two readers over and over again, and trying to work out how the different chapters of the story fitted together. I couldn’t make the pieces fit together, but in time I learned that I wasn’t meant to. I was reading openings, turning points, from a wealth of different stories.

1982 – The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

The story begins with Richard as a small child and follows him through the course of his life, in exile when the House of Lancaster is in the ascendancy, and at court when the House of York rises. He becomes a formidable battlefield commander; he becomes a trusted lieutenant of the brother, Edward IV; he becomes the husband of Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, who he has loved since child; and eventually, of course, he comes king.

1988 – The Upstairs People by Jennifer Dawson

It speaks profoundly of the damage that families can do, the damage that war can do, and, most of all, of the damage that a damaged mind can do. The first part of the story is most effective, with the children aware that something is wrong but not at all sure what, or what they could do; the latter part of the story drives the point home, but it is a little too chaotic. Though there are moments of utter clarity, that shine all the more against that chaos.

1995 – Touch and Go by Elizabeth Berridge

The story of Emma’s mother, Adela, was quietly heart-breaking. Adela’s marriage had been happy and strong, but since her husband’s death she was struggling with a future that she hadn’t planned for, that she didn’t want. She knew she had to make changes, but she wanted things to stay as they were; she was troubled but she knew that she had to keep going, that she had to so the right thing. I saw elements of my mother in Adela, and I was sorry that maybe she was so very real, so very alive, because Elizabeth Berridge became a widow a few years before this book was published.

1998 – 253 by Geoff Ryman

A train on the Bakerloo line can seat 252 passengers, and so, if there is nobody standing, the driver makes 253. This is the story of those 253 souls, at one particular moment on one particular day.  Or rather it is 253 stories, each told in 253 words that explain how they appear, who they are, and what they are thinking.  It was a remarkable feat, to create 253 different stories, to show so many different aspects of life, and to show how many different threads linked different passengers, sitting in different seats.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

The end of my 20th Century Reading Project is definitely in sight now!

This is my eighth update, so I’ve read and written about eighty books, and I’ve read a few more that I have still to write about.

My previous reports are here and the full list is here.

I’ve reached the point when I can say I’m glad I’m doing this- I’ve discovered and rediscovered some great books and authors – but I’ll be relieved when it’s over. I’m ready for a change, and for not being tied to a project.

This ten in a bit of a mixed bunch – I particularly loved my books for 1942, 1971, 1972 and 1991,  I liked most of the others, but there were a couple of disappointments. Looking forward though, I’ve dealt with some tricky years, I’ve saved some lovely authors for the final stages, and so it’s onwards and upwards.

But, for tonight, here are those last ten books:

1907 – Through the Magic Door by Arthur Conan Doyle

“I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more.”

1921 – The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs

The children continued to visit The Beeman, to hear his wonderful tales of local history, and to ask his advice. They found out what was going on, and then they found out why, but they had no idea what they could do. But then fate gave a helping hand, and everything fell into place.

1923 – The End of the House of Alard by Sheila Kaye-Smith

Above all this is a story of characters and relationships. Each and every character is beautifully drawn, complex and fully realised; the multitude of different relationships between them are caught perfectly too. They all lived and breathed, but it was in the dialogues that they were most alive. I remember Jenny, stridently making her case for doing just what she wanted to do; Gervase and George talking about faith; Mary quietly explaining why she couldn’t bear to go on with her husband ….

1942 – Treveryan by Angela Du Maurier

An elegant manor house, set on the wild Cornish coast; a house that captures the hearts and souls of those who live their. A story of love, secrets, and their consequences, with wonderful gothic overtones. It might be Manderlay but it isn’t, this is Treveryan. The creation not of Daphne Du Maurier, but of her elder sister, Angela. Two sisters, and two very different writers; but, of course writers with the same background, and with many of the same influences.

1968 – Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh

The prospect of traveling by boat through the countryside that Constable painted was irresistible. She didn’t know that her cabin had been reserved by a man who has been murdered,  believe by a master criminal the police call ‘The Jampot.’ But she found out, and that made her regard her fellow passengers with a degree of suspicion.

1971 – Penmarric by Susan Howatch

The story is told in six volumes, by five different narrators: Mark Castellack, his wife, one of his illegitimate sons, and two of his legitimate sons who would, in their turn, be master of Penmarric. Sixty years pass – from the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign to the end of World War II full of every kind of family drama you could imagine. In the wrong hands it would be a mess, but Susan Howatch made it work.

1972 – Limmerston Hall  by Hester W Chapman

Anne Milsom was leaving her home, and travelling to Pond House in Gloucester, to bring up her orphaned niece and nephew. She knew little of Neville Quarrendon, the guardian appointed by their father’s will, save that he was a distant relation, that he was a widower, and that he was an artist. Her friends were concerned that she would be living so far away, and in the household of a man they knew so little about, but nothing they could  deter Anne from going to her sister’s children.

1974 – The Face of Trespass by Ruth Rendell

The story – like many of Ruth Rendell’s stand-alone novels – focuses on the life of one lonely and isolated soul. Gray had written a highly successful first novel, but a bad case of writers block and a failed romance had brought him low. He was living alone, in a small cottage on the edge of Epping Forest, house-sitting for a friend who was away travelling. He had become a hermit, and his standards were slipping.

1980 – The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

Somewhere around thirty-five thousand years ago, Ayla, a five-year old Cro- Magnum girl, found herself completely alone when her family, and all of her people, were killed. She wandered, lost and alone, until she was discovered by a group who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. They were a different race –  Neanderthals – and only one of their number, Iza, a medicine woman saw the child, who looked so very, very different from her people, as a fellow creature to be helped and nurtured.

1991 – The Unforgiving by Charlotte Cory

It begins with three little girls who have lost their mother, sitting upstairs, looking down over the bannister. Because downstairs, their father, the famous and distinguished architect Mr Edward Glass is being manoevered into matrimony by the scheming widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Cathcart. Her strategy is successful, and the arrangement was successful, though it would not prove to a conventional marriage.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

Finally I’ve reached the point when the end of my 20th Century Reading Project looks a lot nearer than the beginning!

And I know it can be done. Thomas has just finished, and Simon is already planning his second century.

But back to mine.

First there were ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty, then fifty, then sixty, and now there are seventy books.

And the full list is here.

I’ve done a lot of rambling on past reports, but this time I’m going to just make a few points:

  • I can and will finish this thing by the end of the year.
  • I have a plan.
  • I’m very pleased to have a decade (the 1950s) dispatched.
  • I particularly like this set of ten books:
      • Six Virago Modern Classics
      • Two more books by Virago authors
      • Two more books with wonderful heroines.

So here are the books:

1904 – In The Bishop’s Carriage by Miriam Michelson

Yes, she was a thief, but she let things go as easily as she took them. She was drawn to lovely things, and the security they offered, and she wanted to give the same thing to others. And as the story progressed she learned, she grew, and she fulfilled every bit of potential that she had. And she did it by herself: others may have given her chances, but it was Nance who seized them. She was her own woman from start to finish.

1908 – The Fly on the Wheel – Katherine Cecil Thurston

The story was compelling, and I really didn’t know what was going to happen, or what I wanted to happen, until the very end. Katherine Cecil Thurston pulled so much drama from the situation, without ever compromising the honesty at its centre. I grew to realise that she didn’t just know and understand; she cared, deeply and passionately.

1914 – The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

May Sinclair spins a compelling story, full of rich descriptions of people and places, and with a wonderful understanding of her characters and their relationships. Her writing was clear, lucid, and terribly, terribly readable. The three sisters and their world came to life, and I turned the pages quickly because I so wanted to find out what would happen, what would become of them.

1915 – The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer

Phyllis was alone in the world. She had a good job, as a librarian, and she rented a single room in a boarding house, but it was difficult to makes ends meet. Fortunately, Phyllis was a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl. She enjoyed her work as the children’s librarian, and she was very good at it. Phyllis was what my mother would call ‘a people person,’ and when she was at work I saw many things that I know would strike a chord with the librarians of today.

1927 – The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby

I admired Joanna’s spirit, her willingness to do everything she could for her family. I understood her frustration with her husband, with their situation. And I loved that she held on to her hope for the future. But the best thing of all was that she was a real, fallible, three-dimensional human being, so very vividly painted.

1928 – Cullum by E Arnot Robertson

It was no wonder she was smitten when she met Cullum Hayes, a twenty-four year old writer who had already met with success at a dinner party. And it was no wonder that he was intrigued by the confident, outspoken young woman, who said things not usually said – by young or old – at the dinner table. Esther told her own story, looking back at time when she had gained wisdom but lost none of her passion. And she acknowledged at the very beginning that this story would not have a happy ending.

1941 – The Rich House by Stella Gibbons

There were some lovely scenes, observed fondly but with a knowing eye: an excruciating tea party; Pauline visiting Mrs Pask, who is so pleased to have a visitor, and had gone to some trouble to procure something she knows young people like without her rather controlling companion finding out; Marjorie, Pauline’s sister, establishing her place in the local repertory company; conversations in the library, where  a few serious- minded individuals seemed to be the only ones concerned about events in Europe; Mavis settling happily into a new home with new friend, and then realising that they were the doting parents of a young man she rather liked ….

1944 – No More Than Human by Maura Laverty

She set off for Madrid,  to become a ‘professora’ – a free-lance tutor and  chaperone. It was an independent lifestyle that suited Delia very well, but it wasn’t easy to establish herself when she was so young, and maybe her reputation would follow her.But Delia was determined, and soon she was setting her sights even higher. She would do what no other Irish governess had done: she would work in an office, in the kind of job that was usually reserved for young Englishwomen.

1949 – The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

This the story of Caroline Seward, a young actress who had just had her first taste of success on the stage. Wonderful possibilities opened up for her, but she didn’t take them. Because she had fallen in love – with Michael Knowles, a successful, middle-aged doctor – and she built her life around him.

1951 – Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy

There was no wedding: Lucy was jilted, and of course she was devastated. She knew she had to carry on, and she knew she had to get away. She hated watching people being tactful, knowing she was being talked about, seeing reminders everywhere. And so, when she saw on opening for  a drama teacher at an arts institute, she grabbed it with both hands.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

I’m officially more than halfway through my 20th Century Reading Project now!

First there were ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty, then fifty, and now there are sixty books.

And the full list is here.

It’s taken me some time to get from fifty to sixty because so many new books have been calling me, but in the last few weeks something in my head had changed and I’ve been pulling books from my own shelves out to read. There are grey Persephone books, green Virago Modern Classics and a few old hardbacks on my bedside table, and I’ve checked dates and I definitely have a whole decade there.

I’m not going to name names – I did that last time and then changed direction completely – I’ll just say that I still plan to have my century done by the end of the year.

I have two books in progress – one from the sixties and one from the forties – and lost more in mind.

That’s the plan, but this is a 10% report, and so here are another ten books:

1900 – The Chase of the Ruby by Richard Marsh

We used to spend our Saturday mornings upstairs, watching high drama on the television. The names of the various serials escape me, but they were a natural progression from the Saturday cinema matinees that a slightly older generation will remember. There was action! There was drama! There was romance! There were plot twists aplenty, and a cliff-hanger at the end of every single episode. We were hooked, and I could imagine The Chase of the Ruby being dramatized and captivating us in just the same way.

1905 – The Woman in the Alcove by Anna Katherine Green

By the end of the evening Mrs Fairbrother was dead, stabbed through the heart, and her diamond was missing. Things looked bad for Mr Durand. He had been seen visiting the alcove, he ‘found’ the diamond, and he had a splash of blood on his shirt. He had an explanation for everything, but his story seemed unlikely. He was arrested. I might have told Miss Van Arsdale to forget him, to try to come to terms with having been used, but she was a determined and practical woman. And she was going to prove him innocent.

1912 – Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock

The twelve sketches tell stories set in the fictional town of Mariposa. It might be based on one particular town, but it’s presented in such a way that it could be any number of towns, and there are many things that will strike a chord with anyone who has lived in a small town pretty much anywhere. It did with me.

1919 – Aleta Day by Francis Marion Benyon

Aleta Day was reared by parents who set out to “break her spirit” but she survived, and she tells the story of her childhood beautifully, and with an understanding of its consequences that is truly moving. She learned that appearances were everything, that she could be quietly subversive. And at school, when her friend Ned questioned the English version of history that they were taught, she learned to question everything. She grew up to be a journalist, a suffragist, a pacifist, an activist.

1937 – Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

Lady Rose was the only child and the heir, thanks to the good graces of Queen Victoria, of the Earl of Lochule. She was pretty, warm, bright,  and her open heart, her boundless curiosity, her love of life, charmed everyone she met. And she grew into a proud Scot and a true romantic, inspired by the writings of Walter Scott, the history of Mary Queen of Scots, and, most of all, her beloved home and lands.

1938 – Love in Our Time by Norman Collins

Gerard loved Alice, but he was caught by surprise by how different his relationship with her was from his relationship with old girlfriends. One of those girlfriends was still around, living in a flat of her own seeing one of Gerard’s friends. He still enjoyed her company …

1947 – The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

Had Charles Dickens travelled forward in time, had Muriel Spark travelled back, had they met in wartime London, they might have collaborated on this book. They didn’t, but Patrick Hamilton was there, and when I picked up this book I quickly realised that he was a far more interesting author than I had expected.

1967 – My Wife Melissa by Francis Durbridge

Late in the evening he received a phone call. Melissa wanted him to come out, to meet some people who might be able to help him with his career. He arrived at a crime scene: a woman had been strangled. Guy recognised her coat. He thought he was going to identify his friend’s wife. But he wasn’t, he was identifying his own wife. Melissa was dead, and she had been dead when Guy said she had called him.

1992 – Great Meadow by Dirk Bogarde

Dirk Bogarde was undoubtedly blessed. His father was the art editor of the Sunday Times, his mother was a former actress, and the family was more than comfortably off. Their home was on the Sussex Downs, and the children seemed to live their lives out of doors, coming home only for practical necessities. That included meals and those were reported frequently, and always with loving detail.

1997 – The Baby-Snatcher by Ann Cleeves

The story began one evening, when Inspector Ramsay was at home and off duty. The quiet evening that he had planned was disturbed when a teenage girl, alone and clearly frightened, banged on his door. He hesitated, aware of the risks of having a distressed girl in his house with nobody else present, but he realised that he couldn’t turn her away. She told him that her mother was missing, and that her mother was so reliable, so involved with her family, that she knew something had to be wrong. And he was inclined to believe her because he had often seen them in the town, and he had never seen one without the other.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

I’m halfway through my 20th Century Reading Project!

First there were ten, then twenty, then thirty,  then forty, and now there are fifty books.

Which is great, but I’m behind schedule and I’ve had the mid-project blues.

I’ve been focusing on the 20th century for so long, and there was still quite away to go, so I needed a little break.  But last week a book from the 1980s caught my eye, I discovered a pile of project books I’d pushed into a corner quite some time ago, and now I’m enthused again.

And I was hit by the news that my library will be moving to new, smaller premises. Admittedly that won’t be happening for two years, but I’m thinking I need to read the books from reserve stock that I have my eye on now, in case that’s downscaled too.

Expect to see books by Winifred Holtby, Jon Godden, Evelyn Waugh and Edith Wharton in my next round-up in a few weeks time.

I won’t be reading  long or difficult books, because I still plan to finish my century by the end of the year.

Allowing just one book per author is great for the list, great for making me read widely, but there are a good few authors I’d like to get back to.

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

1906 – A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena

“Some people look at a hedgerow and see just that. A hedgerow. But others see more: a network of different plants, signs of the wildlife that live there, evidence of what the weather had been doing. John Trevena saw those things and he was able to bring that to life on the page, to pull his readers into his village and over the moors.”

1909 – The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy

“I must confess that, until quite recently, the only thing I knew about Baroness Orczy that she gave the world The Scarlet Pimpernel. But I learned that she gave the world much more than that. She gave the world The Old Man in the Corner, who might just have been the world’s first armchair detective.”

1950 – Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

“Harriet and Belinda Bede lived together in a village in the English countryside. they living quietly, serving their church, knitting industriously, reading studiously, and making sure that they got the small details of life right. Questions of how one should dress, of what should be served at dinner, of how guests should be entertained. Small things, but important things, that fill up lives.  Barbara Pym understood that and she painted the picture beautifully, taking it seriously but still able to smile at sillinesses.”

1954 – Yew Hall by Lucy M Boston

“I was held first by the wonderful evocation of the house and then, as the story shifted by a very subtle undercurrent that told me something was going to happen. Wonderful, wonderful writing, and there was a lovely touch near the end that would have told me, even had I not known, that this was a debut that would be the precursor to greater things. The characters and the relationships were simply drawn, but I could believe in them. The plot was slight, but it was enough.”

1956 – The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy

“In grey, rainy, post-war London Susan found a job with a slightly shady publisher. And she moved on with Neale, who might have been a boyfriend, or might have been a friend who was a boy. They lived in a way that some would call bohemian but I’d be more inclined to all post-student. One day at work, quite by chance, Susan saw a striking photograph of Cynthia. She and Susan had been at school together, they were classmates, and they might have been friends or they might have been rather more to one another. Susan decided that she must find Cynthia, and Neale showed an interest in finding her too. They discovered that she was in Venice, and decided that they must find a way to get there.”

1966 – This January Tale by Bryher

“History records that in 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated and killed Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings to become King of England, but it has less to say about what that meant to ordinary people. ‘This January Tale’ tells their story, tells what it was like to see a foreign army invade and drive across the land, what it was like to live in fear of losing what little they had, the only way of life they knew.”

1975 – Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt

“Ellen Kellaway, was alone in the world when she was just five years-old. Her mother’s wealthy cousins took her in, and raised her alongside their own daughter, Esme. But they never let her forget that her every advantage was owed to the charity of others. And that while Esme was destined for a great marriage, she would have to go out into the world when she came of age, and earn her living as a governess. Ellen didn’t like that at all. She appreciated what was being done for her, but she had no intention of being a governess. She knew that the world had far more to offer.”

1978 – A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens

“Miss Hawkins’ plans were thrown into disarray when she was presented with a retirement gift. A five year diary. She saw that as an instruction to live, and she decided that her diary would direct the rest of her life.  So she didn’t record what she had done, she recorded what she was going to do. And when she did it she happily ticked it off in red crayon.”

1985 – The Suspect by L R Wright

The story is propelled by Karl’s growing suspicions about George, his attempts to prove his guilt, and his digging into the past to prove that the two men had history and that the motive for murder lay there. It’s very well done, if a tiny bit predictable. But the real strength of the book comes from other things. From the perspective, completely free of any questions about who or how. From the setting, on Canada’s ‘Sunshine Coast’, an area known for its temperate climate and beautiful coastline. It felt a little like Cornwall, a little like home. And most of all from perfectly drawn characters, well handled relationships, that offered a lovely balance of intrigue, humour, and real life.

1987 – Who Saw Him Die? by Sheila Radley

“There really was no case to answer, but after the inquest the dead man’s sister called in the police. She said that the man driving the car wasn’t telling the truth. He said he was a newcomer to the town and that he hadn’t known Clanger. She said that as a child he had spent holidays with his grandparents, who kept a shop in Breckham Market. That he had played with Cuthbert, until something happened – she could not or would not say what – her father had thrashed the boys, and stopped them seeing each other. And that he had come back and murdered her brother. It seemed unlikely, it seemed impossible to prove one way or the other, but the police had to investigate, and so they set about interviewing anyone who might cast more light on events.”