Sixes

It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!

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Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff

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Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

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Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas

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Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

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Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

10% Report: Reading The 20th Century

I’m ten years into my century, and so I think it’s time to take stock.

The first ten years were always going to be the easiest, with the risk of picking up a book and finding it dated from a year already covered at it’s lowest.

But that isn’t to say there haven’t been clashes: I ordered Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon from the library only to find that they were both published in 1981.

And there have been a few other occasions when I’ve found a book, gone to add it to my spreadsheet, and found that there was another book already in the space I had intended it to fill.

My first ten books are tilted towards the end of the century. I knew I’d have most difficulty with the later years, and so whenever I’ve seen an oldish book on the library shelves or around the house I’ve picked it up.

The eighties and nineties are shaping up well, but the decade I’m really struggling with is the seventies. Suggestions would be most welcome!

But I’m rambling, so here are the books:

1910 – The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston

“The City of Beautiful Nonsense is a wonderful love story. It is terribly sentimental, and rather old fashioned but, if you can accept those things with an open heart, it can take you on a wonderful emotional journey.”

 1929 – The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

“An audacious murder, in the middle of a queue of people, all pressing forward, eager to see the final performance of popular musical. The investigation fell to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. A detective without the gimmicks, or idiosyncracies of many of his contemporaries, but with a great deal of intelligence and charm, I soon suspected that his creator was a little in love with him … quite understandably …”

1936 – Monogram by Gladys Bronwyn Stern

“I found that what I had was not a coventional autobiography. That, given a free hand by her publishers, the author had decided to do something a little different. She explains, with both erudition and charm, that, while a conventional biography that plots a straight line through a line can be a wonderful thing, it is sometimes more interesting to do something else. To set down three stakes, to run a rope around then to make a triangle, and then to see what is to be found inside that triangle. And that’s just what she does.”

1960 – The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

“I was engrossed by Jane’s story. She was real, and I understood her, I cared about what might happen to her, and so it was wonderful to watch her coping with everything that life through at her, with new and old relationships, with her advancing pregnancy.”

 1969 – The Play Room by Olivia Manning

“It looked very promising: a coming of age story set in an English seaside town in the swinging sixties. Laura was fifteen, and she dreamed of leaving home for the bright lights of London. She wanted to leave her dull, lower middle class family behind. Her strict mother, her unassuming father, her irksome younger brother.”

1981 – Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

“‘Still Missing’ was a difficult book to read. It had to be. It was right that I felt terribly unsettled, and it was right that I was forced to consider my own feelings about what was happening. I could do that because the characters, their stories, their relationships, were all perfectly drawn. There were moments when things happened that didn’t feel right. But they were right; answers can’t always be neat and tidy, and politically correct.”

 1983 – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“I have read The Woman in Black before, but it was so long ago that I have forgotten the details, save that it was very good and extremely unsettling. And so a re-read, before seeing the film, seemed to be in order. It  is a ghost story built on classic lines: with an isolated house, a bleak landscape, wild weather, ghostly figures, inexplicable events.”

1984 – Mother Love by Domini Taylor

“But maybe Helena wasn’t as fragile as she seemed. Maybe she was disturbed. Maybe she would do anything to serve her own interests … A single, horrible revelation demonstrated that Helena was very dangerous and very clever. I saw that, but nobody else did.”

1994 – Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden

“Pippa Fane was seventeen years old, and the youngest and newest member of the Company of the Midlands Cities Ballet. And she was travelling abroad on tour for the first time. The first engagement of the tour was in Venice. Pippa was captivated. By the city, by the people, by the food … everything! “

1999 – Buried in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho

“Janie Bolitho captured my hometown, as it was back in 1999, absolutely perfectly. And she  created an engaging heroine, who I could quite happily believe is still living just a little further around the bay. Rose is a youngish widow who is gradually picking up the strands of a new life. She has good friends, she earns a living as a photographer, and she has taken up painting – always her first love but not the easiest way to earn a living – again.”

And now I must ponder the lovely book from 1963 that I am going to write about next, and carry on with the intriguing novel from 1946 that I have nearly finished , and …

Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

“It may be true that one loss helps to prepare for the next, at least in developing a certain rueful sense of humour about things you’re too old to cry about. There’s plenty of blather, some of it true, about turning pain into growth, using one blow to teach you resilience and to make you ready for the shock of the next one. But the greater truth is that life is not something you can go into training for. There was nothing in life Susan Selky could have done to prepare for the breathtaking impact of losing her son.”

That paragraph, on the very first page, made catch my breath and touched my heart. I had to breath again, but the emotion, the concern, that those words created stayed with me as the story unfolded. And they have come back to me again as I am thinking of it.

“Alex Selky, going on seven, so eager to grow up, kissed his mother goodbye on their front steps on the hot bright morning of May 15 1980, and marched himself down the street on his way to the New Boston School of Back Bay, two blocks from his corner. He never arrived at school, and from the moment he turned the corner, he apparently disappeared from the face of the earth.”

Susan Selky,  a recently divorced English professor, faced her worst nightmare when her son didn’t arrive home from school. She called a friend, whose daughter was in Alex’s class, and learned that he had never arrived at school.

A police investigation begins, family and friends rally round, but days and weeks pass and there is still no trace of Alex.

Eventually the police have no more leads to follow, and there is an acceptance that Alex is lost, probably dead, that he will never be coming home.

Acceptance by everyone but Susan, who will never believe that her son is lost to her and will do anything, absolutely anything, to bring him home.

Her story is extraordinarily vivid. And utterly, frighteningly, real.

It tells of a life consumed by one thing, and of how nothing else matters.

It tells of people who offered wonderful support, and of people who offered harsh judgements.

It tells of the media, and of how attention slipped away when the case was no longer ‘newsworthy’.

It tells of relationships that fractured under pressure, and of relationships that grow with the most unlikely people who were able to understand or to accept.

But, most of all, it tells one mother’s story.

“As the days grew shorter and the chill in the autumn air deepened, the long uneven panes of glass in the living-room were grey with thin frost when Susan went with her coffee cup in the early mornings to sit looking down at the street. From the lush gold and blue, deep as an overturned bowl, of the last morning on earth that she saw her son, the light had changed to the flat grey brightness of impending winter.”

‘Still Missing’ was a difficult book to read. It had to be. It was right that I felt terribly unsettled, and it was right that I was forced to consider my own feelings about what was happening.

I could do that because the characters, their stories, their relationships, were all perfectly drawn.

There were moments when things happened that didn’t feel right. But they were right; answers can’t always be neat and tidy, and politically correct.

What mattered was Susan’s story, and that was painful, emotional, and frustrating at times. But it was pitch perfect, and my attention was held from the first page to the last.

I was surprised when I first saw such a recent book in the Persephone list, but now I have read it I have to say that it’s inclusion makes perfect sense.

Persephone Endpapers