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.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I’ve read a lot of Trollope this year; indeed I think I’ve fallen in love with his writing this year. But after four big books, the first four Palliser novels, I realised that I needed a change, that I needed to read a big Victorian novel written by someone entirely different.

There were lots of reasons why I picked up ‘Bleak House.’ It was on my Classics Club list, I try to read one Dickens novel a year, it’s a book that any people seem to love ….

Now it’s the book that made me love Dickens, and the book that made me understand why he is held in such high esteem.

You see, reading Dickens after Trollope led me to compare the two – very different – authors and to appreciate what each man did.

Trollope took me by the hand and pulled me into his world, introducing me to people, telling me about them, so that I came to know all of them, all of their lives, all of their entanglements.

Dickens, on the other hand, took me into the most wonderful art gallery and he showed me glorious pictures; paintings of people and places that told me a story in a very different way.

I can’t quite find the right paintings to explain what I mean, but I know that they’re out there.

“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.”

Don’t those words paint such a wonderful picture?

The voice of the omniscient narrator continues to paint pictures like that. He sees everything, moving through the streets and the wastelands, looking through doors and windows, to tell  a story that is both a wonderful human drama and a clever satire of  laws and  institutions that are so caught up with themselves that the people they protect are often forgotten.

He introduces an extraordinary range of characters: from Lady Dedlock, bored to death; to Jo the crossing sweeper, trapped in poverty; to Mr Tulkinghorn, the capable and enigmatic solicitor; to Miss Flite who tends birds in her rented room as she follows events in chancery; to Mr Bucket, the detective who says little but understands much ….

437135It is said sometimes that Dickens’ characters can be flat. I can understand that because I know that there were sides to these people that I didn’t see, but in ‘Bleak House’ that didn’t matter. I was shown the aspects of their characters and their behaviour that I needed to be shown as the stories unfolded, and I found it easy to believe in these people and their lives.

I say stories, because there is another story twisted together with the story that that unnamed narrator tells.

But there’s another narrator too: Esther Summerson’s voice is quite different. It’s clear, straightforward and dutiful. I couldn’t quite like Esther but there were ties when I felt for her, times when I admired her, and in the end I realised that the Esther who told her story, some time after the events she described, was the product of everything that she had learned and everything that had happened to her.

Esther was an orphan and she had been raised not knowing who her parents were, only being told that she was her mother’s disgrace; but when her guardian died, a lawyer sent her, with two other orphans, who were wards in the unending case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, to live with John Jarndyce, who might also be a beneficiary of the disputed wills at the centre of that case.

And there were more characters: Mr Guppy, a law clerk who became infatuated with Esther and took it upon himself to investigate her past; Mrs Jellaby who neglects her own family as she tries to help others; Mr Skimpole, who presented himself as an innocent, but who probably wasn’t ….

There were times when I found some of these characters maddening, their foibles overplayed, but there were reasons for them to be there over and above comic relief.

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.

There is so much more her than I can write about – including a murder mystery – but there are synopses and summaries out there, there are people who have studied this book, there are other who have written about it and pulled out quite different thoughts.

I suspect that I need to read it again – I’d love to read it again.

So, for now, just know that I loved it.

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens

“In the autumn month of September, eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, wherein these presents bear date, two idle apprentices, exhausted by the long, hot summer and the long, hot work it had brought with it, ran away from their employer..”

Now doesn’t that sound wonderful?

And doesn’t it become even more wonderful when you know that the employer was literature, and that the two escaping apprentices were a certain Mr Collins and a certain Mr Dickens?

Friends and collaborators who set out on a walking tour, and together wrote a picaresque account of their travels that was published, in five installments, in  Dickens’s weekly periodical, Household Words.

And, some time later, those five installments were put together in this lovely little book.

There is much to enjoy.

The two apprentices both wanted to be idle, but there ideas of just what that meant were rather different.

Mr Francis Goodchild saw idleness as doing nothing useful, wheras Mr Thomas Idle saw idleness as doing nothing whatsover.

And so the natures of the two idle apprentices were wonderful reflections of their creators.

I loved following the ups and down of their relationship as they travelled through northern England. I never doubted that both authors were having a wonderful time, gently caricaturing themselves and their relationship.

And for all that the apprentices may have been idle, they were wonderfully observant, reporting all of the pertinent facts about the journey, the places they visited, the conditions that they saw and the people that they met.

There was beauty, there was drama, and there was concern at the poverty in which many lived in the industrial towns.

And there were ghost stories. The kind of stories that I am quite sure had been told aloud time after time, that I am sure sent a shiver down the spine of anyone who listened.

The two authors brought everything together beautifully.

All too soon the trip was over.

But it was a lovely interlude between bigger books.

Books, Books and More Books

This year, I am changing the way I read.

Over the years I’ve changed from being a one book at a time reader, into a two book at a time reader, and then a many books at a time reader.

I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’ve realised now that it can work for me.

I’m more inclined to read big books, because with many books on the go I don’t feel that the big book is taking me away from so many other books I want to read.

And so many books benefit from a step away to think about things.

But there are limits, and I think I’ve just hit one.

Time to consider my books in progress:

I’ve been meaning to read The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey for ages. It felt wrong that I had read Nicola Upson’s An Expert in Mirder without having read the book that inspired it. So when The Man in the Queue was chosen as a January group read by the GoodReads Bright Young Things I pulled my copy out.

I have a tendency to whizz through crime fiction, but this time I’m reading a chapter a day and I am appreciating the writing so much more.

It is a long time since I read The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, and I decided a while back that I should read it again, before watching Baz Luhrman’s film version. I know that isn’t out until the end of the year, but I spotted a readalong this month and so its time seemed to be now.

I’m not enjoying the book as much as I did first time around, but I feel I am giving the book a fair chance by spreading it over a whole month.

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor is another book I read years ago, but I’ve picked it up again to read with the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group as we celebrate the author’s centenary. This one is definitely better second time around, and it is repaying careful reading and quiet contemplation.

I picked up The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicholson a while back on ReadItSwapIt, and I picked it up a few weeks ago thinking that it would be a good book to set the scene before this years WW1 War Through The Generations Reading Challenge.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, and so it suits reading over time. I’ve met the new Queen Mary and the young Winston Churchill, and it has been lovely to see both at a point in their life that I hadn’t really considered before.

And there are many more fascinating people to meet …

I started the Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens last year, but I drifted away from it. I’m picking up the threads and I’m going to finish this one before I pick up any of the other Dickens novels that are calling me.

This isn’t going to be my one of my favourites I’m afraid, but there are one or two characters I love and I am going to see their stories through to the end.

I took my copy of A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes from the shelf for another group read – with the GoodReads Persephone Books Group. It is a wonderful memoir of a happy childhood and I am picking it up and reading a chapter whenever my spirits need lifting. I am so pleased that my library has the two sequels.

I ordered Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons from the library when I discovered that there was only one story about Cold Comfort Farm and that it was a prequel – so no preliminary  rereading was required – and that only a couple of stories were about Christmas.

I’m afraid I’ve ground to a halt on this one. It isn’t that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it as much as I’d hoped. It might be that Stella Gibbons needs the greater expanse of a novel to weave her particular literary magic, or it might just be that I read it at the wrong moment – Charlotte loved it.

So, now that I’ve realised just how many book I have in progress, and now that I’ve noticed someone else has a reservation and is waiting for it, I think I must take it back.

I have owned a copy of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for years, and it has been one of those books I really wanted to read but never quite got to. But now that there is a year long readalong I have finally made a start.

A proof copy of Diving Belles by Lucy Wood came through my letterbox a little while ago. I read the first few stories and fell in love, but then I decided I had to spin the rest out, as I really didn’t want to come to the last one. But the book is out in a couple of weeks and  I must read on to the end so that I can sing its praises.

I started reading The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie before Christmas. It was wonderful but it needed more attention than I could give it then, so I pushed it to one side. But now slow reading is paying dividends.

I started The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley weeks ago and I was loving it, but the book disappeared. It turned up a couple of days ago, under a pile of newspapers and magazines on the coffee table, and now I am happily reading on.

I probably shouldn’t have picked up another book, but I have to have a visit to the dentist first thing tomorrow morning, and I prescribed myself a day curled up with a big book afterwards. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman has been waiting for a while, and once I read the opening I was lost. So tomorrow I shall be in Masada …

That makes ten books. And, even though I’ve decided multiple reads is the way to go, that’s more than enough for now …

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol.

A Victorian classic that has been told and retold so many times. You don’t even have to have read it. There have been countless adaptations for stage and screen. For stage and screen. Even for the Muppets.

I can understand why.

It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old man whose only concern is his money and his business. Nothing else matters.

On Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by the ghost of the man who, in life was his business partner. Jacob Marley. Since his death Marley has been doomed to wander the earth, weighed down by heavy chains of his own making. And now he has come to warn Scrooge that he must mend his ways if he is to avoid the same fate.

During the night Scrooge is visited by three more spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. They show him scenes from his past. Scenes from the world around him. And scenes of a future that will come to pass if Scrooge carries on as he has in the past.

Scrooge realises that he must change his life. That he wants to change his life …

A Christmas Carol is a very short book, and that it is very, very readable. I read it from start to finish late last night.

I loved it when I first read it, years ago, and I still love it now.

And it is well worth reading, no matter how many adaptations you have seen, no matter how well you know the story.

Dickens tells the story perfectly. His prose is so rich and evocative, and the narrator held me from start to finish. There was always a lovely image, a wonderful turn of phrase to appreciate.

Many things were so very familiar and could have felt like clichés, but they didn’t. Because they were so completely right.

The story draws out emotions without ever becoming sentimental. It teeters on the brink sometimes but, for me, Dickens gets away with it because his heart is in the right place.

I understood Scrooge’s journey.

And I loved visiting Victorian London at Christmas time.

I suspect I’ll be going back again this time next year …

I have been up into the attic ….

…. and I came down with a large carrier bag.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I was reorganising shelves and boxes of books, and bringing my LibraryThing records up to date. I should have known that as soon as I had everything straight books that I had put away in the attic would call. Loudly.

And so I went up with a bag, and I came down with this:

All of the Penguin Classics I could carry!

Next year I plan to read more classics and less crime. And maybe to knit a little less and read a little more.

Of course I won’t read all of the books I brought down next year, but I want to have them around again.

(I hate having to keep books in the attic, but there is no alternative while I am living with and caring for my mother in her home.)

It all started when I read the Review section of the Saturday Telegraph a week or two ago. There was an article about One Day by David Nicholls, pointing up all of the references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Suddenly I was interested in a book that hadn’t called me at all.

But then another thought struck. Wouldn’t it be better to re-read Tess?!

And then other classics began to call. It was time to go up into the attic.

Tess came down, and so did all of the other works by Thomas Hardy I own.

Middlemarch, and all of George Eliot’s other novels came down, because I really should like to read again, over an extended period, with Team Middlemarch.

Jane Austen’s novels came down, to celebrate Advent With Austen.

Les Miserables came down, because I have wanted to read this book for so long and Kate’s Library is hosting a readalong that will help me to work my way through slowly over the course of next year.

With all of those books coming down I really couldn’t leave Wilkie Collins or the three Bronte sisters behind.

It was fortunate that those works I own by Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, plus my copy of Vanity Fair, were downstairs already, as my bag wouldn’t have held any more books.

I’ve also moved my Elizabeth Taylor collection to the front of the Virago bookcase, ready to read with the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.

My Virago copy of The Odd Women by George Gissing, that Darlene recommended so warmly is also to hand.

So I’m not going to run out of classics to read, and re-read, any time soon …..

A Classics Challenge

It’s called a challenge, but it doesn’t feel like a challenge.

It feels like a very natural, and sociable, way to read some of the books I really want to read but never quite get to.

Let me explain.

A Classics Challenge is hosted by Katherine at November’s Autumn – you may also know her as Katherine of Gaskell Blog.

The basic premise is simple:

“Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012. Only three of the seven may be re-reads.”

But what makes this interesting is what comes next:

“I’ve organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November’s Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 – December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you’re reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.”

So I’ve been through shelves and lists, and now I’ve narrowed down a long list of titles that I want to read or re-read to just seven books:

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)

I must confess that I love the film, but I have never read this, or indeed any Maugham. Time to put that right.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1866)

My mother loves Mrs Gaskell, but she lacks the short-term memory needed for keeping track of novels these days. But she loves watching television adaptations of classic novels, so my plan is to read the book and watch the mini-series with my mother. We did the same thing with North and South earlier this year, and it worked beautifully.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (1841)

I began reading The Old Curiosity Shop last year, but though I was enjoying it life and other books distracted me. It’s time to go back to the beginning and see it through to the end.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

I remember seeing the film at school when I was about fourteen. It was an end-of-term post-exam treat! I loved it, and I went straight to the library to find the book. I loved that too, and now it’s time for a re-read.

A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)

I picked this up a little while ago and the mixture of gotic plot and rich description looked wonderful. But I had commited to reading another gothic novel for the Classics Circuit, so I had to put this one aside.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855)

The first time I tried Trollope we didn’t get on, but I knew that it was just the wrong book at the wrong time. several people have suggested that The Warden is the best book to start with, and so that’s where I am going to start again.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)

My mother has been telling me that I should read Vanity Fair, that it was a wonderful book, for years. And she’s generally right about these things.

And now I just have to work out what to read first …