What’s in a Name Challenge: Done!

Four years ago “What’s in a Name” was the very first challenge I signed up for via this blog. It was also the first challenge I completed.

It’s a lovely challenge, and of course I signed up for a second year. A third. And a fourth.

Thanks must go to Beth at Beth Fish Reads for acting as host once again.

I scanned my shelves for six books, with titles each of six categories.  And then I read them.

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title:

In The Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title:

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title:

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

  • A book with a type of house in the title:

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title:

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title:

The Fortnight in September by R C Sheriff

It’s not the list I planned at the end of last year, but I’ve read six lovely books, and I am so pleased that I remembered to read ‘The Fortnight in September’ in September!

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

My 20th Century Reading Project is rolling along nicely. First there were ten and now there are twenty books. There’s a book in every decade now, I have a couple more to write about, and I have many more in mind.

But I’m going to move away towards other things for a while.

At the moment I’m reading two wonderful books from years that have already been taken – Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

I’m lining up books for A Victorian Celebration.

But then there’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week and Rosamund Lehmann Reading Week to pull me back to the 20th Century.

I’m rambling, and so I’ll get back to business and  list those ten books:

1902 – The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

It was all highly improbable, but the construction of the plot was very clever, and I can’t fault the logic at all. The style was simple and straightforward, the story was compelling, and so I turned the pages quickly. It felt to me like a children’s adventure story for grown-ups – not great literature, but a great entertainment.

1918 – Diary Without Dates by Enid Bagnold

It was brave to write what she did, while the war was still going on, and to take it to William Heinneman himself. He published Diary Without Dates in 1918, and Enid Bagnold was sacked for daring to write it. She saw out the war as an ambulance driver, and then she married and found success as a novelist. But this little book remains: one woman’s account of her war, written as she lived through it.

1920 – In The Mountains by Elizabeth von Arnim

The keeper of the journal, whose name I was never to learn, had come to a family home in the Swiss mountains to rest and to recover from – or at least come to terms with – her losses during The Great War. Exactly what – or who – she had lost, what she had suffered, was never quite put into words, but that she was grieving, that she was trying to come to terms with making a new start, was something I never doubted. I found that I understood.

1926 – As It Was by Helen Thomas

‘As It Was’ tells the story of their meeting, their courtship, their marriage, and the birth of the first child. It is an utterly real story, told by a woman who has both the understanding and the words to communicate that understanding. Lives lived long ago come alive on the pages: the beginning  of a love affair, the growth of a relationship, life’s trials and tribulations, the world they live in, the countryside they love …

1931 – Gwendra Cove & Other Cornish Sketches by C C Rogers (Lady Vyvyan)

I picked up the first volume of her memoirs a couple of years ago, and I was soon smitten. Because I saw straight away that Clara Coltman Rogers, later to become Lady Vyvyan, loved and understood Cornwall. And I saw it again in these wonderfully diverse little sketches. She gets everything right: the environments, the communities, the characters, the speech patterns …

1934 – Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

Her mother realised that Harriet’s suitor had been drawn to her wealth and the expectation of a significant inheritance from an aunt of her late husband. And she learned that Lewis Staunton was clever, that he could play on her daughter’s love of romance, that he could twist her mother’s concerns into something dark and sinister in her daughter’s mind. She tried, but she couldn’t save her daughter. My heart broke for her.

1946 – Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

This is a story with echoes of other authors: Jane Austen in the heroine’s name, and in more besides; Charlotte Bronte in the heroine’s position; Ivy Compton-Burnett in some of the dialogue and relationships; Daphne Du Maurier in the presence, and untold story, of Marion’s wife; Molly Keane in the crumbling mansion; Thomas Hardy in some of the darker moments; and maybe even more that have passed me by when I was caught up … Not a satire, not a pastiche, but something rather different, and rather more interesting. Something I can’t quite explain.

1955 – The Tigress on the Hearth by Margery Sharp

Hugo, a young Devon lad, the kind of hero who could so easily have stepped from the pages of a Regency novel, found himself at the point of a sword. He had been on holiday with his uncle when he, quite inadvertently, breached Albanian etiquette, and it seemed that he would never see Devon again.

1963 – The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

Globe House is a wonderful mixture of the traditional and the modern. The four young people had been brought up by their grandmother and they were a credit to her. As were Cook and Edith. They continued to live together happily after she died, with just few changes. The family still ate in the dining room and the staff in the kitchen, but the family went to the kitchen to make their own coffee so that all could be cleared away in time for the whole household to settle down together and watch the evening’s television.

1996 – Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark

In her twentieth book, published in the nineties when she was in her eighties, Muriel Spark’s authorial voice spoke as strongly as it ever had. The clearsightedness and the oh so subtle wit are quite wonderful. She created a fine gallery of characters – not likeable characters but they were terribly readable – and gave them just enough plot to keep things interesting and to throw a wealth of ideas into the air.

In The Mountains by Elizabeth von Arnim

Elizabeth von Arnim

I discovered Elizabeth von Arnim a long time ago, and read all of her books that I could find. Recently though her those books have been calling me back, asking me to read them all over again. But before I started pulling books out of the Virago bookcase I had a look at the library catalogue, just in case there was a book tucked away that I hadn’t read and didn’t own.

There was –  In The Mountains!

The name rang a bell, but I didn’t look up any details, I just placed my order. One of the things I like about reading older books is that you can go into them with no foreknowledge and take the book exactly as it comes, with no preconceptions at all.

I was delighted when the book appeared on the reservations shelf to discover that it was a novel in the form of a journal. A format I love!

The keeper of the journal, whose name I was never to learn, had come to a family home in the Swiss mountains to rest and to recover from – or at least come to terms with – her losses during The Great War.

Exactly what – or who – she had lost, what she had suffered, was never quite put into words, but that she was grieving, that she was trying to come to terms with making a new start, was something I never doubted. I found that I understood.

Her journal read beautifully and quite naturally. Sometimes the words came in a rush, and sometimes she struggled to express herself.

“I wonder why I write all this. Is it because it is like talking to a friend at the end of the day, and telling him, who is interested and loves to hear, everything one has done? I suppose it is that; and that I want to pin down these queer days as they pass, – days so utterly like any I ever had before. I want to hold them a minute in my hand and look at them, before letting them drop away for ever …”

She found sustenance in the peace and beauty of her surroundings, in her books, and in writing in her journal. It was lovely to watch; I liked her, and I cared about her.

But as she grew stronger she began to feel lonely, and in need of a role in life. And that was when two Englishwoman, tired walkers, arrived on her doorstep. She eagerly invited them in, to rest and to take refreshments, and when she discovered that their lodgings were less than satisfactory, she prevailed upon them to stay with her.

The tone of the story changed, and I’m afraid I rather resented it. I wanted things to go on quietly, as they had before. But I was also curious. Why were two English sisters, who surely would have been happier at home, walking in the Swiss mountains? And why was the elder sister so very protective of the younger?

Their hostess was curious too, but she didn’t feel she could ask and they didn’t feel they could tell. But in time friendships grew, confidences were shared; she was able to help them and they were able to help her.

Some things were lost in the second part of the book. The journal that had been so believable became less so as conversations were reported verbatim. And I missed the contemplation of peace and beauty.

But wonderful though they are, peace and beauty alone cannot fill a life. And the coming of company did allow the author to make some telling points silly the rules of hospitality and good manners can be, about the importance of being needed,  about the consequences of war, and about how we come to terms with loss, learn to somehow live with it, and carry on.

She did it with such understanding, warmth and charm.

And there were so many lovely moments and details.

“While I dress it is my habit to read. Some book is propped up open against the looking-glass, and sometimes, for one’s eyes can’t be everywhere at once, my hooks in consequence don’t get quite satisfactorily fastened. Indeed I would be very neat if I could, but there are other things … “

The book as a whole can’t quite live up to passages like that. It’s a little compromised by its structure, by the sharp change part-way through, by the need to come to an end where there should be not an end but simply a change.

But it is lovely nonetheless, and it has confirmed that I really must pull Elizabeth von Arnim’s other books out of that bookcase.