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.

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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.


Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

When I was considering books for Brona’s Australian Reading Week I caught sight Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Goldfields Trilogy caught eye from the top shelf of the Virago bookcase. I have read much praise for the author and those books look wonderful, but it wasn’t the time for me to embark on a new series and, as those books came late in a writing career, I though there might be a good, earlier novel for me to try first.

There was – a novel from 1926 named ‘Haxby’s Circus’ – I loved it.

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.

“Cars and buggies, far away on the dark road, flickered like fireflies, coming into the town, converging round the restless spangle of lights in the paddock beside the river where the circus had camped.

Under starry skies, across the dim palms, gay blare and tinkle of the circus band flew far and wide.

the tents erected during the morning glowed like a crop of luminous toadstools. Smoking flares showed gaily caparisoned horses, fantastically clad riders moving in and out from the dark behind the tents. Crowds of men, women and children from the town and surrounding farms, seethed across the dark paddocks towards them … “

At the centre of the stage is Dan Haxby, proprietor and ring-master. The circus is his life, his world, and his family are all part of it. He loves his family, but he takes it for granted that for them – as for him – the circus means everything.

And it does.

Haxby's CircusBut when his daughter, Gina, a young bareback rider, is badly hurt and must spend months recuperating in hospital things change. Gina is left behind, because, of course, the show must go on. Her spirit and the stories she has to sell impress the hospital staff, and their care and stories of their lives make an impression on Gina; she begins to realise that there are other ways to live and she begins to question her father’s attitude and her mother’s unquestioning loyalty to him.

Gina learns to walks again, against the odds, but her back is hunched and she will never be able to do many of the things that she did before. She returns to the circus, partly because it is her home and partly because she has nowhere else to go. There is no place for her but she is determined to make one, to make things better, and to put her life back together.

This is Gina’s story and she is a wonderful character. She has strengths – her determination, her love for her family, her will – and her practical efforts – to make things better; and she has weaknesses – blind-spots, too many things that she cannot see or cannot understand.

She doesn’t understand that, though her life is hard, the only place her mother wants to be as it her father’s side, working hard, giving her life, for the circus.

She doesn’t understand that she is spoiling her talented little sister, Max – maybe to fill a void in her life – and that she cannot protect her from life’s harsh realities.

And she does not believe that she could be loved.

Sometimes she was infuriating, but she was always engaging.

The book follows the course of her life, through good times and bad ties, through an age where the cinema is drawing audiences away from the circus. That makes the plot feel a little uneven, and there were one or two things that stretched credibility. But the story held me, and the writing style suited it beautifully.

The cast of characters was wonderful – Dan was the ultimate showman; the story of his wife, Lotty, was heartbreakingly believable; Max was so clearly what her life and her circumstances had made her; Rocca, the dwarf clown, had such perfect understanding of his own reality, and though his appearance was short his role was pivotal; Paul Bach, tamer of wild beasts, was close to Gina but I feared for her and I was right ….

I wish some of the characters in the background had been filled in a little – Gina’s sister and her husband, and her blur of brothers – though the story was full enough

But drawing of Haxby’s Circus was wonderful from start to finish. This circus story said much about life, family, the consequences of how we choose to live; the later chapters speak so profoundly about ageing, about loss and acceptance.

And then the final twist made me catch my breath ….