At some point over the last month or so I have read about a blogger who is deliberately reading books published in each of the years of her/his life. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of who that was, so if it is you or if you know who it might be, please let me know, because I think it is a great idea and if you don’t mind I am going to join you. One of the things I prize most about reading is the insight it gives into the time in which a book was written. Even if it is an historical novel or a piece of science fiction it still reflects to some extent the values of the society out of which it has developed. Selecting a certain number of books from each year, and working through those years chronologically, should, in theory, offer a developing insight into the world in which I have grown up and the literature that it has given rise to.
But how to select? When you think of all the books which are published every year where do you begin? Plus, there have been rather a lot of years of my life. I have a certain amount of catching up to do. My initial thoughts are that I shall pick just one novel from each of the genres that I have been most concerned with, namely, contemporary fiction, crime fiction and children’s literature and fit them into my reading over two or three months, depending on length and what else has to be read over that same period. As far as possible I shall choose books that I haven’t read before, although with the children’s fiction for the early years that may not be so easy as far less was being published and I was a voracious reader from an early age. I also think that I am going to stick just to British publications. If I try and spread my net too wide then the whole thing will become just completely impractical and besides it is the reflection of the society I grew up in that I am interested in and that is British society.
So, where do we start? The year is 1949. (Don’t bother to add up on your fingers – at some point this year a sixty-eighth birthday has been or will be celebrated.) You see what I mean about the catching up? A quick look at Wikipedia’s 1949 in Literature page offers me all sorts of possibilities. Just picking out those that meet my criteria in adult fiction and which also take my fancy there are:
- Agatha Christie ~ Crooked House
- Graham Greene ~ The Third Man
- Marghanita Laski ~ Little Boy Lost
- Nancy Mitford ~ Love in a Cold Climate
I feel thoroughly ashamed at having to admit that I haven’t read the Greene and as I have a sneaking suspicion that I do know the Christie but have just forgotten all about it, I’m going to push the boundaries a bit and class The Third Man as crime. I am also remiss on the Mitford front but would have to read The Pursuit of Love presumably in order for the second volume to make sense. I shall ponder that for a few days longer before making a final decision.
In children’s books, Enid Blyton seems to have started three different series that year. (She must have known I was about to appear on the scene and would be needing copious amounts of reading material.) Noddy Goes to Toyland and The Secret Seven were both published as was The Rockingdown Mystery which is the first of six books about the same group of children and a small monkey. It was also the year that we first met the Moomins but they don’t meet the British criteria. Neither, unfortunately, does Ruth Park, whose name I was amazed to see on the list. In my mind, this New Zealand born but Australian author belongs much later in my career when she was publishing such superb books as Playing Beatie Bow. I had no idea she was writing so much earlier. I thought I might try Geoffrey Trease’s No Boats on Bannermere but I can’t find a copy that I can afford, so it is going to have to be a re-read, I’m afraid. A quick look round the book selling sites has unearthed a volume with the first three of the stories in the Rockingdown series and I shall quite enjoy going back to spending time with Barney and Co. I always liked them better than the Secret Seven or Famous Five.
When I’ve made a final choice for contemporary fiction I’ll try and fit these into November and December. Fortunately my book groups go quiet as we get closer to Christmas and so I should manage all three. Then we’ll hit the fifties and who knows what there will be to be found there.