Wednesday 5 October 2011

A Century of Books: some suggestions

I'm already getting excited about A Century of Books, the anti-challenge reading challenge with very few rules and low expectations(!)  If you missed my original post on it, click here.  I'm especially excited about how excited lots of you are - whether you're joining in wholly or casually or just watching from the sidelines.  It's going to be fun!

I was asked by Jo if I could give some suggestions for books, as I imagine most of us have sections of the twentieth century where we're at a bit of a loss for inspiration.  (For me, it's the 1900s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s...)  Jo's was the kind of question I could not possibly resist - the lure of a list, and of going back through my book-lists from the past ten years, was too wonderful a prospect to delay.

And I have made my list!  I was somewhat astonished that not only had I read a book for every year of the twentieth century already (almost), but I could recommend books I thought were good!  1994 took a while, because I absolutely refused to include the abominable Captain Correli's Mandolin, but thankfully I discovered Sylvia Townsend Warner's Diaries were published that year - hurrah!  That book is one of a few below that I haven't actually *finished*, but have dipped into and can safely recommend.

I haven't duplicated any authors, and there is a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  Unless otherwise stated, the books are novels (and there are evidently some decades where my familiarity with novels is second to children's books or plays!)  Quite a few of these have been reviewed on SiaB - just search in the search box, or scroll through all reviews.  And if they're not there and you're interested, just ask!

Without further ado... my suggestions for 1900-1999.

1900 - The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (non-fiction)
1901 - Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov (play)
1902 - Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (children's short stories)
1903 - The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter (children's)
1904 - Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (play)
1905 - The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (short stories)
1906 - The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (children's)
1907 - The Unlucky Family by Mrs. Henry de la Pasture (children's)
1908 - Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson
1909 - The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim
1910 - Literary Lapses by Stephen Leacock (short stories)
1911 - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (children's)
1912 - The Unbearable Bassington by Saki
1913 - Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton (first Austen sequel)
1914 - The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
1915 - Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
1916 - London Revisited by E.V. Lucas (essays)
1917 - Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
1918 - The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
1919 - The Young Visiters [sic!] by Daisy Ashford
1920 - Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson
1921 - Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay
1922 - Lady Into Fox by David Garnett
1923 - Bliss by Katherine Mansfield (short stories)
1924 - The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
1925 - William by E.H. Young
1926 - As It Was by Helen Thomas (biog./autobiog.)
1927 - The Love Child by Edith Olivier
1928 - Orlando by Virginia Woolf
1929 - David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky
1930 - Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
1931 - The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1932 - Cheerful Weather For The Wedding by Julia Strachey
1933 - Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
1934 - Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (children's)
1935 - Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand
1936 - The New House by Lettice Cooper
1937 - They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
1938 - Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
1939 - It's Too Late Now by A.A. Milne (autobiog.)
1940 - Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
1941 - Parents and Children by Ivy Compton-Burnett
1942 - The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
1943 - The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (children's)
1944 - A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
1945 - Animal Farm by George Orwell
1946 - Westwood by Stella Gibbons
1947 - The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
1948 - The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
1949 - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
1950 - Frost at Morning by Richmal Crompton
1951 - The Lagoon by Janet Frame (short stories)
1952 - Make Me An Offer by Wolf Mankowitz
1953 - The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
1954 - Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico
1955 - Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
1956 - The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (children's)
1957 - The Entertainer by John Osborne (play)
1958 - Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (children's)
1959 - The Caretaker by Harold Pinter (play)
1960 - The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
1961 - Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood
1962 - We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
1963 - Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady
1964 - The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
1965 - Oxford by Jan Morris (non-fiction)
1966 - Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
1967 - The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes (essay)
1968 - The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard (play)
1969 - Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene
1970 - 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (letters)
1971 - Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
1972 - The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
1973 - In the Springtime of the Year by Susan Hill
1974 - Enid Blyton: the biography by Barbara Stoney (biog.)
1975 - Danny: The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (children's)
1976 - Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure by Joyce Grenfell (sketches)
1977 - Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh (play)
1978 - The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
1979 - The Path Through The Trees by Christopher Milne (autobiog.)
1980 - A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1981 - Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark
1982 - Wish Her Safe At Home by Stephen Benatar
1983 - A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman (non-fiction)
1984 - Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon
1985 - Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys
1986 - Richmal Crompton: the Woman behind William by Mary Cadogan (biog.)
1987 - Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin (biog.)
1988 - The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
1989 - People Who Say Goodbye by P.Y. Betts (autobiog.)
1990 - Immortality by Milan Kundera
1991 - Forever England by Alison Light (lit. crit.)
1992 - The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
1993 - The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt (short stories)
1994 - Diaries by Sylvia Townsend Warner (diaries!)
1995 - The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson
1996 - Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
1997 - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
1998 - Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman (essays)
1999 - All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills


  1. This is quite a list! I have quite a few of them on my TBR shelf, so that will make starting the project a little easier.

  2. Brilliant list. I started mine the other day (when I was supposed to be working!) but only got as far as 1940. A few gaps, not sure if they're failures of imagination/memory or gaps in my reading.

  3. I ll watch from sidelines terrible challenge doer but if I see I ve read a few from different years next year that may change ,all the best stu

  4. My. This is an impressive challenge. I don't think I could come up with a list myself, but I probably would enjoy trying.

  5. I am impressed you came up with this list so quickly. Are you leaving your choices for the challenge up to chance or are you going to make a TBR list for yourself?

  6. I have one critique that you may find annoying. There are quite a few non-fiction titles on your list for the 80s and 90s that don't exactly reflect the literary zeitgeist of the time. As much as I like Richmal Crompton, her bio doesn't seem very 1986 to me. The 80s don't thrill me much either but now I feel I have a mission to find some suggestions for you that don't include bios of your favorite authors. :-)

  7. Fascinating. I've been meaning to make my own list but haven't got around to it. I've read quite a few of yours and almost certainly could fill many of the gaps with others -- but I'd be tempted to stick entirely to fiction or at least to exclude non-fiction.

  8. Susan - lovely! It'll give you a head start :)

    Mary - thanks! It was such fun making it (although frustrating trying to find things to fill the odd gap - lots of googling involved!)

    Stu - that's fine, I watch from the sidelines on all other challenges!

    CB James - It is definitely fun, and you'd be surprised at what fills the gaps... of course, this does rely on you being as neurotic as I am at keeping lists!

    Thomas - I'm leaving my choices up to chance, definitely - for me, making a list of books to read spoils the spontaneity and excitement. That's why I usually don't do challenges. And I know, I know, I totally cheated with my biographies! You could say I cheated with the children's books too. I'm hoping when I do the challnenge myself that I'll have more representative choices for the later decades - I already have Milan Kundera on hand for one or two...

    Harriet - I would love to have made it just novels, but my ten years of reading lists wouldn't have run to that! You would be able to produce a wonderful list, I'm sure, and I for one would love to see it!

  9. Great list! I've been wondering how to go about making my own list for 2012. I've read quite a few of the books on this list tho but there are some I haven't and I think I shall include them in my TBR list as well.

  10. WOW. I am extremely impressed. I'm not interested in going through my own lists and library to see how well I'd do, but I strongly doubt I'd do this well! What a feat - of reading, and of list-making. We're lucky to have you, Simon.

  11. What an intriguing project.

    My own inclination is to include books whose publication closely corresponds to the time of action, so that Henrietta's War, while a perfect window into the time the columns were written, early WWII, doesn't work for me for its publication year, 1985.

    And I'll HAVE to include a Sayers.

  12. Phew, what a list!

    I've just this minute finished Westwood, absolutely blooming brilliant! Bit sad that it is forgotten and eclipsed by Cold Comfort Farm.

  13. Quite a list indeed - loads I don't know and can look to if needed! I plan to join in casually by reading more from my TBR by whim and slotting them into their year, and then plan to fill in gaps later...

  14. What an impressive list! I'm most tempted by your suggestions for the 1960s and the pick for 1984, Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen is one of my favourite books. I might be tempted to join the challenge just to make a list of my own...

  15. You are a bigger man than me for planning on the Kundera.

  16. Great list Simon, I am going to save this for a year in the, hopefully not too distant, future when I can give something like this a whirl.

    I do now want to go and see what books I fancy as well as yours that came out each year. Mustn't as it will just make me procrastinate all the more.

  17. Simon, you inspired me to take a look at American bestsellers of the 20th C. and come up with some reads. Not one per year; just picked ten. Also chose a few from your list. Thanks for the suggestions. -Fay

    A Century of American Bestsellers

  18. Hello Simon - I don't know if you are sticking to this list, but I'd strongly recommend something by Tom Wolfe, who is a vital, strong writer; a great ironist and observer. Bonfire of the Vanities came out in 1987, A Man in Full in 1998, and (since you are including non-fiction) From Bauhaus to Our House in 1981. The latter is short (presumably a plus) and a very amusing, spot on, squib on Modern architecture (which might chime with your interest in inter-war lit. Since you liked A Confederacy of Dunces I think you will like Wolfe too.

    And might I add a plug for the blog of a friend of mine, who is reading a book from every country in the world:



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