Message to future Thomas

Since this is a message to the future me, I thought I would write it in the 2nd person.

This is what you thought of these two books:

Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar
You loved the cover as you love most of the covers issued by NYRB Classics. And you seemed to remember lots of other bloggers reading this one and generally praising it. Not one to jump on the band wagon you waited a considerable number of months, perhaps even a year or more to read it for yourself. (Putting it on your list for the A Century of Books challenge seemed to help assure that you might actually get around to it.)

At first you were charmed by the thought of middle agish (?) Rachel moving off to Bristol to start a new life after her aunt left her a big old house there. You were particularly taken with Rachel’s description of her work leaving “party” just before she moves. It had a kind of And Then We Came to the End kind of office vibe and introduced us to the notion that Rachel may be one of those people that is the butt of most of the office jokes. All going along great at this point. Quirky Rachel, exciting new adventure. Then Benatar ratchets things up a bit when it seems that Rachel longtime roommate may actually have thought that they were in a Lesbianic (albeit platonic) relationship. Then it is off to Bristol where it starts to become clear that Rachel might not be the most reliable of narrators. Not long after this she kind of keeps swimming and swimming to the deep end of the pool. Somewhere in there you started think of a Jane Gardam character with some seriously dark Muriel Spark thrown in to boot.

At first you worried that Rachel was going through her savings too fast and you wished that she would at least get a part time job to pay expenses. But when it became clear that she was headed for some sort of fantastic mental day of reckoning, you started to cheer her on in her spending. The mental climax would no doubt come when she reached the end of her economic tether.
And now, future Thomas, I must disappoint you. You waited too long to write about this book and the two week delay has rendered you unable to remember exactly how this finishes. You think it was mildly unresolved. Oh well, at least this way you won’t spoil the surprise for your readers.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
You have a vague recollection of seeing part of the film adaptation of this book. You rented it decades ago when you couldn’t get enough of Merchant-Ivory films which all seemed to use book adaptation screenplays written by RPJ.  Not being full of Forster-esque tea sipping and such your youngish, untrained mind was bored. You decided to dust the book off (you didn’t intend the pun) when the year of its publication (1975) was one that you needed to fill for the A Century of Books challenge.

So when you picked up this Booker prize winning novel on your vacation in Maine, you were immediately drawn in–delighting in the fact that the cool Maine breezes were the antithesis of the heat and dust in book. For much of the book you couldn’t decide if you like the 1923 story line better or the 1975 story line better. You also kept wondering how anyone can live in such heat, especially in 1920s English clothing. Good lord, how about a sari or sarong.

You were intrigued by the possibility that women’s reproductive choices in the 1970s were in some ways less political than they are today and you wondered whether or not RPJ, who is Indian only by marriage, painted an accurate portrait of life in India in the 1920s and 1970s. But then you thought that that was kind of a dumb question because the sheer number of points of view (i.e., people) living in India, whether English or Indian, make words like accurate a little fraught.

In the end you enjoyed it and vowed to put Heat and Dust on your Netflix queue.

Bits and Bobs (the struggling woman edition)

I tried to find a picture of the Queen Mum looking mean
but they really don’t exist. This was the best I could
come up with. But I thought the unwritten rule is that one
doesn’t take photos of the Royal Family eating.

[3/19/12 Update: Boy, did I forget to proofread this. It should be better now.]

Was the Queen Mum cold hearted, or a hypocrite?  
I knew that would get your attention.  Am I about to trash the Queen Mum? No. At worst I am ambivalent about her, but I did wonder as I read Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson if the QM suffered from a little cognitive dissonance when it comes to marrying for love. In Ferguson’s 1937 novel, the heroine marries for love and ends up old and impoverished. Now, the Queen Mum is said to have been a great admirer of this book. So why did she love this book? Was she clueless to the fact that her life-long grudge against the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson was similar to the class-induced opprobrium Lady Rose faced? Or, more sinisterly, did she relish the comeuppance Lady Rose got for marrying below her? If either of these is true I tend to think it is more the former than the latter. Or was she so caught up in this romantic paean to Scottish life that she couldn’t think clearly?

I don’t really feel strongly enough to care one way or the other, but it was on my mind the entire time I was reading Lady Rose. And for the record I really enjoyed the book. Highly recommended for Persephone fans.

Why those ungrateful…
My second struggling woman for the week is Patricia Lindsay (née Crispin) the heroine of Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan. We follow Patricia as she gets her own lesson in marrying beneath her. She sacrifices much for her insecure husband and her ungrateful children. In a town and gown story as old as the academy itself, Patricia’s eldest gets the newsagent’s daughter preggers and marries her much to his mother’s horror. Patricia’s distaste over the marriage is not dissimilar to her mother’s, but Cannan does such a good job describing the mock gentility of the newsagent’s wife and daughter that it was hard not to chuckle at the characterization and sympathize with Patricia. Does that make me a snob? Yes, but so be it. I know I would have trouble if my (non-existent) son married a woman with all the crass, intellectual idiocy of Sarah Palin–albeit in this case non-political idiocy. The second son falls in love with his friend Peter, I mean with his friend Peter’s love of the Oxford Movement. This makes his high church, only on Sundays mother openly hostile. And then the daughter…what does she do that is so wrong…I don’t remember. Was it that she loved cars more than horses?

Thankfully we see Patricia at middle age (my age) seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  Another Persephone I thoroughly enjoyed.

This story had very little to do with spoons
I think my third struggling woman for the week struggled more than the other two combined. In Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, artist Sophia Fairclough her artist husband Charles marry young, and (surprise) against the wishes of his family. Unlike her marginally talented husband, Sophia takes work so she can keep them fed and housed, a task that becomes harder when she has a baby. There is much about Sophia’s fertility that I would like to talk about but that would be too spoilery. But I will say that it makes me even more crazy that Rick Santorum and idiots on the far right are talking about contraceptives these days as if we were about to enter the dark ages again.

One of the great things about this book is that you never quite know where it is headed. The only constant is that one keeps hoping for Sophia’s day in the sun. Whether or not she makes it is something you will have to find out for yourselves. I highly recommend this (and the other other Barbara Comyns book I have read The Skin Chairs).

Struggling is not just for women
My struggle these days has been to find time for blog reading and blog writing. Happily my work has my brain occupied such that I don’t have as much mental stamina for appreciating the blog world as I had when my work didn’t engage me so. I fear I have turned into a once a week kind of guy. Hopefully that will just make you all fonder of me rather than make you forget about me. I do know that I have too many blogs in my feed reader and the sheer number of unread posts makes me not want to look at anything. So today I am going to do a huge cull and only keep around those that regularly interest me. I might try and sequester the ones that only marginally interest me into a separate folder, but if the result is that the unread posts for those still show up in my total of unread posts–thus triggering my OCD–I might have to give them the boot altogether.

Struggling through the Century?
No. Even though I have only read 14 of 100 books for the A Century of Books challenge, I am kind of enjoying paying closer attention to when books were published. For a while I even entertained reading my TBR pile in chronological order. I was reading the oldest, then then newest, then the oldest, then the newest, etc. But then I bumped into Women in Love and that took away my desire for chronological symmetry. I still might try and finish “that bastard book” (to paraphrase Corky St. Clair from Waiting for Guffman, one of the best movies of all time) D.H. Lawrence, but it is going to be a slog. I also updated my Century list today with books from my larger TBR pile (i.e., outside the nightstand).


A Century of Books

Simon made the button too. (At least I am assuming he did.)

When Simon first posted about the A Century of Books challenge it appealed to my listy ways, but since it requires reading 100 books in one year, I thought better of it. I have in the past read more than 100 books in one year, but that was when I was only working three days a week (aka the salad days). The basis of the challenge is to read one book from every year of the 20th century.  As I said, I wasn’t going to participate, but then I thought I could tie it into my TBR Double Dare and see how many years I could knock out. But still, I did not take up the challenge.

Then a few weeks ago when John was out of town, I stayed up until about 3:00 am. One of the things I felt the need to do instead of sleep was to make a spreadsheet listing each year of the century and then filling in the blanks with the 60 or so books that are in my TBR Double Dare pile. But I still wasn’t sure if I was going to participate. But then Simon’s recent post about the Modern Library’s book of the 200 best books since 1950 really got me interested. So I’m in.

And by the by, the results of my list making with my TBR Double Dare stash are kind of interesting. I was able to fill in about 37 years. Of course for some years I have more than one title in that TBR pile. With four books, 1946 had the most overlap, 1934 and 1940 have three titles each, and 1908, 1929, and 1990 each had two.  And the teens are most under represented with a big goose egg.

As you will see from the list below the 1940s is the most complete decade based on my TBR Double Dare pile.  But keep in mind I have about another 200 unread books in my library that I will be able to add to the list once April 1st rolls around. It will be kind of cool to see if I can fill all 100 years without resorting to outside books.

I have no idea if I will come anywhere close to finishing, but we all love a list so here it is.

I have already completed the one’s that are crossed out. When there was more than one title for any given year in my TBR Double Dare, I only listed the one I am most likely to read. And those marked “ML100” are on the Modern Library’s list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century, which I have been working my way through since 1997.

[UPDATE: I have been updating this list as I finish books so the text above may no longer be entirely accurate.]

1900 – Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (ML100)
1901 – Kim by Rudyard Kipling or Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
1902 – The Immoralist by Andre Gide or The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
1903 – The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
1904 – The Golden Bowl by Henry James (ML100)
1905 – Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann
1906 – Young Torless by Robert Musil
1907 – The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (ML100)
1908 – Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson
1909 – Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide or Martin Eden by Jack London
1910 – Impressions of Africa by Raymond Rousse
1911 –
1912 – The Charwoman’s Daughter by James Stephens
1913 – T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1914 – Dubliners by James Joyce or maybe Penrod by Booth Tarkington
1915 – The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
1916 – Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
1917 – Gone to Earth by Mary Webb or Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
1919 – Consequences by E.M. Delafield
1920 – Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (ML100)
1921 –
1922 – The Judge by Rebecca West or Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
1923 – The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy
1924 – Some Do Not by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1925 – No More Parades by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1926 – A Man Could Stand Up by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1927 – Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards
1928 – Last Post by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1929 – The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
1930 – Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestly or The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield
1931 – Saraband by Eliot Bliss or Poor Caroline by Winifred Hoitby
1932 – Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1933 – Frost in May by Antonia White or Ordinary Familes by E. Arnot Robertson
1934 – The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1935 – Judgment Day by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1936 – Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner or Eyeless in Gaza by Huxley
1937 – Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
1938 – Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
1939 – Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
1940 – Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
1941 – The Living and the Dead by Patrick White or Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
1942 – Clark Clifford’s Body by Kenneth Fearing
1943 – Gideon Planish by Sinclair Lewis
1944 – Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
1945 – The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
1946 – Every Good Deed by Dorothy Whipple
1947 – Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (ML100) or Not Now, but Now by MFK Fisher
1948 – The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
1949 – Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
1950 – Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
1951 – A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
1952 – The Village by Marghanita Laski
1953 – Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
1954 – Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
1955 – The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
1956 – The Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch
1957 – The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham or Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
1958 – A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym
1959 – The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
1960 – The Bachelors by Muriel Spark
1961 – Stephen Morris by Nevil Shute or Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (ML100)
1962 – Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (ML100) or A Clockwork Orange by A. Burgess (ML 100)
1963 – The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy or An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
1964 – A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway or Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
1965 – August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien or Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
1966 – A Generous Man by Reynolds Price or The House on the Cliff by DE Stevenson
1967 – My Friend Says It’s Bullet-Proof by Penelope Mortimer
1968 – Sarah’s Cottage by D.E. Stevenson
1969 – The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble
1970 – Troubles by JG Farrell
1971 – A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis or My Own Cape Cod by Gladys Taber
1972 – Augustus by John Williams
1973 – After Claude by Iris Owens
1974 – The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
1975 – Crucial Conversations by May Sarton
1976 – The Takeover by Muriel Spark
1977 – Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 – The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym
1979 – The Safety Net by Heinrich Boll
1980 – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (ML100)
1981 – July’s People by Nadine Gordimer or Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin
1982 – Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar or A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
1983 – Look at Me by Anita Brookner
1984 – Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
1985 – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson or Cider House Rules by John Irving
1986 – Anagrams by Lorrie Moore or Marya: A Life by Joyce Carol Oates
1987 – One Way of Love by Gamel Woolsey or Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
1988 – English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee or What Am I Doing Here by Bruce Chatwin
1989 – London Fields by Martin Amis or A Natural Curiosity by Margaret Drabble
1990 – Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
1991 – The Translator by Ward Just
1992 – The Republic of Love by Carol Shields or Arcadia by Jim Crace
1993 – While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
1994 – The Longings of Women by Marge Piercy
1995 – The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
1996 – Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood or Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
1997 – Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty
1998 – The Book of Lies by Felice Picano
1999 – Timbuktu by Paul Auster or Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson