A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

The Books That Built the Blogger with Heaven Ali!

Today on The Books That Built the Blogger, I have the fantastic Ali from HeavenAli blog. I love Ali’s blog so much – she has a wonderful mix of classic and new books and it is because of Ali that I finally made an effort to read Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and Molly Keane. So, I have a lot to thank her for.

Here are her great choices.

I’m Ali, I blog at Heavenali – the vast majority of my posts are book reviews, and I don’t blog about anything that isn’t book related in some way, book lists, book buying etc. I have been blogging in fact a lot longer than I have been on WordPress. I started off on LiveJournal back in something like 2006 or perhaps 2005 – many posts were transferred over here when I moved – though I went back and deleted a lot of them. My blog posts were a bit odd back then, and so was LiveJournal – I think we were all buried away in some kind of weird parallel blogging universe that only other Livejournallers knew about. At the end of January 2012 I transferred to WordPress – and decided to make more of an effort with the whole blogging thing.

Danny Champion of the World – Roald Dahl (1975)

I have been trying to decide which book it was that really ‘got’ me – made the book addict I am today. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, and to be honest there are several candidates for the book which turned me into a book fiend – but I settled finally on this one. I was probably about seven – and the story captured my imagination, I felt it – in a way which 40 odd years later I still remember – I was transported to a caravan, to those woods with Danny and his father. I can still remember the best way to catch pheasants, and how it feels to wake up at night in a tiny caravan and find my father has gone out.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (1934)

I was around eleven when I first read Agatha Christie – I read many of her most famous works back to back – taking them out of the library – where I could be found on many a Saturday morning. Since then I keep going back to Dame Agatha – I know where I am with her world, and I usually forget whodunit anyway. Of course, there are one or two books which once you have read, it would impossible to forget the conclusion, and this is, one of those. Maybe one day I will re-read it to see how it hangs together.

The Raj Quartet: The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott (1966)

I have read the whole quartet twice, and loved the TV adaptation, but of course with any series it is the first book which pulls you in. Looking back, I think The Jewel in the Crown set me on a path of reading a certain kind of book from a certain period, I was becoming less and less bothered by new novels – though I still read those too. For a while, quite a long while I read a lot of what is loosely termed ‘Indian lit’ discovering writers like Anita Desai. However, I also think that perhaps Paul Scott started me reading about a certain type of English community, upper middle class, privileged, establishment, – I wonder now what attracts me to that – I really don’t know. Both my readings of The Raj Quartet were pre-blog – but I expect I shall read it again one day.

The first novel in the quartet recreates the last days of British rule in India. The British community fear the rising call for Independence while their own country is at war, those in India fear Japanese invasion. In Mayapore province a young Englishwoman is raped, the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath are at the centre of the novel.

The Gentlewomen – Laura Talbot (1952)

In 2010 – my friend Liz (who blogs at Adventures in Reading, Writing and working from Home) loaned me The Gentlewoman by Laura Talbot – a lovely old Green Virago. It re-awakened an old obsession – green Viragos. Years earlier I had read some green vViragos, Precious Bane, Frost in May, Novel on Yellow Paper, The Crowded Street, and others I have now forgotten. Many were probably library books, though I think I owed a small number too. In those days, I lived in a tiny flat with two small bookcases (and that was pushing it really) and so I had to keep getting rid of books. Reading ‘The Gentlewoman’ – which I loved, reminded me of those books, books of a different time, written by women.

Governess Miss Bolby leaves her boarding house in Birmingham for Rushford where she will be teaching the daughters of Lady Rushford. Rushford is not all that Roona Bolby expects, there is a new house maid, who Miss Bolby doesn’t think is up to scratch, and two Italian prisoners work in the grounds. Miss Bolby is obsessed by her past, she constantly lives in the past, hanging on to the threads of her aristocratic connections. Her life has been a series of disappointments, and she is constantly reminded of what might have been. She is a snob and harsh critic of others. A not very sympathetic character, she is fascinating and beautifully drawn.

I joined the Librarything Virago group – and started buying and reading old green viragos again – it is a love affair which continues unabashed. Funnily enough, I have only just bought myself a copy of The Gentlewoman, which I really want to reread.

The Soul of Kindness – Elizabeth Taylor (1964)

In 2012 the Librarything Virago group decided to read all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels in celebration of her centenary year. She soon became one of my favourite writers. There are twelve novels so it fitted into a year perfectly, each month was dedicated to a particular novel, and hosted by an LT member. Not everyone had a blog so some people hosted by staring discussion threads on the forum, but those of us with blogs hosted our month on our blogs. I was still quite new to WordPress – and had never hosted anything before. I was September – The Soul of Kindness – a novel I managed to write three or four blog posts about. The Soul of Kindness of the title is Flora Quatermaine, a beautiful young woman, who as the novel opens is getting married. Flora is simply adored by everyone, which she feels is her due. As time moves forward four years, Flora has everything she wants; her husband Richard, a baby and a lovely home in St. Johns Wood. She also has an array of loyal adoring friends.  Flora only sees what she wants to see, hears what she wants to hear, she lives in a self-imposed bubble. She has her own ideas about the people around her, and is blind to any alternative. 

I think taking part in the Elizabeth Taylor centenary celebrations really helped me get to grips with blogging properly, and I began to feel part of a wonderful community.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day – Winifred Watson (1938)

As a very keen Persephone reader I had to include a Persephone title. Miss Pettigrew I am sure (though not 100% certain) was my first Persephone read and started me off on another bookish obsession. It is one of only two that I have re-read – re-reading it in 2013, it remains a book I feel huge affection for. While it isn’t my favourite Persephone book, it is one I often recommend. Nervous, dowdy Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept up by Delysia LaFosse, treated as a trusted confident and friend. Delysia LaFosse is a glorious creature in a diaphanous negligee, who puts Miss Pettigrew in mind of the stars of the cinema she secretly loves. People come to call at the flat; each time the doorbell rings it seems to herald things happening. Miss Pettigrew is thrilled, never has she seen and heard such things in her life before. As the day progresses Miss Pettigrew – Guinevere – finds herself the dispenser of good sense and advice – almost without realising she is doing it. It is a book which I think has hidden depths, though its cosy, slightly frothy tone makes it a good comfort read, a fairy-tale for grownups.

Thanks so much to Ali for those wonderful choices! I have recently read Danny The Champion of the World to my 6 year old twins and we all loved it. I also know I am going to have to get my hands on Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as I have heard nothing but wonderful things about it!

As it is Reading Ireland Month, here is a link to Ali’s fantastic review of Molly Keane’s Conversation Piece.

 

No 597 Good Behaviour by Molly Keane and a Giveaway!

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Good Behaviour was Molly Keane’s first book written under her own name despite having published many of her novels as MJ Farrell. She was almost 80 years old when she published the book in 1981 and it’s interesting to wonder why she waited so long to write as herself. Her friend, and editor, Diana Athill speaking to The Guardian had a clear idea.

 With Good Behaviour it was instantly clear to me that she ought to step forth as herself, and her own hesitation about it was very slight. Molly was essentially modest, but like all good writers she knew deep down that she was good. I think the shape her modesty took was simply not feeling that being a very good writer was all that important.

To say that Molly Keane is a good writer is an understatement and to say that Good Behaviour is a good book does it a great disservice. Good Behaviour is a great book, at turns funny and heartbreaking, with a searing dark humour, a keen satirical eye and a warm beating heart.

The novel is one long cri de coeur of Aroon St Charles, daughter and resident of the ‘big house’ Temple Alice, where she lives with her distant parents, beloved brother and assorted servants and where the only thing frowned upon is not adhering to the rules of good behaviour. Discretion is valued above all else in Aroon’s world, it is always necessary to do the right thing.

The book opens with what could be seen as a murder. Or a hastened death as Aroon’s mother passes away following an unfortunate encounter with a rabbit mousse. Aroon’s response to her mother’s death is what her response to all the tragedy in her life has been. She reverts to good behaviour.

I had time to consider how the punctual observance of the usual importances is the only way to behave at such times as these. And I do know how to behave –believe me, because I know. I have always known. All my life so far have done everything for the best reasons and the most unselfish motives. I have lived for the people dearest to me, and I am at a loss to know what their lives have been at times so perplexingly unhappy.

As Aroon, now 57, looks back on her life, her relationships and what has brought her to this point, Keane does something incredibly clever. Not only is Aroon an unreliable narrator, that is without doubt, but Keane allows her to tell the reader her story without Aroon ever understanding it herself. She is not trying to mislead us, it is she herself who is misled. Keane creates a scenario whereby reader and author are complicit and Aroon remains entirely in the dark.

Aroon adores her brother Hubert and falls in love with his friend Richard. It is clear to all that Hubert and Richard are the ones who are in love and they use Aroon to hide their secret. Aroon remains oblivious to the painful end, and following an unsatisfactory moment in bed with Richard, she falls back on what she knows best.

My anger and anxiety at the appalling noise he made getting back to his room suffocated and choked down a different sense in me; one of absolute loss. But we had both known how to behave. We had behaved beautifully. No pain lasts.

Aroon’s mother behaves in much the same way, steadfastly ignoring the fact that her husband is sleeping with the help and interacting with her children only when it is called for by society.

Mummie escaped us all. The tides of her painting and her gardening and the spring-tides of her whole life with Papa were as the sea between is – no step we took left a print in the sands.

Her neglect borders on the cruel and yet Keane uses a light touch, mining the dark laconic humour of the relationship between the two women.

“Dr Coffey never sends in his bill”

“That’s all you know. He charged ten pounds when you were born. It was quite a ridiculous price” She looked through me and back in to the past. “Nothing’s worth it”, she said.

It is easy to empathise with Keane’s anti-heroine. Aroon is too tall, too buxomy and too awkward for the society she lives in. Her mother’s neglect and her father’s easy charm have left her yearning for love and acceptance in a world that relies on surface appearance only. The need to behave at all times cripples her into not having any authentic feelings at all – not love, grief or loss. Throughout the book, everything from financial disaster to thwarted love to the sudden death is briefly acknowledged, then never spoken of again.

Our good behaviour went on and on, endless as the days. No one spoke pf the pain we were sharing. Our discretion was almost complete.

And yet Keane does not allow Aroon to be entirely sympathetic. She may have more of her mother in her than she realises, as is evident when despite the family’s failing financial situation, she turns down a proposal from a mere solicitor. Her lack of understanding does not stop at social situations and relationships, she has no understanding of herself either.

The reason I enjoy other people’s disasters is because they involve my understanding and sympathy in a way their successes never can. I like feeling genuine pity

This utter lack of awareness makes Aroon an appealing figure, but as the book progresses and her situation changes, the similarities with her mother become all the more evident and her good behaviour becomes a way of managing others and managing her own ever decreasing expectations.

by John Swannell, Iris print, 1983

Good Behaviour is beautifully written book and perfectly balances moments of bleak shock and sadness with sharp, dark humour. It is, at times, incredibly funny.

Mrs Brock went straight to the schoolroom lavatory, where she was overtaken by a violent diarrhoea. When she got off the mahogany seat to lift the D-shaped hand-fitting which swirled out the blue-flowered basin she sat down again at once “in case”, that tiny euphemism that covered so much so usefully

It is this balance that makes Good Behaviour such a wonderful novel. The ending is a tense as any thriller when the roles between mother and daughter spin on an axis and the final lines drive you right back to the beginning again, to re-read and seek out gems you may have missed.

Read on: Books

Number Read: 150

Number Remaining: 596

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My first giveaway for Reading Ireland Month will be a copy of Good Behaviour and the recently published biography of Molly Keane by Sally Phipps.

Molly Keane had a fascinating life – like Aroon she was born into Anglo-Irish wealth and rode horses. Her early writing career as MJ Farrell saw her have great success on stage, as her plays were produced by John Gielgud. However, the untimely death of her husband led her to give up writing for over thirty years. Good Behaviour was her return and she was Booker-nominated for it – losing out to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

If you would like to win these books, simply comment below, or share this post on Twitter. I will post internationally and the competition will close on Monday 13 March when the winner will be chosen by Random Picker.

Good luck!

Putting Irish Women Writers back in the picture

Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, anyone interested in reading would be familiar with the Irish Writers poster. My Dad had the poster framed in his study and I had one on my bedroom wall, along with a set of Irish writers coasters. For several years I even had an Irish Writers calendar.

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What is striking today about the poster, is the lack of women writers. Twelve writers were included, all were male.

To mark International Women’s Day, the Irish TImes has produced a female version of the poster, celebrating the rich and diverse tradition of women writers in Ireland. The poster features Maria Edgeworth, Augsta Gregory, Somerville & Ross, Kate O’Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, Molly Keane, Mary Lavin, Maeve Brennan, Edna O’Brien, Jennifer Johnston, Eavan Boland and Anne Enright and youcan download it here.

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For the last few weeks the Irish Times have been asking leading Irish writers, commentators and academics to produce short essays on their favourite female writers and the results are intriguing. You can read them online at The Irish TImes women’s writers page, but here are a few of those included;

Margaret Kelleher on Maria Edgeworth

Colm Toibin on Lady Gregory

Anne Haverty on Somerville & Ross

Eilis Ni Dhuibhine on Kate O’Brien

John Banville on Elizabeth Bowen

Belinda McKeon on Mary Lavin

Ane Enright on Maeve Brennan

Eimear McBride on Edna O’Brien

Eileen Battersby on Jennifer Johnston

Gerard Smyth on Eavan Boland

Claire Hennessey on Marian Keyes

Sinead Crowley on Maeve Binchy

Joseph O’Connor on Emma Donoghue

Nuala NiChonchuir on Anne Enright

As Martin Doyle, in his introduction to the Women’s Writers poster says, ‘This is not the end of the story but, with luck, the start of the conversation.’

In th next few weeks I’ll be continuing that conversation in my own little corner, focusing on women writers from Ireland, with reviews of Edna O’Brien, Leland Bardwell and Eimear McBride, alongside an interview with Nuala NiChonchuir.

Long may the conversation continue.