The end of a decade is a natural time to reflect on many things. Over the next few weeks, I am certain the internet will be flooded with “Best Of” posts on topics ranging from music to film to TV to books. I’ll be sharing a few posts here about some of the things I read and some of the authors and characters I discovered in the decade past.
At this time 10 years ago, I was preparing for an ambitious reading project. 2010 was the 100th anniversary of the founding of my employer, the Rochester (NY) Public Library. I spent the year reading 100 books representing each year the library had existed. I drew titles from best-seller lists from 1910-2010 and sourced the books from local library collections and online repositories. Some were wonderful:
Some had lost their luster to time and fell flat:
Others were just plain fun to read:
What I found most surprising were the number of books that had been best-sellers in their time but which were wholly unknown to me and to many of the librarians who helped me find copies. That certainly made me wonder how well some of our current best-sellers will age. Will Danielle Steel, James Patterson, and Malcolm Gladwell be footnotes in literary history?
If you’re interested in seeing the best-seller lists I used, take a peek here. I gave up on writing reviews of each book – I just didn’t have the time – but you can see my posts on the project by browsing the category 100 Books. 100 Years in the column to the right.
My reading goal for 2020 is to read more widely – more non-fiction, more books by non-white authors, more books by authors from countries other than the U.S.
What are your reading goals for the new decade?
In 2010, I started a year-long reading project as part of the Rochester Public Library’s 100th birthday. My goal was to read one book from each decade that the library had existed. I spent some time researching bestsellers and other books published in each decade from 1911-2011, and then spent even more time tracking down copies of the books I selected. I found many print copies in the stacks of the Rundel Building, but also found plenty of e-books that had been digitized through the Google Books project.
As happens on the internet, things you wrote and posted years ago pop to the surface at odd times. That happened today with my very first post about 100 Years, 100 Books – a review of The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum. That made me go back and look at the books I’d identified as published and popular 100 years ago. Below are two lists: one of notable books published in 1919 and one of the bestsellers of the year.
1. Sherwood Anderson — Winesburg, Ohio
2. Edgar Rice Burroughs — Jungle Tales of Tarzan
3. Joseph Hergesheimer – Linda Condon
4. Hermann Hesse — Demian
5. W. Somerset Maugham — The Moon and Sixpence
6. Baroness Orczy – The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
7. Mary Augusta Ward – Fields of Victory
8. Virginia Woolf — Night and Day
9. A. A. Milne – The Camberley Triangle
10. H. L. Mencken – The American Language
Publishers Weekly Best Sellers of 1919
1. Vicente Blasco Ibanez – The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
2. Joseph Conrad – The Arrow of Gold
3. Zane Grey – The Desert of Wheat
4. Mary Roberts Rinehart – Dangerous Days
5. Ralph Connor – The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land
6. Harold Bell Wright – The Re-Creation of Brian Kent
7. Eleanor Porter – Dawn
8. Temple Bailey – The Tin Soldier
9. Elizabeth von Arnim – Christopher and Columbus
10. Robert W. Chambers – In Secret
And, finally, my review of the book I read for 1919 – The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.
I have fond memories of reading the book to which this one is a sequel – The Scarlet Pimpernel– one hot summer in between high school semesters. I was reading anything I could find about the French Revolution, and a librarian at the Gates Library recommended Baroness Orczy and the Pimpernel, which I devoured.
I had not realized there was a sequel until I started creating the lists for this reading project, and was delighted to find my old friend Percy Blakeney among the choices. In fact, I discovered there are a great many sequels to the original Pimpernel, which I’m sure will lead to much more reading for me!
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel picks up with Sir Percy still rescuing unfortunate maidens and righting wrongs in post Revolution France, albeit in a collection of short stories instead of one longer novel. Each vignette has Percy or another member of The League righting wrongs committed against members the aristocracy or members of their staff. Children are rescued, fortunes restored, and lives set aright, all at the hand of the man with the twinkling blue eyes that can turn to steel in a second.
An entertaining read for fans of the spy genre and historical fiction.
A year ago, I embarked on an ambitious reading project – read 100 books in honor of the centennial year of the Rochester Public Library – 1 book from each year the library has been in existence. It was an adventurous year of reading, from early serial fiction (The Adventures of Kathlyn) to poignant stories of the human spirit (All Quiet on the Western Front, My Antonia, Speak, Night) to pure fluff and fun (Peyton Place, Harry Potter). Today, I file my final entry in the project and close the door on 2011, the Year of Reading the Past.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Le Cirque des Reves appears suddenly, without warning, and with little fanfare. Its black and white tents seem to unfold from the ground, filled with unimaginable, wondrous magic controlled by two powerful magicians, Celia and Marco, who find much more than they bargained for in this lyrical book.
Destined to compete with one another in a game arranged by their mentors, Celia and Marco find themselves falling in love, when everything they know works against them. The power surge they each experience when they are near to one another or when they touch disconcerts and frightens not only them but the people around them.
Can they allow their stories, begun without their knowledge, to play out under the circus tents, or will their love end it all?
There are really few words that can adequately describe this book. It is one of the rare stories that hasn’t been told before, at least not in the lilting, enchanting words of author Morgenstern. Part fantasy, part love story, part magical reality, The Night Circus is hands down one of the best of 2011.
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton is one of those stories that pulls you along gently and then delivers a total kick to the gut, leaving you gasping for breath and wondering how you never saw it coming. Our protagonist, Michael, has a most unusual talent: he can pick any lock, open any safe, unlock anything locked. It is a talent which, at 18, draws Michael inevitably into the criminal world.
However, lock picking is not the only unusual thing about Michael. He hasn’t spoken a word in 10 years, traumatized by some horrific event that Hamilton dangles just out of the reader’s reach throughout the story. We follow Michael from his uncle’s garage, through a meeting with the one girl who just might save his life, through a botched robbery that leaves him imprisoned, until we finally arrive at that gut-kicking moment, when Hamilton reveals what caused Michael to go silent and influenced his peculiar talent.
Tightly plotted and beautifully written, The Lock Artist deservedly won the Edgar Award for 2010 and truly is one of the best of the year. Highly recommended.
Other notables of 2010
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – a truly terrifying ghost story set in England after WWII which once again proves that flesh and bone human beings are often more frightening than the ghosts that haunt our dreams.
- Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth – the third installment in the John Madden series. Just as evocative and well-written as the first two, this made me wish again to see Airth’s work on film.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe – Howe’s first novel received quite a bit of attention in the summer of 2009, showing up on multiple “Must Read” lists. And for very good reason. This is a fast-paced, well-researched and engaging look at women’s history, the Salem witch trials, and a good, old-fashioned mystery.
Connie Goodwin, a scholar in the final stages of her degree program, heads to her grandmother’s spooky old house in Massachusetts to spend the summer getting it ready for sale. While there, she discovers a mysterious, ancient looking key in an old book that starts her on a quest to learn everything she can about Deliverance Dane, who lived during the Salem trials. Connie’s ultimate goal is to find Dane’s “physick book,” or book of knowledge, a powerful and rare volume that would solidly establish her reputation as a women’s history scholar.
There are all the elements of an entertaining story here – a wacky mother, a hidden family history, a devious school advisor, a handsome hero and a plucky heroine. There is a little bit of Barbara Michaels here, a little Esther Forbes, and a lot of fun. his could easily become a movie. Well done and highly recommended.
I am closing in on my goal. Think I’ll make it????
Here are the latest:
- 1994 – The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – not my usual type of reading, but a really lovely book about loss; if you’re looking for something uplifting, this is *not* for you.
- 1995 – The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid – I had no idea this was the story upon which Wire in the Blood was based so this was a double bonus – awesome story, plus an incentive to re-watch the series. As my daughter would say, awesomeness!
- 1996 – Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose – History at its best, this story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition is based on primary source material. Hear my little librarian heart beating….
- 1997 – Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – I remember getting an ARC of this and letting it sit on my desk for a couple weeks, before I started hearing buzz online about how good it was. I took it home and stayed up all night reading it. This is one of those rare books you wish you hadn’t read so you could have the experience of reading it again for the first time.
- 1998 – Hellfire by Diana Gabaldon – I never quite understood the appeal of Gabaldon’s books. Still don’t.
- 1999 – Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – If there is only one book on this list that you read, make it this one. Powerful.
- 2000 – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers – Meh. Sorry, I know there are a lot of folks out there who liked this, but…meh. Really.
- 2001 – Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – a Plague story set in the same town in which one of my favorite children’s books, A Parcel of Patterns, is set. Very good.
- 2002 – Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – Overhyped.
- 2003 – Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – anyone who appreciates good writing will love this book.
- 2004 – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark – an odd but compelling story about magic, reality, reason and unreason.
- 2005 – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – a skillful reimagining of the Dracula legend. Excellent.
- 2006 – The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman – after 2004 and 2005, I needed something light and Hillerman is that.
- 2007 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – my “best of the year” for 2007. A skillful ending to a masterpiece series.
- 2008 – The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie – I’ve tried to appreciate Rushdie’s work, but alas, I still find it nearly unreadable…
This has been quite an adventure, not to mention a crazy-busy year. Although I have loved exploring 20th century literature this year, I am more than ready to delve into all my wishlisted books from this year. So, I have 10 days to finish three books. Given my schedule between now and then, they may indeed be picture books….
Here it is, almost December. Not entirely confident I’ll reach my goal of 100 books from 1911-2011, but I’m still trying. Here’s the latest update:
- 1981 – Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving – I know this is considered a modern classic, but man, I *really* disliked Irving’s characters.
- 1982 – The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum – A good, solid spy adventure.
- 1983 – The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett – The first in Pratchett’s Discworld books. Funny fantasy at its best.
- 1984 – Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – Beautiful. Nothing more to say.
- 1985 – Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley – A sweet and heartbreaking memoir. A little cheesy, though.
- 1986 – Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – Good, solid fantasy. Fun from start to finish.
1987 – The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – I picked this one because I *loved* the movie. I wasn’t disappointed.
1988- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – An odd little fable involving a shepherd searching for treasure and the unusual people he meets along the way.
- 1989 – Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – LONG, but fascinating. A must-read for anyone who loves history and architecture.
- 1990 – Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George – An Inspector Lynley mystery. Good stuff.
- 1991 – Possession by A.S. Byatt – a romantic mystery wrapped in poetry. Lovely.
- 1992 – The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – I know this was *the* books to read in 1992, but it kind of left me cold.
- 1993 – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh – The world according to heroin addicts. Hard to read but compelling nonetheless.
Well friends, I am getting close to the end of the year and the end of my reading project. I still have a ways to go, but I am confident I’ll make it. Here’s my October update:
- 1953 – Love Among the Ruins by Evelyn Waugh – a little odd, but a startling commentary on appearance and happiness.
- 1954 – The Magicians by J.B. Priestly – sex, drugs, and lies in the early corporate world.
- 1955 – Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – a cheerful, uplifting story about a boy and his vivacious aunt.
- 1956 – Peyton Place by Grace Metalious – sex, lies and betrayal in small-town America. The original Desperate Housewives.
- 1957 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac – as powerful today as it was in 1957.
- 1958 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – not one of my favorites.
- 1959 – Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico – the lure of French couture…
- 1960 – Night by Elie Wiesel – the most powerful book I’ve read this year. The human experience at its most raw. Highly recommended.
- 1961 – Marnie by Winston Graham – deceitful girl + lonely widower = disaster.
- 1962 – The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart – a lark after Night and Marnie. A young girl finds mystery and romance in Greece.
- 1963 – Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff – A King Arthur tale, sequel to The Lantern Bearers.
- 1964 – A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir – an account of the death of the author’s mother. Very difficult to read.
- 1965 – Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – this reminded me of why I admire teachers and saddened me that little has changed in urban education since 1965.
- 1966 – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – not my favorite, but then I have never really appreciated hard science fiction.
- 1967 – The Outsiders by S.e. Hinton – the seminal work of young adult fiction – a lot dated, but still a good read.
- 1968 – Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken – did early civilizations acquire technology from ancient astronauts? You decide…
- 1969 – I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury – short stories by one of the best American writers ever.
- 1970 – 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff – a poignant tale of two book lovers. Really enjoyed this one.
- 1971 – The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – having only seen the movie, I was again reminded that books are Always Better. Scared the hell out of me.
- 1972 – An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James – Hard to believe this story came out in 1972. Early James and a very good mystery.
- 1973 – The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker – Spenser. What more can I say?
- 1974 – Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – a bone chilling inside look at Charles Manson and his “family.” The thought of one man having such power over people is terrifying.
- 1975 – Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters – the start of one of my favorite Mystery series – Amelia Peabody!
- 1976 – Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice – just as good today as it was in 1976. I’m sure Stephanie Meyer read this when she was a kid…
- 1977 – A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion – Could not finish this one. I was disappointed because I usually really like Didion’s work.
- 1978 – Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford – if even half of what Crawford writes about her mother is true, Joan Crawford was indeed batshit crazy.
- 1979 – Ghost Story by Peter Straub – one of the most terrifying horror stories I have ever read.
- 1980 – The Name of Rose by Umberto Eco – a good, solid mystery.
All in all, a good two months worth of reading. On the home stretch now….
Round about May, I realized I was never going to reach my goal of reading 100 books for the Rochester Public Library Centennial, IF I tortured myself over writing reviews of each one. I’ve been reading – a lot. But finding the time to write is tough. So, I have modified my goal. I will still strive to read one book for every year the library has been in existence, but I’m not going to write reviews of each one. I’ll probably write about the books that really stay with me. For now, here’s a re-cap of all I’ve read so far this year:
- 1911 – The Sea Fairies by L.Frank Baum
- 1912 – The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson
- 1913 – The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- 1914 – The Adventures of Kathlyn by Harold McGrath
- 1915 – Dr. Syn: A Smuggler’s Tale of Romney Marsh by Russell Thorndyke
- 1916 – Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
- 1917 – Daughter of the Morning by Zona Gale
- 1918 – My Antonia by Willa Cather
- 1919 – League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orcszey
- 1920 – Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
- 1921 – Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
- 1922 – The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
- 1923 – Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
- 1924 – The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
- 1925 – American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
- 1926 – The Benson Murder Case by S.S. VanDine
- 1927 – The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
- 1928 – Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes
- 1929 – All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
- 1930 – The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart
- 1931 – Roman Holiday by Upton Sinclair
- 1932 – Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith
- 1933 – Lost Horizon by James Hilton
- 1934 – The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain
- 1935 – The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
- 1936 – The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler
- 1937 – Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds
- 1938 – The Gracie Allen Murder Case by S.S. VanDine
- 1939 – Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley
- 1940 – The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
- 1941 – Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber
- 1942 – The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
- 1943 – The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
- 1944 – Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor – Scandalous!!! 🙂
- 1945 – The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch – truly terrifying. 😦
- 1946 – Showdown by Errol Flynn – celebrities couldn’t write in the 40’s any better than they write today.
- 1947 – Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
- 1948 – Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
- 1949 – Dinner at Antoine’s by Francis Parkinson Keyes – snore….
- 1950 – The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli – Harry Potter lovers will enjoy this one. Charming.
- 1951 – Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – Hands down my favorite mystery, ever.
- 1952 – The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. A staggering work.
What’s next, you ask? Here’s what’s waiting in line:
- 1953 – Love Among the Ruins by Evelyn Waugh
- 1954 – The Magicians by J.B. Priestly
- 1955 – Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
- 1956 – Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
- 1957 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- 1958 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
- 1959 – Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico
Again, no time to write full reviews, so let’s settle for a quick drive-by look at what I’ve been reading:
- Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – lovely novella set in France; lots of fairy tale overtones, but a really evocative, original story.
- The Distant Hour by Kate Morton – reading it now and savoring every word.
- The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1930)
- Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933) like getting reacquainted with an old friend!
- The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain (1934) One of those books that kind of repulse you but you just have to keep reading…
- The Gracie Allen Murder Case by SS Van Dine (1938) Pure hokum. Loved it.
- The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova – also reading now. Powerful.