1872, 1922, 1954. Three years. What do they have in common? They all feature in this post, for a start!
1872. A century and a half ago George Eliot’s Middlemarch was first published in book form, after being serialised by Blackwood magazine. I began this a year or so ago but got distracted, so I’m determined to get back to it this special year. How can I not read this, a classic that’s so highly regarded, not least by Virginia Woolf?
1922. A hundred years ago two particular writers were born whose work I want to explore this year. One was Kurt Vonnegut whose birthday in November I want to mark with a read of one or other of his titles; the other is Sam Youd — who’s better known as SF author John Christopher but also wrote under other names in other genres — and his centenary occurs this month.
1954. A week this month is being set aside to read a book or two from a more recent year, as part of a reading event called — not unnaturally — the 1954 Club. And the whole month is set aside for Reading the Theatre, so as it happens I have possible titles to pick for both of these events.
But have I bitten off more than I can chew? Interestingly, in March I managed to complete books for Reading Wales, Reading Ireland, March Magics, and Narniathon, so there may be hope!
Middlemarch is on my Classics Club list and is also fits a category in Back to the Classics 2022, but luckily this chunkster is something I can read in, er, chunks, so it’s not a novel I intend completing in a rush, let alone in just one month.
It remains to be seen whether I can say anything new about it, or indeed improve on the plaudits it’s already garnered over the years — we’ll see! I suspect Casaubon’s diminishing success with his Key to All Mythologies will match mine…
April 16th marks the centenary of the birth of Sam Youd, better known as the dystopian and YA writer John Christopher, who when he died in February 2012 left behind fifty-six published novels and many short stories (as we’re told by his children Nick and Rose, who run the literary estate which is currently reissuing many of his works).
I’m currently reading his debut novel The Winter Swan (1949, republished by the SYLE Press in 2018) but it’s not the first Youd novel I’ve enjoyed. His best known adult novel is a virus-related global catastrophe, John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), filmed as No Blade of Grass. Tolkien wrote, “I was greatly taken by the book that was (I believe) the runner-up when The Lord of the Rings was given the Fantasy Award: The Death of Grass,” and Brian Aldiss cited the novel when he argued that “literature is not there to make us feel cosy, but rather to help us to confront the errors and terrors of our lives”, describing the author as “a better writer” than John Wyndham. It’s also been cited by David Mitchell as a direct inspiration for The Bone Clocks and by John Lanchester as an inspiration for The Wall.
Best known amongst Sam’s YA titles, however, is his Tripods series (of which I’ve so far read 1967’s The White Mountains), part filmed by the BBC in the 1980s. Its themes of independence of thought, the fight against authoritarianism and the difficulties of sustaining democracy are particularly relevant today, as a New Yorker article suggested in 2017. And there are other SF titles under the John Christopher banner including the chilling The Possessors, plus cricketing novels, thrillers, literary romances and medical fiction, all written under other pen-names.
He preferred penning literary novels however to genre writing. As well as his The Winter Swan (published when he was still in his twenties) he deals with séances in post-war London (Babel Itself), crises of faith amongst Jews and Catholics (A Palace of Strangers, which I’ve reviewed), and an exploration of childhood memories leading to the evolution of a psychopath (Holly Ash). The SYLE Press is also bringing out a new edition of his 1961 novel, Messages of Love, to coincide with his centenary.
Meanwhile the #1954Club runs from 18th to 24th April, hosted by Karen and Simon. Looking back I see I’ve read a number of titles from this year, including Sam Youd’s A Palace of Strangers (mentioned above), Edward Eager’s Half Magic, Robertson Davies’s Leaven of Malice, Tove Jansson’s Moominsummer Madness and Lucy M Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe.
So what am I considering? Luckily C S Lewis’s A Horse and His Boy is due to be read this month as part of the ongoing #Narniathon21, so that’s sorted! Also as part of my longer running #TalkingTolkien thread I’ve been thinking about posting potted reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers (this last just completed) so the latter, also published in 1954, definitely qualifies, as does the former!
Finally there’s Lory’s Reading the Theatre month at Enter the Enchanted Castle, which she moved fro March to the following month for this year. Last year I’d intended to read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed but never got round to it; it’s currently on my bedside table in the hopes that I’ll finally get round to her take on The Tempest. And maybe also something else in that vein …
Have you read any of the novels mentioned? And are planning to join in any of these events? Do tell!