Not the #1954 Club: books from 1953

When I was looking for books to read for the 1954 club, I discovered that I have a number of books that were published in 1953. So I’m all set for 1953 Club, whenever that happens!

Left pile: books for #1954Club. Right pile: published too soon, in 1953

Books on my shelf published in 1953

The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley. Read long ago.

The Kraken Wakes, John Wyndham TBR

De vrouw met de zes slapers [The woman with the six overnight guests], Antoon Coolen, 75% read.

The Heart of the Family, Elizabeth Goudge, TBR

The Overloaded Ark, Gerald Durrell TBR, possibly a reread

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Roger Lancelyn Green TBR

A Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin TBR

Heimwee naar de jungle (The Lost Steps), Alejo Carpentier, half-read; I must finish reading this! I think it may be on the 1001 list.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find that I have some children’s books lurking on my shelves that were published in 1953, either. I can’t wait to find out what year the next book club will follow. It’s a bit soon for 1953, methinks.

1954 Club: overview of books to read or to add to the wishlist #1954Club

If the books on my bookshelf and available in my library are anything to go by, 1954 was a varied and interesting publishing year. A couple of likely authors were conspicuous by their absence and there are some more I may read later. As it is, I am behind on my reading and blogging. #1954Club will keep me going for a while yet.

Twice a year, Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings run a challenge to read and blog about books from a particular year. This time the lucky year was 1954 and I was determined not to get caught out. I collected some books together, some of which I’d already read, some of which are short or children’s books. I even started reading early and prepared my overview blog. I was all set! And then things began to go pear-shaped. By the way, that is one of my very favourite English sayings. But not so wonderful when you’re living the pear-shaped life!

Excuses, excuses!

This time last week, I was unusually organised and couldn’t wait for the start of the 1954 Club week. At the beginning of the week, I was coasting, reading one of the 1954 library books I’d borrowed, commenting on other people’s blogs, getting sucked into Twitter. Many, many things need to happen in my garden and I’d forgotten it was Easter weekend, so my husband was there expecting action. Then, out of the blue, the translation agency I haven’t heard from for six months asked me to do a 15,000 word translation which involves a fair bit of checking jargon, so is going to take me into next week. To top it all, I realised that the book I’d borrowed on ILL (De wand/The Wall by Maren Haushofer) had been immediately re-reserved and needed to be read pronto and returned. Very inconsiderately, this was not a 1954 book, so more precious time was wasted. This is all a rather long-winded way of saying my contributions to the 1954 Club will mostly be belated ones, but in the immortal words of Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started, so I’ll finish! I will link to my reviews whenever I get round to posting them. Promises, promises!

1954 books in my possession 

These are the books already gracing our bookshelves, plus a couple I was able to borrow from our local library:

TBR:

  • Live and Let Die (Ian Fleming)
  • Under the Net (Iris Murdoch, 1001)
  • The Horse and His Boy (C.S. Lewis)
  • Moominsummer Madness (Tove Jansson)
  • The Song of the Abbey (Elsie J. Oxenham)
  • 3x Perry Mason (Erle Stanley Gardner):
    • The Case of the Fugitive Nurse
    • The Case of the Runaway Corpse
    • The Case of the Restless Redhead

Library books borrowed (in Dutch):

  • I Am Legend (Richard Matheson) – now read
  • De diamant [The diamond] (Harry Mulisch) – currently reading 
Books published in 1954
My books to read for #1954 Club

Online:

Already read:

  • The Wheel on the School (Meindert de Jong)

Couldn’t find:

  • The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (Enid Blyton)
  • Jip en Janneke. First 21 stories (Annie M.G. Schmidt). It doesn’t surprise me I can’t find this one. It may be a Dutch children’s classic, but as a young mother I was not at all impressed by the two naughty pre-schoolers. In fact, in one of the earliest chapters, they dig all of the sand out of the sandpit and Jip’s lackadaisical mother says the equivalent of “Oh, you can have fun tomorrow putting it all back in the sandpit, darling.” As I had a similarly-aged child who annoyed me by doing this every time and had no interest whatsoever in clearing it up, that day or the next, the story made my blood boil. Some of Annie M.G. Schmidt’s books and songs are wonderful, but I don’t think I’ll ever make my peace with Jip and Janneke.

1954 wishlist and future possibilities

  • The Eagle of the Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliff). When we were clearing out my mother’s flat, we discovered that she had collected many of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books. Sadly, The Eagle of the Ninth is not one of them. In fact, it may be the only one of hers I have read, but my memory of it is as lost in the mists of time as the Roman Ninth Legion.
  • The Bafut Beagles & Three Singles to Adventure (Gerald Durrell). I am sure I read The Bafut Beagles many years ago because the title is so familiar, but I have read many of Gerald Durrell’s books and loved them for their humour and superbly sketched illustrations. As I don’t have a copy of this to review, I will direct you to a Goodreads review that consists almost entirely of direct quotes and illustrations from The Bafut Beagles. The book is an account of one of Durrell’s animal collecting trips to Cameroon. One of the things I noted when I read The Drunken Forest for the 1956 Club is that Durrell often didn’t have to do much hunting to find the animals himself. He was extremely adept at getting local people to show him where they were to be found. In addition to going out himself, once local people knew what sort of creatures he wanted, they were only too happy to bring creatures back for him. In this book, Durrell tells a story about ‘pagans’ who were scared photos would gradually gain control of their soul, so he sneakily took photos standing side on so they wouldn’t notice. This reminds me of the recent (in my opinion) over-zealous privacy laws that supposedly prohibit you from taking photos in public places of much-photographed sites like the Eiffel Tower. Only after two trips to Japan did I discover that it is illegal to post photos online of people without permission, unless you blur the faces. Just as well I am not an efficient blogger and never actually got round to posting anything about Japan on my expat blog.
  • Under Milk Wood (Dylan Thomas) I feel like I ought to read this, but…
  • The Sound of Waves (Yukio Mishima, 1001). Available in English, national ILL, €5
  • Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis, 1001).  Available in English, IL, free
  • Katherine (Anya Seton). Available in Dutch, national ILL, €5
  • The Living Room, a tragic play (Graham Greene)
  • Twenty-One Stories (Graham Greene)
  • Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Barbara Comyns)

Prolific authors who didn’t publish anything in 1954

Elizabeth Goudge. The Heart of the Family, the third part of a trilogy about the Eliots of Damerosehay, came out in 1953, then there was a gap until The Rosemary Tree in 1956.

Mary Renault did exactly the same thing: The Charioteer in 1953 and The Last of the Wine in 1956. I’ve added The Charioteer to my wishlist because several reviewers said it perfectly expressed the experiences and self-loathing felt by gay men in the 1950s. The title made me expect it to be about the Romans, especially knowing some of her later books. How wrong I was; it’s about an injured WWII soldier convalescing in a British hospital and his developing relationship with a hospital orderly, a conscientious objector. As a sad corollary to this, I found this on an overview of notable events from 1954: Lester Callaway Hunt, Sr., a US Senator, committed suicide at his Capitol Hill desk after being blackmailed over his son’s homosexuality. 

Random 1954 events

  • Politics: Brown v. Board of Education legally ended “separate but equal” school segregation in the US.
  • Most popular songs included Sh-boom by The Chords, Mr. Sandman by The Chordettes and Oh! My Pa-Pa (O Mein Papa) by Eddie Fisher. I’ve always loved Mr. Sandman.
  • The most popular films included Rear Window, White Christmas and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
  • The world population was only ~ 2,772,000,000! It’s now at a mind-boggling 7,942 million and rising.
  • Sports: Roger Bannister becomes the first man to break the four minute mile, at 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
  • The 1954 book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson has had three movie adaptations. The Omega Man (1971), The Last Man on Earth (1964), and I Am Legend(2007).
  • The Piña Colada was invented in Puerto Rico in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton. Source: Pop Culture US

Reviews for Reading Ireland month 2022: a look back at favourites and recent reads

Looking back over the last couple of years, I realised I had read some wonderful books by Irish authors. I couldn’t resist joining in Reading Ireland Month with some of my favourites and some I have read recently.

When I first noticed that March was Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy at 746Books, I decided that I couldn’t take part because I didn’t have any Irish books planned for the month. Belatedly I have realised that I may not have read any books set in Ireland or written by Irish authors this month, but I could add some of my older reviews of books that counted. In fact, I have read a couple this year already and even more in the past 18 months, none of which I have recorded on my blog. This is a last-ditch attempt to redress the balance with some mini reviews, with the ones I loved the best at the top.

Favourite books about Ireland

Troubles (1970), J.G. Farrell. “‘How incredibly Irish it all is!’ thought the Major wonderingly. ‘The family seems to be completely mad.'” The misnamed Majestic Hotel on the Irish coast is infested with cats, rats, an invasive vine and old ladies. Various peculiar goings on take place against the background of the increasing Irish nationalist threat of Sinn Féin to the Anglo-Irish landed gentry. “This was the fact of Anglo-Ireland, the inbred Protestant aristocracy, the face, progressively refining itself into a separate, luxurious species, which had ruled Ireland for almost five hundred years: the wispy fair hair, the eyes too close together, the long nose and protruding teeth…” Goings on at the hotel are interleaved with short reports of various troubles around the world at the same time, 1919. There was racial unrest in the USA, Bolshevists in Russia, unrest following the Amritsar massacre in India. One extraordinary account of racial unrest in Chicago is eerily reminiscent of protests and riots occurring in the USA after the heinous murder of George Floyd by a policeman, all for the crime of trying to pay with a forged $20 note. All absolutely fascinating; I loved it! The residents of the Majestic are becoming increasingly paranoid and enjoying spreading rumour and speculation about news stories. As the Majestic literally falls down around their ears, the local Irish people are suffering from hunger, scavenging in the bins while the owner, Edward, is carrying out useless experiments into hunger pangs, raising pigs and failing to carry out his duty as a hotel owner and as a parent. This really was one of my favourite books of recent years and I immediately ordered the other two books in the trilogy. Though those are set in India and Singapore, there’s a common theme: British colonialism.

Under the Eye of the Clock (1987), Christopher Nolan. An extraordinary physical and linguistic tour de force by a young man born with severe cerebral palsy who was unable to speak or control his movements. Nevertheless, his family included him in everyday life, his father recited epic poetry to him and told him the names of plants and his mother allowed him to write by cradling his head and body as he typed, letter by laborious letter. Fortunately for him, they managed to find a secondary school that took him in and allowed him to attend lessons, with him soaking everything up like a sponge. He came to international attention when he won what was then called the British Spastics Society literary award. Indeed, the virtuosity of language in his book is incredible, sometimes soaring, sometimes confounding with novel word use and at other times a simple retelling of events. In this book, he tells his own story in the persona of Joseph Meehan.

“Leaning on his family he cast down the gauntlet – accept me for what I am and I’ll accept you for what you’re accepted as.

And so the battle was staged between a crippled, sane boy and a hostile, sane, secretly savage though sometimes merciful world.

Can I climb man-made mountains, questioned Joseph Meehan. Can I climb socially constructed barriers? Can I ask my family to back me when I know something more than they, I now know the heinous scepticism so kneaded down constantly in my busy sad world. What can a crippled, speechless boy do, asked Joseph, my handicap curtails my collective conscience, obliterates my voice, beckons ridicule of my smile and damns my chances of being accepted as normal.”

A Ladder to the Sky (2018), John Boyne. Marvellous! This is about a young man hanging around a famous author, taking advantage of him and stealing his story. It must have been around halfway through the book when I caught sight of the quote from the Guardian review on the author introduction page saying “Maurice Swift is a literary Tom Ripley” and started to wonder if the way Maurice manipulates Erich and Dash and is rude to all and sundry is really any different from Gore Vidal’s early career and his renowned cantankerous put-downs and bon mots. And then the heat is turned up and Maurice’s actions really reveal him for the Ripley-like exploitative sociopath narcissist that he really is. Just one question for John Boyne: where do you get your stories? This book contains a whole literary magazine-full! This roller coaster ride is a perfect antidote to many more pretentious plotless books, yet still manages to raise plenty of philosophical questions about authors and writing. A perfect book for a book club discussion.

Christine Falls (2006), Benjamin Black. Highly recommended and unexpectedly topical with the Magdalene Laundry scandal. Though I’m not a frequent crime reader, I was glad to read this well-written book. The quality isn’t surprising since I later discovered that Benjamin Black was a pseudonym used by John Banville and the story was not a straightforward detective novel, either, focussing on the plight of unmarried mothers in Ireland, where abortion was not legal when the book is set in 1950s Dublin. There is a strong undercurrent of the complicity of the Roman Catholic church in temporarily caring for pregnant women, taking advantage of their situation, then spiriting off their babies for adoption elsewhere. Christine Falls has a strong sense of place and the Irish accent and turn of phrase shine through, with phrases like “would you ever go and fetch this thirsty man a drink?” and “Mr Quirke! […] Is it yourself?”

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), Roddy Doyle. Set in part of Dublin, one of the reviews I read compared Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha to Lord of the Flies. It hadn’t triggered that in me, but it’s the perfect comparison because Paddy and his friends can be truly savage. Their childhood is so unsupervised, so wild, so dangerous that their parents would probably be reported to the authorities in today’s climate. It features great childlike dialogue and playful imagination, capturing all those things parents tell children or children make up (you’ll catch polio if you swallow seawater, you’ll start stuttering if you make fun of someone who stutters). And he recalls the rumour mill of Chinese whispers that children create when they don’t fully understand or parents don’t tell them the truth. I hadn’t expected to like this as much as I did, but it was wonderful.

More Irish books

Twenty Years A-Growing (Fiche Bliain ag Fás) (1933), Maurice O’Sullivan. This is the only book I have ever read that was translated from Irish. A pleasant view into a life which has disappeared, growing up in an isolated community on Great Blasket, an island off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, at the beginning of the 20th century in the days before television, radio, computers and telephones. Even news is infrequently brought from the mainland, and not at all in rough weather. Surrounded by nature, fishing for a living and hunting rabbits for food in an island teeming with them, the people live a simple life, the old helping the young, and the women keeping up a running commentary on everything the men do. Occasionally there is some excitement, including scavenging after shipwrecks, caring for a boatload of shipwrecked sailors from the Lusitania, and trips to the mainland for wedding celebrations. Originally written in the Irish language, it’s clear where the lilt of present-day English-speaking Irish originates, including the turn of phrase and tendency to use curses as part of normal conversation. In the first part of the 20th century, this tended to be various phrases invoking the devil. Nowadays, it usually takes the form of various words beginning with the letter F. Back then a greeting was the formulaic “God save all here” with the answer “God and Mary save you”. A gentler time, which was already disappearing, with the shadow of young people leaving for America in search of their fortune, and even Maurice O’Sullivan himself leaving to become a policeman on the mainland. Interesting and gently told, in the form of disconnected episodes of recollection, in a storytelling style. Not very exciting, and yet I read it to the end.

The Library at the Edge of the World (2016), Felicity Hayes-McCoy. A delightful story of a rather stuffy traditional librarian in rural Ireland who is gradually persuaded to become involved in a campaign which could revitalise the local community and the local area in a grassroots initiative, taking back control from centralised bureaucracy and vested interests. Definitely a feel-good book and apparently there is a sequel.

Dublin 4 (1982), Maeve Binchy. Before I read this, I hadn’t realised it contained four completely unrelated stories, all set in Dublin. Dinner in Donnybrook is the best one about a woman who has found out about her husband’s mistress, an artist, and invites her to a carefully planned dinner party where she intends to get her own back on them all. This story is classic Binchy, with conversations that feel real, sharing with the reader the inner thoughts and doubts of all the characters. Flat in Ringsend is about a country girl moved to Dublin to work, living in a bedsit and feeling isolated. Decision in Belfield deals with the question of attitudes to unwanted pregnancy in Ireland, but the point of the story is more about families assuming things about each other and not talking about their feelings. Murmurs in Montrose is about a man just ‘finishing the cure’ after six weeks in a clinic, trying to wean him off the demon drink. The story reveals the stresses and strains put on a family in this situation and the feeling of stepping on eggshells. We’re left in limbo, knowing it will probably go spectacularly wrong.

Artemis Fowl (2001), Eoin Colfer. Villainous young genius Artemis Fowl sets a trap to catch a Fairy and steal the fairy gold. When he captures Captain Holly Short, who has recently returned after injury and has failed to complete the rituals necessary to give her full powers, she has to be rescued by her blustering superiors and a force including a gallant centaur. It’s all very humorous, rekindling memories of Men in Black. Aimed at teenagers, this is fun for adults, too.

The Music Lesson (1998), Katharine Weber. This had a promising premise that failed to deliver. Patricia, a middle-aged American woman who has been fed anti-British propaganda by her Irish-American father her entire life is in a rut after a divorce triggered by the tragic death of her five-year-old daughter. When Mickey, an attractive young Irish cousin of hers turns up, she is ready to fall head over heels in love with him and is primed to go along with his plan to steal a Vermeer, on loan to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague from the Queen’s personal collection. The plan is to hold it to ransom for the Irish nationalist cause. We join her as she stays at an isolated cottage in Ireland with the beautiful Vermeer hidden away while she awaits developments. She walks, keeps herself mostly to herself and admires the painting while she has the chance, longing to be reunited with Mickey. I found this a profoundly irritating novel in which much garbage is spouted about the noble IRA and the evil British.

Belfast

My friend invited me to watch Kenneth Branagh’s film Belfast about a Protestant boy and his family trying to remain neutral as tensions rose between Protestants and Catholics in the city. The boy who played the main character Buddy (Jude Hill) was a total joy to watch, as were his grandparents, played by Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds. Thankfully there was very little violence. It was mostly about families and relationships and a young child trying to make sense of what was going on around him. The entire film was shot in black and white. Somebody mentioned that footage on the television showing contemporary news reports was in colour, but I really didn’t notice. A celebration of a childhood with all its ups and downs and the pressures on the adults to leave the city, hoping for a better future. This is the first film that I’ve seen at the cinema for many years. I think the last one was Life of Pi, and I certainly wasn’t going to go during the past two years. In a large cinema with only a few people, I felt safe-ish. There’s still that niggling doubt that this just might be the time you were unlucky and caught Covid for the first time. Thankfully I didn’t. Definitely a film worth taking the risk for.

Thank you Cathy for inspiring this blogpost and hosting Reading Ireland Month. I have a few more Irish books lined up for next year, when I hope I will remember in advance.