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!
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:
- 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
- Beyond the Door (Philip K. Dick), Fantastic Universe, Jan. 1954
- The Wheel on the School (Meindert de Jong)
- 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