I have been thinking about the literary anniversaries of 2014; in previous years I’ve done a poll asking what others have read, but this year I decided to add a little more. (If there’s enough interest, I might do a poll as well.)
Just one here, The Castle of Otranto by Robert Walpole1814
Again just one but it’s a biggie: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Other books published this year which I haven’t read but which do register on the radar screen: Waverley, by Walter Scott; Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte, by Adelbert von Chamisso (wrongly listed as an 1813 publication by me last yearThe Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties, by Frances Burney.
Several well-known books published this year but the only one I have actually read is A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne – I remember finding this splendidly atmospheric, if a little implausible in the light of subsequent geological discovery, when I read it as a teenager. Well-known books which I haven’t read from that year include Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell; Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu; Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope; and in non-fiction, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, by John Henry Newman.
Goodreads has a list of 199 books from 1914 popular among its users, which isn’t entirely accurate (several James Joyce short stories are listed separately; Hesse’s Demian was not published until 1919) but a good starting point. You may want to cross-reference with Wikipedia here and here.
I don’t appear to have read a single novel from 1914. I have read three short story collections, and love them all – Dubliners by James Joyce, The Wisdom of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton, and Beasts and Super-Beasts by Saki (online here). As for non-fiction, this was the year that the authoritative but badly timed Report of the International Commission on the Balkan Wars was published by by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The top novel on Goodreads from 1914 is Kokoro, by Sōseki Natsume. There’s also a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, including the first book publication of Tarzan of the Apes, and the first Pellucidar story, At the Earth’s Core. The only other ones I’d really heard of are The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, The Flying Inn, by G.K. Chesterton, and The World Set Free, by H.G. Wells. The bestselling novel of the year in the USA was the forgotten The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright; second place was taken by Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna, published in 1913.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl – my memory was that this was from a decade later, but clearly my memory was wrong.
- The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander – enjoyed when I was 13, wonder how well it would stand up now?
- Games People Play, by Eric Berne – read it as a teenager, when it was largely wasted on me.
- A Caribbean Mystery, by Agatha Christie – I remember good description of the scenery, but a rather cut-and-paste plot.
- Farnham’s Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein – moving swiftly on…
- Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown – one I haven’t actually read but that is on the shelves.
- A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe – a tough read for me, but very much worth it.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming – gorgeously illustrated book which was of course the basis for the film, published just after the author’s death.
- Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick – years since I’ve read it, but I remember it as especially surreal and downbeat.
- Asterix the Gladiator, by René Goscinny – fond memories of this one, where Goscinny and Uderzo were starting to hit their stride.
- Tree and Leaf, by J.R.R. Tolkien – this is the first edition, which includes only “On Fairy Stories” and “Leaf By Niggle”.
- The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, by Robert Arthur – surely one of the best Three Investigators stories, on the trail of a stolen painting located by interrogating a series of parrots.
- Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken – hasn’t lingered in my mind as much as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but this is the one where Simon’s art studies are interrupted by a plot to overthrow King James III.
- The Wanderer, by Fritz Leiber – an early Hugo winner, which I quite liked.
- The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill – I remember this vaguely; hadn’t realised it was set in the future (1976).
- Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, by Harry Kemelman – the only one of this series I have read, but I remember it having a well-depicted protagonist and a particularly ingenious resolution.
- Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse – they all blend into one, but I recall this one as particularly good, bringing the two brothers together.
- Soldier, Ask Not (original novella), by Gordon R. Dickson – I know I’ve read it, can’t recall anything at all about it.
- The Dalkey Archive, by Flann O’Brien – the last book published in his lifetime, pulling together elements from The Third Policeman, with added guest appearances from James Joyce and St Augustine, into a mostly successful contemporary comedy.
- Greybeard, by Brian W. Aldiss – I don’t remember much about this except that it was pretty gloomy.
- The Whitsun Weddings, by Philip Larkin – the other 1964 book on the shelves which I have yet to read.
- Doctor Who And The Daleks, by David Whitaker – the first, and absolutely my favourite, of the Doctor Who novelisations.
- An Enemy at Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston – this is the one where Tolly and Ping join forces against an evil occult professor.
- Connoisseur’s SF, by Tom Boardman – a rather good anthology from Penguin.
- Uncle, by J.P.Martin, the first in the series about the philanthropic elephant, which I suspect would not hold up well to rereading.
- Astrology, by Louis MacNeice – non-fiction study written by the poet while he was dying; his heart wasn’t in it.
- The Year of the Angry Rabbit, by Russell Braddon – sorry not to see this one better known; to quote Wikipedia, “giant mutant rabbits run amok in Australia while the Prime Minister uses a new superweapon to dominate the planet” – what’s not to love? The basis for the film Night of the Lepus, which suffers from the fact that it is very difficult to make giant rabbits look at all threatening.
The top book from 1964 that I haven’t read is The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, a popular American kids’ book, though I must say it looks a bit unappealing to me. The bestselling novel of the year in the USA was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, published in 1963. Wikipedia has various lists, somewhat inconsistent with each other, here, here, here and here.
I did think of going through books from 1989 as well here, but it’s strange to realise that Guards! Guards!, Pyramids and the second volume of Sandman are all a quarter-century old. And anyway, this is enough.