Eleven books, chosen from each of the decades from 1900 onwards, all nonfiction, all by women. That’s what the Decades Project has meant in 2018.
The decade’s list
Here are the books I chose for 2018, with dates and links to the posts:
Home and Garden by Gertrude Jekyll (1900)
My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst (1914)
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1951)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (1971)
The March of Folly by Barbara W Tuchman (1984)
Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler (1994)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
I am very pleased to have found such variety: memoir, cookery, theatre piece, polemic, and history. The choices reflect women’s wide involvement over the century, and also their influence. Some choices have been avowedly domestic, others about big historical events, or dangers. Several have a very personal focus, but all have something to say to us as we leave 2018.
The book I most enjoyed reading …
… was undoubtedly Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962). I had heard of it, about its impact upon people’s understanding of the ecology of the world, her warning about the indiscriminate use of pesticides, her fears for the planet. I had not expected it to be so lyrical, and I was truly shocked by the contents.
I had not predicted, for example, such pleasure from reading about soil and worms:
The soil exists in a state of constant change, taking part in cycles that have no beginning and no end. New materials are constantly being contributed as rocks disintegrate, as organic matter decays, and as nitrogen and other gases are brought down from the skies. At the same time other materials are being taken away, borrowed for temporary use by living creatures. Subtle and vastly important chemical changes are constantly in progress, converting elements derived from air and water into forms suitable for use by plants. In all these changes living organisms are active agents. (62)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was first published in 1962. I used the Penguin Modern Classic edition. 323pp
The book I reacted least well to …
… was The March of Folly by Barbara W Tuchman. It had made an impact upon me when I had first read it, and I assumed that it would illuminate some of the ridiculousness of the current Brexit crisis. But the arguments seemed a little circular this time around. Nevertheless, the idea that policy-makers do crazy and foolish things still has traction.
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W Tuchman published in 1984. I read Abacus edition published in 1985. 559pp
The books I was most pleased to read …
… were Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain and 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. They were both rereads, the first a book that had convinced me of the importance of history as told by women. I liked the second because it reveals the deep friendships created through a shared love of books, and by two charming people.
Testament of Youthby Vera Brittain, first published in 1933. I used the edition published by Fontana in 1979. 661pp
84 Charing Cross Roadby Helene Hanff, first published by Andre Deutsch in 1971. I read the paperback edition published by sphere. 230pp
A theme that emerged …
… was of the increased influence of women in a widening range of spheres as the 20thcentury rolled out. The first book is about gardening, but in the second decade Mrs Pankhurst’s account of the suffragette campaign indicated change. Some of the most important nonfiction writing of the century came from women, including Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, Anne Frank, Rachel Carson, Joan Didion.
The Decades Project in 2018:
I enjoyed seeking out and reading nonfiction for 2018. The project maintained the wildcard element in my reading and blog. Next year I plan to follow the same pattern, but to read children’s literature and feature a book once a month. I have already anticipated rereading some of my favourites from my own childhood, but also those from my daughter’s and grandsons’. Watch this space.
Suggestions for this new series are always welcome.
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