Monday, 22 January 2018

Reading the 80s..

Over at Stuck in a Book last year I sort of set myself the challenge to 'read the 80s'. The background to this is the club Simon and Karen host. Every six months or so a particular year in a decade is voted on and then anyone who'd like to reads and reviews a book (any book) from that year, and Simon and Karen link all the reviews on their own blogs so we can find them easily and get a broad overview of the year chosen.

However after 1977 (which will probably be in April) they intend to loop back to the 20s again as the 1980s seem too recent.

To be honest I'm inclined to agree with that. I don't think we're far enough from the 80s for it to be viewed in the same sort of way the other decades could be. In a little while maybe we'll be able to look at the decade from a historical perspective, and judge if (for example) Ben Elton's Stark was really an accurate reflection of the way the world was going, or be surprised at how forward (or backward) thinking some writers in the early 80s were. Right now I don't think we're there.

However I do quite like the idea of reading the 80s myself. It was the decade I went from 7 to 17, so obviously I spent it mostly reading children's books. Kipling, Enid Blyton, Nesbit, Judy Blume, Nina Bawden, Douglas Hill, and so on.

And since then I seem to have read a lot of books from well before I was born, and quite a lot published since I became an adult, but in the middle there's a largish gap with very little but Kinsey Millhone, Punch magazines and the occasional David Lodge in it.

However (again) Since the whole point of me taking a year off my Open University MA was to give myself some breathing space I'm not looking to commit to anything that's going to eat up a lot of time. So these are my rules:

1) Ideally I want to read a few books from each year, including rereads, so I'll split the year up and read in order. So 1980, which I'm starting today, will take me to February. I've decided to make Valentines Day (inclusive) the cut off for no reason at all except I'll remember it, and that is the day I will review.

2) Each month should contain at least one book I haven't read before. This should be relatively easy.

3) All books read for this challenge must be reviewed. At least a paragraph per book. This is the bit I will struggle with.

4) Go through my own shelves first.

5) This isn't really a rule, but if anyone wants to read along or link their own reviews for the appropriate year when my post goes up you're very welcome to. Just leave it as a comment. Similarly if you want to do the whole challenge drop me a line and I'll maybe do a wrap up at the end of the year.

In preparation I've already been through my shelves and thrown up the following

For 1980:

The Venetian Empire - Jan Morris. This appeals to me most at the moment but I'm sure I've read it, so it will have to wait until I've read Barnes below.

Metroland - Julian Barnes. I definitely haven't read this one so will start it tonight.

Ways of Escape - Graham Greene. From memory these are small pieces of travel writing.  I'd like to reread if I have time

David Attenborough's Life on Earth - I'm sure I meant to read it. I may have read it, but I suspect I didn't actually.

Sadly 1981 is a gaping great hole, and so is 1982. There are a couple of rereads I wouldn't mind doing - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, A is for Alibi, Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh, The Demon Headmaster (all 1982 I think) and a few I definitely don't want to reread (Pet Sematary, The House of the Spirits). Of the books I can see on Wikipedia and Goodreads nothing is screaming 'read me'. Maybe Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark. Or Midnight's Children, which I once read the first page of and put straight back on the shelf.


If On a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino. I actually really loved this book but because the narrative doesn't have an arc as such it's very easy not to come back to once you put it down. I will have to read from the beginning if I pick it up again, because it's been ages.

Third Helpings - Calvin Trillin. Trillin and Jay Rayner are the two writers who can somehow communicate their excitement about food to me, even though I'd happily live off chips, tea, and marmite sandwiches myself (assuming that were a healthy thing to do).

The fact both above are rereads means I need a book I haven't read from 1983. I've been meaning to read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill for ages, so it will probably be that.

1984 - another gaping hole. Not The Wasp Factory, anyway.


Last Letters from Hav - Jan Morris. Hav is Morris' fictional city, used as a microcosm to tell the European story and showcase the variety and interest of it. I have read this recently, so probably won't again, but it's a great book.

Eve, Her Story - Penelope Farmer. I've never read this one, and have just realised that it's by the author of Charlotte Sometimes, so am very pleased about that.


The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins. Another one I may or may not have finished. can't remember. It's a wodge of a book, and I seem to remember it being a little humourless, so I'll have to be in the mood for it I think.

I need to find another I definitely haven't read.


The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin. I haven't read this and it looks good.


Thornyhold - Mary Stewart. Read and reread many times. It's a charming book, but I'm not sure it would have appealed to me so much if it hadn't had a little magic in it, and a description of someone cleaning up an old house, and I hadn't been about 15 when I got hold of it. Not that it's badly written just - well, lightish? A great comfort read.

Keith Waterhouse - The Theory and Practice of Lunch. Hmm. I can see this being either very interesting or very, very annoying. Anyway I haven't read it and by that late in the year I may be glad it's slim.

Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap. This was all about circadian rhythms, and one of the first popular science books I really enjoyed. I think I've had it since I was about 19, which would explain why it's been highlighted to distraction in red ink.


Red Dwarf - Grant Naylor (Rob Grant and Doug Naylor in fact). Like Thornyhold, this is what I was actually reading at the time. And it's good fun, which is why I still have it. Darker than the program but not too dark. (Some of the later ones got pretty grim - as if it's not already depressing enough being the last human being alive, you have to have horrible androids with a whole room full of instruments of torture and heroes getting their heads squished in for good measure).

Misogynies -Joan Smith. I only bought this on Saturday and read it already, so I've missed a trick not holding it back. I'm glad I read it though, it's fascinating, and reading it in 2018 does demonstrate a) how far we've come and b) how far we still have to go.

Which still leaves me with another unread book to find of course..

In closing, I also have the Complete Yes Minister and Complete Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Anthony Jay, which I might include either as extras in the relevant years or perhaps read all at once at the end of the year if time allows.

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