When Simon first introduced the idea of his A Century of Books reading project in September 2011, I was impressed. It seemed quite ambitious, this idea of reading one book published in each year of the 20th Century, and very tempting. I resisted signing up immediately but the project proved irresistible. I joined in and I am so glad that I did because it made for an extraordinary year of reading.
You can find the full list of what I read on my A Century of Books page but I thought it would be fun to mention a few things I’ve learned while doing this project:
Not all years are created equal – One hundred books is not a particularly large number for me (I’m currently reading my 233rd book of the year) but the adventure was in working within the parameters of the challenge. Some years are ridiculously easy to find books for (at times, it seemed that every book I wanted to read had been published in 1912, 1925, or 1947) while others are excruciatingly difficult (I spent months searching for something I wanted to read from 1900 and 1969).
Plan, plan, plan for failure – The pressure to read a book, whether you enjoy it or not, that fills in one of your “missing” years is intense. But just because that book was published in a convenient year does not mean it is worth reading. I kept an ongoing list of books published in all the years I had not yet completed so that I had multiple options to choose from. If I started a book and was not enjoying it, I always had a second or third option to consider switching to. There is no point in reading 100 books that you don’t enjoy.
Get to know your favourite authors really well – Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth von Arnim, Georgette Heyer, D.E. Stevenson and, of course, A.A. Milne were my best friends this year. Between those five authors, I filled in 41 years of the century and, if I had wanted to, could have filled in at least ten more.
Use the buddy system – I know that a number of people have been working through A Century of Books at their own pace but, for me, the greatest motivation I had was knowing that Simon was also reading all the books in one year. Every time he posted a new review I was reminded of how far I had fallen behind in my own reviews or my own reading and I rushed to catch up. I really wanted to do this is one year and, thanks to Simon’s example and encouragement along the way, I did.
Prepare to be surprised – I knew I was going to have fun reading the books from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s – and I did – but the greatest thing about the project was finding delight in unexpected places. The 1910s turned out to be possibly my favourite decade of all and the 1970s surprised me with some of my most thought-provoking reads of the year. I was also shocked by how much I struggled to find books I wanted to read from the 1950s and 1960s.
Now that A Century of Books is done, I have to admit that I am looking forward to being able to read without checking the publication date of every book I pick up! It did restrict my reading choices, particularly towards the end of the year, and though it was interesting to work within that kind of structure I am ready to be free of it. I want to wallow in 18th and 19th Century authors, read 20 books all published in the same year of the 20th Century if I want to, and crack open all of the 21st Century biographies and memoirs I have waiting on my shelves. And, maybe, after a year of reading like that I will be ready to do A Century of Books again in 2014. I have already started on a booklist so I will be well-prepared if I do!