1900 to 1950 Readathon

A few days ago Katie from Books and Things posted a video in which she announced her #1900to1950 Readathon in May this year. And that was the cause of my constant grinning and happy humming since then. Here’s a simple explanation from her: “The 1900 to 1950 Readathon is running for the whole month of May, 1st to 31st. The idea is to read novels, from anywhere in the world, published between 1900 and 1950.”

I’ve never done a ‘Readathon’ before and I’m not quite sure how the ‘marathon’ aspect manifests. If it means reading non-stop like literally in the middle of running a marathon, that’s obviously not possible. So I take it as reading every day? But that’s normal anyway. So the main thing I’m taking from this challenge is the time period for the choice of books. I’m going to read a few books from 1900 to 1950 in May – more like a themed reading.

Like I said I never joined a reading challenge before, for example, the now annual ‘Victober’, or the Irish Readathon a few weeks ago. But I like this 1900-1950 prompt. My ‘Reading Oxford’ project also covers this time period in this academic year so that’ll overlap nicely. If say, this Readathon was for books between 1700 to 1750, I might have given it a pass. Another reason is that, as much as I enjoy the Oxford reading list, the titles in the modern period (1910 onwards) are either heavy (Ulysses), poetry (not friends with) or less familiar stuff. I’m very excited to use this as an excuse to widen the pool of choices a bit.

Even though Katie gave lots of ideas for titles from the UK and around the world in her video, I started my own hunt immediately after watching her announcement video. I spent hours blissfully scrolling through the google results of search terms like ‘books from 1900 to 1950’, ‘authors from early 20th century’ etc. The search was an education in itself.

What was the fifty years like? It starts at the tail end of the long Victorian era and was dominated by the two World Wars. Who was writing and publishing during those decades? There were well-known authors like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S Eliot, D. H. Lawrence and George Orwell, but many authors are unfamiliar to me, for example, Joseph Conrad. I was surprised to see a few familiar Victorian authors in the mix, Thomas Hardy, for example, whom I thought was a Victorian writer, but who actually died in 1928 and many of whose poetry works were classed as from the modern era. Same goes with Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells. In terms of the transition from ‘literary realism’ to ‘literary modernism’ which happened during this period, the name Henry James cropped up a lot. I was so intrigued that I thought I’d like to read all his works and see the transition with my own eyes. But decided against making the promise when I saw his bibliography page on Wikipedia.

Soon I compiled a list longer than I could manage in a year let alone a month, even though May has 31 days. Here’s my extensive list. Obviously it doesn’t cover all the authors of this era. It doesn’t even cover all of the most prominent ones. The titles are mostly ‘British English’, which are my preference and choice at this point in time. Obviously this won’t include any books I’ve read already, e.g. The Hobbit. Lastly, this is my ‘pool’, not my actual to-be-read list. For some of the entries below I’m specifically interested in the book, for example, Kim; some other entries I’m more interested in the author, for example, Dorothy. L. Sayer, and don’t really mind which book of hers I read in the end. I’ll need to prune it down and probably ask friends on Instagram for some input.

If you’d like to join the Readathon now you’ve read this far, feel free to use this list as a springboard and for more title options from Katie, here is her announcement video.

These authors overlap with those on my ‘Reading Oxford’ list:

I should at least pick one from these to stay on track of the ‘Reading Oxford’ curriculum.

  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900)
  • Love and Mr Lewisham by H. G. Wells (1900)
  • The Wings of the Dove by Henry James (1902)
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster (1905) 
  • The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence (1915)
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

‘Lighter’ reads in one way or another:

Many of these are recommended over the years by family, various BookTubers, Slightly Foxed podcast and Backlisted podcast. I’m very excited to have this excuse to seriously consider reading them. But why do you need an excuse I hear you ask. Because without a good excuse I really can’t justify myself buying more books!

  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
  • The Man of Property (The Forsyte Saga) by John Galsworthy (1906)
  • A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay (1920)
  • Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayer (1923)
  • The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy (1924)
  • The Man in the Queue (or Killer in the Crowd) by Josephine Tey (1929) 
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield (1930)
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (1942)
  • Doreen by Barbara Noble (1946)

For children:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1901)
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (1902)
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (1926)
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (1930)

Not novel:

  • Katherine Mansfield short story collection
  • Saki short story collection
  • The Ascent of F6: A Tragedy in Two Acts, by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood (1937)
  • W. B. Yeats poetry

Non fiction:

Katie said ‘novels’ in the introduction but she did include non-fiction in prompt 4 (see below).

  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)
  • The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (1937)

Down and Out in Paris and London records his experiences tramping in those two cities. The Road to Wigan Pier is initially a study of poverty in the North of England, but ends with an extended autobiographical essay describing some of Orwell’s experiences with poverty. – Wikipedia

  • Journey to a War by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood (1939)

This last one is extremely interesting. According to Wikipedia, “The book is in three parts: a series of poems by Auden describing his and Isherwood’s journey to China in 1938 ; a “Travel-Diary” by Isherwood (including material first drafted by Auden) about their travels in China itself, and their observations of the Sino-Japanese War; and “In Time of War: A Sonnet Sequence with a Verse Commentary” by Auden, with reflections on the contemporary world and their experiences in China.” The challenge is if I can find a copy somewhere!

From other countries:

  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905 US)
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905 US)
  • Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1909 French)
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915 German)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925 US)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928 German) 
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947 Dutch)

Now, to narrow things down. This is where the dreaming stage ends and I now need to face the reality. It’s not likely I can just pick five titles that I like the look of best and that’s that. First, some of them might not be available. Secondly, the cost can add up to quite a lot.

Katie in addition to throwing out this genius idea, also offered five prompts for greedy people like me who want to include everything in the reading plan. The prompts are:

  1. Read a book from the country you’re from
  2. Read a book from a different country
  3. Read a genre classic (such as classic crime, classic sci-fi, classic fantasy, historical fiction, etc)
  4. Read something that isn’t a novel (such as non-fiction, plays, poetry, short stories, etc)
  5. Read a work of literature set during or exploring WWI or WWII
  6. Bonus challenge: Read a book from every decade of the period (1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s)

So somehow I’ll find a middle ground to cover as many of the prompts as I’m able while keeping the cost down.

That’s the full planning stage. I’ll keep thinking and changing my mind until May I’m sure. What would be your choices if you’re taking part? Have you read any of the above in the list and which do you recommend or not recommend me to read?

Feature image by Joanna Kosinska from unsplash.


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