Happy New Year 2021–may this be a much better one than 2020 turned out to be! Another year begins, and it’s time for a post I have very much enjoyed doing the last couple of years–book and author ‘birthdays’ (or rather, anniversaries) that fall in the year. Once again, my lists are not exhaustive but feature mostly books and authors that stood out to me either because they’re favourites or because I’ve been meaning to read them, or that I’ve come across them a lot. I hope you find this as much fun as I do, and this helps you plan out some reads for the year. Like last year, I have in my list books that turn 50, 75, 100, and 200 but am also including another category of younger books, ones that turn 25 in 2021. There are also authors celebrating their 100th and 200th anniversaries, and also one who turns 300 in 2021.
25: Books Published in 1996
Among titles published in 1996, and thus turning 25, I found quite a few notables. The very first title I came across in fact surprised me because I didn’t realise this went back quite so far. And that was A Game of Thrones, the first in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series following three principal storylines. Honestly I wondered at one point whether to read this, but don’t see myself picking these up any time soon due solely to the size of the these chunky volumes. (I haven’t seen the TV series either.) Next is another well known entry, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, the story of a 30-something single woman looking for love and to lose weight. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks which explores the relationship of Noah and Ally in the time after the Second World War also turns 25 this year as does Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, a memoir of a recently divorced writer who buys a villa in Tuscany.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Spooner, first in The Queen’s Thief, once again a fantasy series was published in 1996. In this one, the King’s Scholar who knows the site of a treasure, selects Gen, a thief from prison to reach it. (The final book in this series came out this year.) The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (which I’d thought was non-fiction but isn’t, though I think it is self-help, right?) was also first published 25 years ago.
Alias Grace by Canadian author and Booker winner a Margaret Atwood is about Grace Marks who is convicted of involvement in her employers’ murders but is serving her life sentence with no memory of the murders. The year is 1843. An expert in mental health tries to speak to her and get her to remember what unfolded on the day.
Last in my list are two books I’ve actually read, The Runaway Jury by John Grisham which is set around a trial against a tobacco company when something strange begins to happen with the jury; one person is certainly not as he seems. It’s been ages since I read it but I do remember enjoying it, though I don’t recall the details. The second is a more recent read, Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett which I read early last year. This is part of the Citywatch books; in Ankh Morpokh, Golems (usually hard workers) are being secretly sold, and begin to act a little strange, also some mysterious deaths take place. This was a great combination of a mystery, humour and deeper observations about the lives we live.
50: Published in 1971
I only found a few titles that stood out to me among those turning 50 in 2021. In this list is the first of two Agatha Christies that have anniversaries this year, Nemesis, the last of the Miss Marple books. In this one she receives a bequest with a rather interesting condition from Mr Rafiel whom she had met and allied with in the Caribbean Mystery. This is to go on a certain tour and solve a problem, only she must also figure out what the problem is, first. Naturally a murder mystery is involved. This was a good one but very different from the usual Marple books.
Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal is a thriller about a professional assassin contracted to kill the French President Charles De Gaulle; this went on to be a really successful book also turned into a film in 1973.
Judith Kerr’s partly autobiographical tale of a Jewish family that had to flee Germany at the start of the second world war, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was also published in 1971. At nine years old, Anna is concerned with school and toboganning but suddenly she finds her life changing too fast for her to understand.
Last in this section, we have another children’s book that deals with a very relevant subject, of how us humans are destroying our planet. Dr Suess’ The Lorax tells the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees and the Once-ler who destroys them, and with it the planet.
75: Published in 1946
Among books turning seventy-five this year are quite a few that I’ve read and enjoyed, and also one that I have thought I would read for years but haven’t and another that I have been hearing so much about but am still uneasy about picking up. Let’s start with the lighter ones.
First on this list is The Hollow by Agatha Christie which is both a character study and mystery in one; we have the eccentric Lady Angkatell (vaguely based if I remember right on AC’s mother–am too lazy to check) who invites Poirot to lunch where he arrives to witnesses what he thinks is an attempt at a murder game in bad taste. But it turns out there is no game and Lady Angkatell’s arrogant and narcissistic nephew John has in fact been murdered; this one has a collection of characters with complicated relationships and lives which Poirot must unravel. Another mystery, turning 75 is one the author of which also has an anniversary this year. The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin featuring Oxford Don Gervase Fen is I think his best known mystery in which Fen investigates a toy shop which is replaced overnight by a grocery shop. While I haven’t read this one, I have read and enjoyed a couple of other Fen titles.
Next is Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé is the follow up to The Seven Crystal Balls in which a group of scientists included Prof. Calculus had mysteriously disappeared while in this one, Tintin and Captain Haddock arrive on their trail to Peru, and try and rescue them from their captors. This one has the very memorable episode in which a llama spits on Captain Haddock and the latter has his revenge. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (or the Secret of Moonacre in its film version) is the story of Maria Merryweather who must go live with a relative in Moonacre manor with her governess Miss Heliotrope, after Maria loses her father. There she finds magic, wonderful food, but also family troubles that she must resolve. Another children’s title turning 75 is the first of the Malory Towers books, First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton where the short-tempered but otherwise nice Darrell Rivers arrives at Malory Towers in Cornwall hoping to make friends but finds this isn’t as easy as it seems. But this is not the only Enid Blyton in this category. An absolute favourite of mine, The Folk of the Faraway Tree, the third of the Faraway Tree books is also turning 75. In this one the children–Jo, Bessie, and Fanny’s rather nasty cousin Connie comes to visit, and they take her up the Faraway Tree and introduce her to their friends. But Connie tries to act a little to smart and must pay for it; when she learns her lesson (or almost does), she does join the children in helping their friends and also saving the tree when it is in trouble. In this one the Saucepan man ends up ordering Bear Tart and Cream since he can’t hear very well.
Daphne Du Maurier’s The King’s General, set among the turbulent English Civil War, tells the story of Honor Harris who has been in love with Richard Grenvile, the King’s General of the title.
In 1946 was also published The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and written during his imprisonment, tracing the country’s journey from the Indus Valley Civilization to the time the book was written.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, which is a memoir of the author’s experiences at a Nazi concentration camp, and the responses that he and his fellow prisoners had. This one I keep putting off even thinking about reading because I know this will be a difficult one; but it is certainly one that needs to be read.
100: Books Published in 1921
Aldous Huxley’s first novel Crome Yellow turns a hundred this year. A social satire, the story is told from the perspective of poet Denis Stone who is invited by Priscilla and Henry Wimbush to join their summer guests which include an assortment of eccentrics. I had actually entirely forgotten that I have read this one, but see from my Goodreads review that I liked but didn’t ‘love’ the book. Published in the same year (a book which I thought was much older) is the swash-buckling Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, set amidst the French Revolution. In this we have Andre-Louis Moreau, a lawyer raised by a nobleman, who joins a band of actors, assuming the role of Scaramouche and also assisting the revolutionaries. Alongside there is the story of his young ‘cousin’, Aline, daughter of the nobleman by whom he’s been raised and who is going to be married to an older suitor whom Andre-Louis does not approve of. (In the sequel Andre-Louis finds himself disillusioned by the revolutionaries, and part of another power game.)
Rilla of Ingleside, the final novel of the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery tells the story not of Anne but of Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter Rilla. At fifteen with all her other siblings grown up, Rilla dreams of her first dance and the handsome Kenneth Ford but a far-away war is also threatening life in Ingleside as Rilla’s brothers go off to fight while she brings home a newborn.
Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard by Eleanor Farjeon, tells of a wandering minstrel who helps a lovelorn young man by telling stories to six milkmaids who are guarding his beloved; each is a fairy tale, magical and dreamy. I have featured this one on Shelf Control before but am yet to actually read the book. This year might be just the right time to do that.
A 1921 book which I did read a few years ago is Prithvi Vallabh by K.M. Munshi. The original is in Gujarati but I read the English translation. A historical romance, I found this unusual since the central ‘romance’ was between much older characters, not the usual teenagers; not only that our heroine is a strong character who actually rules and wields power in her kingdom.
Next on my list is Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey which is of course a bio of sorts of her; this one if I remember right did not have the caustic tone that hos other bios did but is enjoyable and informative all the same. Finally, Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anna Christie, where the titular character goes to spend sometime with her father, a coal barge captain she doesn’t know too well. There she meets and falls in love with a sailor Mat, and soon finds herself caught between the expectations of the two.
100: Some Authors’ Anniversaries
Kicking off at the beginning of the year, on 19 January, American author Patricia Highsmith turns 100. Known for her pyschological thrillers including The Talented Mr Ripley and others featuring Mr Ripley as well as Strangers on a Train, a book adapted multiple times and the plot of which I’ve seen in different versions as well. I haven’t read her yet but hope to this year.
Turning 100 in May 2020 is Satyajit Ray, known perhaps better for being a movie director. But he is on this list because he has also written short stories and novels featuring among others the sleuth Pradish Chandra Mitra or Feluda, who solves mysteries with his nephew Topshe and mystery-writer Lal Mohan babu. Another of his creations is Professor Shonku, a scientist who lives with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton and has adventures around the world.
In September we have the centenary of Richard Gordon, author of the ‘doctor’ series of humorous books, while in October, Edmund Crispin or Robert Bruce Montgomery author of the Gervase Fen series of mysteries turns 100. Montgomery was also a composer who wrote scores for some of the Carry On films. Also in October Indian cartoonist and humorist R.K. Laxman celebrates his 100th.
200: Books and Authors
Since I only had one book for this category but a handful of authors, I decided to club them together. Turning 200 this year is another Walter Scott novel Kenilworth. A historical romance and one of the Waverley novels, this one tells of the romance of Robert Dudley, first Earl of Leicester and Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart during the reign of Elizabeth I. But Sir Robert wishes to keep this a secret to further his ambitions at court.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of among others, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov turns 200 this year on 11 November. His books which look into the human mind among other things give one plenty of food for thought.
Next on my list are two Frenchman, an author and a poet both of whom turn 200; Poet Charles Baudelaire, who was a poet but also essayist and art critic was born on 9 April 1821 while novelist Gustave Flaubert, best known for his debut Madame Bovary was born on 12 December. Coincidentally, I read both their works (the only time I read them) for a course I took, and I can’t say I liked Madame Bovary very much.
Last on this list is Richard Francis Burton, explorer and translator of One Thousand and One Nights. I haven’t really read this version but I came across Burton in a book I had read a couple of years back, The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian in which a group of collectors obsessed with Burton’s work charge our protagonists to trace and vet a new manuscript that has surfaced and stated to be by Burton. Burton was born on 19 March 1821.
Finally I have no book but an author born in 1721 who thus turns 300 this year, Tobias George Smollett. The author of picaresque novels like The Adventures of Roderick Random, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, and The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, his works were read by Charles Dickens who mentions them in some of his works as well. I happened to find a copy of Humphry Clinker some years ago and read it, and I found I liked it more than I had expected to. But this year I must find time for a revisit.
So that’s my list of book and author anniversaries that stood out to me this year; I will be trying to pick up some of these titles during the year and will post about them it I do.
Have you read any of the books on my list? Which ones and how did you like them? Or do you plan to read any of these? Any book or author anniversaries that you’d like to add to my list? Looking forward to your thoughts and comments!
All cover images are from Goodreads, and I’ve linked my reviews to books that I have reviewed on this page or GR.