#24 – Read all the BBC Top 100 books: Progress update

At the time of my last update on this particular challenge, in February, I had eight books left to read.  I made great progress between February and April, rattling my way through five of them.  Then I hit War and Peace.  One thousand, four hundred and fifty seven pages of zzzzzzz….. Which I have, finally, dragged myself through to the end of.  As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t enjoy this one.  For me neither a good story nor a good historical account of the Napoleonic Wars; once again characters I didn’t care about and wasn’t interested in (this seems to be a common theme for me with Russian writers) and lots of unnecessary naval gazing about the nature of history and motivations for wars.  I was frankly relieved to finally close the book and read something much more interesting instead.  I had resulting to checking the number of pages and counting down which is never a good sign.  (In fact, it put me off that much that I have gone ‘off list’ with my reading for a bit of rest and light relief but at the end of October I’ll be back on it.)

The pick of this crop of books for me was Katherine:  Anya Seton’s imaginative retelling of the life of Katherine Roet, ultimately wife to the powerful and intriguing John of Gaunt.  A fascinating story, captivatingly written, this one made me keep turning the pages.  I adored Katherine and wanted to know how her story ended.  And for a woman living at the time she lived, it is a most remarkable story.  I’m not sure how much of Seton’s version is historically accurate and how much is romanticised to make a good story but this book interested me enough to make me want to learn more.  Apparently Alison Weir has written a good biography of Katherine so I shall look that up.

Less enjoyable were the two Jacqueline Wilsons; Vicky Angel and Tracey Beaker.  As I suspected I wouldn’t, I didn’t like Tracey at all.  Attitude problem.  Vicky the ‘angel’ was equally unlikeable.  Putting it bluntly I thought she was a bitch and I was glad she’d died.  When I think back to the books I was reading as a child and young teenager (Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Michelle Magorian and their ilk) I feel really sorry for the lost magic.  The books clearly popular with kids today are gritty and real and don’t offer the chance for adventure and escape that I had and loved.

Another ‘teenage’ book, Holes was better than the Jacqueline Wilsons but stretched improbable co-incidences just a little too far for me.  A light and easy read, although I would hardly class it as a classic.

And finally there was Brave New World.  Hardly brave, more terrifying!  Scary to even imagine a world where emotion is totally conditioned out of people and people are literally ‘born to work’.  Of course, I found myself rooting for the rebel but actually on the whole I found this a disturbing and distasteful read.

So now 98 books down, only two remain: Winnie the Pooh and Ulysses.  Hard to find two more contrasting reads I suspect.  I’ll tackle the bear first, then brace myself for what I am sure will be a War and Peace style endurance challenge.  At least I’ve got 18 months to finish it in.  Wish me luck…

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