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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Year of Reading Backwards - Book 1: 'The House of Mirth', 1905

You may remember that I've decided to make this The Year of Reading Backwards. For my first book I chose Edith Wharton's heart-breaking story of socialite Lily Bart, The House of Mirth. Set in New York during the 1890s poor Lily just can't take a trick - in fact you'd be hard-pressed to find a greater self-sabotager in the whole of English literature. Although she arguably meets her perfect match in the very first chapter her inability to choose between marrying for love or money leads her to make a string of unfortunate choices that lead her further and further from her goal of security and happiness. I wanted to throttle Lily much of the time but Wharton's insightful and sympathetic prose kept me reading long into the night.

No sooner had I finished the sad tale of Lily Bart, however, than I found myself backsliding into the world of new releases with Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley - and I'm so glad I did. Eleanor Roosevelt was everything the fictional Lily is not. Like Lily, Eleanor was a member of the New York 400 and was bought up to make a 'good marriage'. Unlike Lily, however, she married for both love and money making a formidable match with her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What an extraordinary couple they were! Both as a couple and as individuals they continually challenged themselves and each other to fulfil their individual destinies. Imagine becoming the president of the United States without anyone realising that you couldn't walk (Franklin was struck down by polio in his 30s and his minders ensured that he was never photographed being carried anywhere - how times have changed!). Eleanor herself was a remarkable woman championing civil rights, helping to draft the Universal Declaration of Independence and transforming herself from a shy young woman to an inspirational national figure. Sadly Australian biographer Hazel Rowley died just months after her book was released to critical acclaim. She was 59.

Next book in 'The Year of Reading Backwards' is 'The Woman In White' by Wilkie Collins. Have you read it?


  1. Hi Caz, I thought you would like to know that I have decided to read backwards with you. I probably won't get through your entire list but I will give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration. Still loving your blog.

  2. Yay! It will be fun to have someone to read along with. You don't have to read the same books as me if you don't want to just read books you already have or have always meant to read and let me know if you have any good tips! It's so lovely to have you back in the country...

  3. I love the title of this Caz. I will be doing a bit of a 'reading backward' thing this year....but also a bit of reading forward too! Nothing like as much as you have planned though.

    I will definitely read 'Crime and Punishment' as you suggested...( I just wrote cream and punishment then!!) I'm keeping it for winter when I get in true Russian mode... But first I must finish 'The WInd-up Bird Chronicle' I read a third, put it down and haven't had a chance to read the rest... We have 'The Woman in White' so I may have a go at that....although I have a never-ending list of other books I'm longing to read too.....

    Oh and I want to try reading something else by Kazuo Ishiguro...Hannah met him at University a couple of weeks ago and said he's such a nice man, I feel really bad that I criticised his first book so much.

  4. Deb, I read 'When We Were Orphans' some years ago and although I remember it as being 'a bit weird' I did enjoy it. I can't remember why I thought it was a bit weird - maybe give that one a try? I'm really loving 'The Woman In White' - feisty heroines, sneeky villans and lots of mystery!

  5. Thanks I will...and now you've tempted me to read The Woman in White next, it sounds good.

  6. Yes! I love The Woman in White - it's a cracker! xo

  7. A cracker is exactly what it is! I'm loving it - more twists and turns than episode of Twin Peaks!