In which Ruth ponders 10 books

books and coffeeFollowing Father Kirstin’s example, here are the 10 books I was asked to pick quickly that have stayed with me. It is a meme on Facebook just now and has turned out to be such fun and a welcome break from ice-buckets and Scottish politics. For those of you not on Facebook you might want to join in so please do below. We were told not to think about it too hard so these literally are the first ten which came to mind, and why. Since then I have read all my friends’ lists and could add a thousand more.

  1. Skallagrigg by William Horwood. This book was introduced to me by a friend Sheena Liddell who recommended it highly. It was such an unusual book and held me horrified and intrigued. I couldn’t put it down and have since recommended it to loads of folk. I then went on to read his Duncton Wood series which were spiritual and mole-ish and lovely.
  2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Not long after I started going to church I asked my priest if there was such a place as hell and this is the book he told me to go and read. I can still remember it vividly and often do the same to my little flock when they ask.
  3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind. This was a recommendation by a work colleague Mike Nicholson, now an author himself. He said the writing was incredibly descriptive and he wasn’t wrong. That first page! The smells! And how dark it was. Delicious. Not everyone agrees with me and I’ve done it in two book groups where folk hated it.
  4. Some Day I’ll Find You by HA Williams. This one came up in a conversation with a Roman Catholic monk who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t already read it. After I did, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on our reading list in theological college. An autobiography that was honest and so easy to read. I loved it.
  5. Alan Ecclestone by Tim Gorringe. Was this on my reading list at theological college or did I find it on my own? I don’t remember but I do remember reading it at a summer school and underlining just about every line and shouting ‘Yes! I want to be a priest like that!’ I failed miserably but he is still a hero. And then, of course, that led me on to read Kenneth Leach and why didn’t I list any of his books in my top 10 which I also adored, and now count him as a friend.
  6. Crosstitch by Diana Gabaldon. Who told me to read this one? Sheena? Sally? I know we all read them at the same time. Magic, Scotland, Highlands, Culloden, and the beloved Jamie. A great series to begin with but I did go off them when it all went to the USA. But that first one will always be the best. (Now called Outlander in some parts of the world and about to be a TV series and I can’t wait.)
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think this was suggested by a friend Irene Hutchison and introduced me to women of Arthur’s court. Love powerful women in a book and there is a whole series. Not sure how many I’ve read and still have some in my unread pile.
  8. The Once and Future King by TH White. Now funnily enough, this came up in a conversation with Bishop Michael Hare-Duke when he spoke to me on a retreat about the unicorn (don’t ask me why) and love but the unicorn got me interested.  Merlin, Arthur again and unicorns. What’s not to like?
  9. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I read this many, many years ago and fell in love with the story about how the author wrote the story. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve given it to and they all love it as well. You never look at cathedrals in the same way again.
  10. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. There were so many that I could have chosen by this children’s author but I think War Horse is my favourite. I went through a period of reading children’s books just a few years ago and was enchanted to find such good stuff in that genre: Madeline l’Engle (via Mother Kimberly); Mallory Blackman (via Louise Daly); and a host of others. 

So that was my quick ten books. Since then I’ve been reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Miss Garnet’s Angel, Take This Bread by Sara Miles, Anne Lamott’s books, Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Owl That Called My Name, Birdsong, Pat Barker’s trilogy, Kate Atkinson, and of course all my lovely Phil Rickman and other clerical crime ones. OK I’d better stop there.  I could go on and on and on. I now have a bookcase jammed full of unread books and a Kindle packed with classics and bargains and other recommendations and just not enough time to read them all. I think it was last year that I made a resolution to try and get through the year without buying any more books and just read the ones I had. I think I lasted until May and it was hell.

The delightful thing about this has been reading other friends’ lists. Some familiar, some unknown but loads more to add the wishlist. I’m so glad to have booky friends.

Witches, vampires, lust, Church, pilgrims and a donkey

More than half way through my week’s holiday and I’ve only managed to read two books. This was because Son #1 came to stay and needed my assistance in setting up a new business. In return he made copious quantities of coffee and food and occasionally left me alone for 30 minutes to read. I took him back to Edinburgh yesterday and let out a huge sigh of relief. Bless him.

The first book was sent to me by a friend whose taste in books I share. It is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and a Sunday Times Bestseller, no less. Now, I wasn’t really sure that I was going to enjoy it when I saw it was about witches, vampires and daemons albeit set in the world of academia. But in fact, I really enjoyed it. There was forbidden love (vampires and witches don’t usually get it together), adventures, baddies and goodies, and history too. In fact, it is Twilight for grown-ups or as Entertainment Weekly said ‘for the tweedy set’. Anyway it was great escapism and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My only complaint was that as I neared the end I realised the story was not going to be sewn up neatly but would be continued in the following books of the trilogy, as yet unwritten. I hate that! It’s like when ‘To Be Continued’ appears on the screen and you didn’t expect it. But at the same time the book also journeys into the world of time-travel and I can see that it will be like those old favourites by Diana Gabaldon beginning with Cross Stitch.

The next day, as the interruptions were many, I decided not to read but to watch the whole series of The Borgias. What a treat, that was. Sex, intrigue, politics, incest, murder, more sex, and all set within the confines of the church. Delicious. The vestments were lovely too.  Really one feels that one should never complain about the College of Bishops in our little church ever again.

The next book was Spanish Steps: One Man and his Ass on the Pilgrim Way to Santiago by Tim Moore. This was a Christmas present from the non-church-going husband of the Rector’s Warden who’d seen it and thought of me. Wasn’t that nice? Santiago is, as regular readers will know, on my bucket list but it is the walking that keeps it there. Tim Moore is a very funny writer and almost too funny to write a book. The jokes just came so thick and fast that I had to stop reading for a while every so often because it was just too much. Anyway, the story is as it says on the cover – his pilgrimage to Santiago with a donkey. He’s not religious so is not doing it for that reason, but is intrigued by the epic accounts of a pilgrimage undertaken by one in three medieval Europeans. Realising that walking all that distance with a rucksack ain’t gonna be a lot of fun, he decides to take a donkey along with him to carry the load. Of course, he knows nothing about donkeys. There is a wee bit of The Way in this story – non-religious person finds ‘spirituality’ on the road through the other people he meets. But there is also irreverence, amusing characters, and enough eccentrics to keep you going for a long time. There’s a touch of the Bill Bryson about it too, if that’s what you’re in to. I enjoyed it in doses.