In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?

glowing-book

In which Ruth ponders her holiday reading

Did I tell you I’d found a new crime writer whose books are just fabulous? I heard about her from several clergy friends – all women and all from over the pond. The author is Louise Penny and the series of books which I’ve been enjoying are the Inspector Gamache series. So far, I’ve read the first four: Still Life; Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; and The Murder Stone. They are set in the delightful village of Three Pines in Quebec which is a bit like Midsummer in that many people seem to get murdered there. I kind of want to go there but would be very wary, if you know what I mean. The characters are so real that you feel as if you know them and poetry-loving Inspector Gamache and his wife are just delicious. And the food! Every meal is mouthwatering and there really should be a recipe book brought out soon. There’s not much in the way of churchy stuff but lots of human life is there to be pondered. (By the way, I didn’t read them all in this holiday – just two of them!) Each book is a stand-alone story but it is best to read them in order as the characters develop over time.

I’ve also read The Four Last Things by Andrew Taylor. It is the first in the Roth trilogy but I’m not sure I’ll rush to get the next ones. It is churchy but rather dated now. A little girl is kidnapped from her childminder. Her mother is a curate and father a policeman and the book explores their strained relationship and what a missing child does to your faith in God. The rest of the book explores Angel and Eddie, the kidnappers, and what has brought them to this place. Rather grisly and the church doesn’t fare very well. Perhaps this is more realistic than I’d like to think.

I also read Extraordinary People by Peter May (of the Lewis Trilogy which I loved). This is the first in the Enzo Macleod books, a Scottish forensic expert living in Paris. If you know Paris you will probably love this book. I’ve been but don’t know it well enough so found the constant use of street names a bit of a pain. (However, I realise if it was set in Edinburgh I would probably be delighted so make your own mind up on that one.) Lots of clever clues which of course he manages to solve just in time which reminded me a wee bit of The Da Vinci Code. Good characters and good mystery. Not sure I need to read the rest of the series though. Back to Inspector Gamache for me.

Acts and OmissionsAnd finally I have started Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox which was waiting for me when I got home. I read all her books when they first came out and absolutely loved them. Being married to a clergyman she knows the church and all its foibles and this is no different. This book actually began as a weekly blog but I didn’t enjoy having to wait each week for the next chapter so am thrilled that it is now in print. It is hilarious and wonderfully observed. If you love the church you will love this. More when I finish it…