chestnut book blog

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My ten most influential / inspiring books

A little Facebook meme has been keeping me and my friendship group amused recently. We’ve all ‘tagged’ to write a list of the ten books that have most influenced / inspired us. I thought I’d share mine here to hopefully inspire a few more recommendations and inspirations!

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The first time I read this book, the world looked a little bit different after I had finished it. I have read this book countless times now and every time I love it a little bit more.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery
My favourite childhood series and I have a very soft spot for the red headed orphan to this day.

3. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
* I wrote a little explanation below for my friends on this one, but if you are a regular here, you’ll know how much I love this one already!

Am I allowed non-fiction? This book is virtually unknown, but I turn to it every time I need a comfort read. It describes the author just reading from her own library for a year, without buying any new books. She discovers old favourites, remembers the authors she has met and the stories around her books. In the end she complies her list of 50 essential books…fascinating and inspiring.

4. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Not as well-known perhaps as The Age of Innocence (which is also one of my favourites) but Lily Bart’s story broke my heart. Beautifully written.

5. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
My Dad’s favourite book and so I absorbed this from the cradle upwards! A masterpiece.

6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Just how did a woman who had barely left a Yorkshire parsonage imagine a man like Heathcliff??

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
As a Yorkshire woman, I feel I am allowed two Brontes on my list. This was the first classic I read around the age of ten or eleven and so it has a special place in my heart. I have a quote from Jane Eyre engraved on one of my favourite bracelets: ‘I am no bird, and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will’ …just to remind me!

8. Othello, Shakespeare
Does a play count? I really struggled whether to choose Othello or Macbeth, but went for Othello as I don’t think anyone understands or describes human beings better than Shakespeare and all his genius is displayed in Othello. Having studied both at school and seen them many times, I can quote from them copiously!

9. Atonement by Ian McEwan
The ending astonished me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after I had read it. A modern classic.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Opened my eyes in so many ways.

I apologise to all the wonderful books that I have forgotten to mention, but this was the list that came to me on Tuesday night. My friends’ lists contained some other wonderful recommendations that I have never read: I’ve added the The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis and Shogun by James Clavell to my wish list! What would be on your list? I’d love to know.



As far as we dare…

I’m having a lovely time re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series at the moment (I’m still craving a bit of comfort reading and I’m afraid my copies of The Goldfinch and The Luminaries are as yet untouched on my bedside table). I’ve got to Anne of Windy Willows (Anne of Windy Poplars in North America) and along the way, many little tit-bits and sayings in the series have made an impression. It is a peculiar joy, returning to childhood favourites as an adult, after they’ve been pushed to the back of the shelf for many years. I was fearful that it wouldn’t be as I remembered it and that I would spoil wonderful memories by returning to it. I am happy to say though that it is every bit as joyful, sweet and profound as I recalled.

The phrase that has currently grabbed my imagination is from Anne of Windy Poplars. Anne and little Elizabeth are going for a walk twice a week, to give Elizabeth the release she needs from an oppressive home. Each time, they walk along the road that leads to Tomorrow ‘as far as they dare’. Tomorrow is the place where little Elizabeth believes good things wait for her. Isn’t that hopeful and wonderful? It struck me that in life, ‘daring’ and ‘as far as we dare’ are quite important concepts. The instinct to only go so far protects us from danger, prolongs the pleasure of anticipation and protects us from the fact that, in Tomorrow, things may not be quite as they are hoped to be. However, by only going ‘as far as we dare’, we also hold ourselves back and perhaps, because of that, we never find out that Tomorrow could be just as wonderful as we imagined.

I very much hope that little Elizabeth gets her Tomorrow eventually (I think she might do if my memory serves me correctly!) and that we all do. Have you got any childhood favourites that you returned to as an adult and loved just as much? Or any that disappointed you?

p.s post on my recent trip to Switzerland coming shortly.  




Betsy and Tacy and other children’s stories


The Betsy and Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy and Tacy is not a story we know much about in the UK. I came across it first on the lovely Katie’s blog and, as we share a love of Anne of Green Gables, I knew I had to give it a go. It was challenging to find any Betsy and Tacy books here in London, impossible in fact, and so I had to turn to the internet. Then, a couple of weeks ago The Betsy – Tacy Treasury arrived at my door. It contains four stories, tracing Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib from the ages of five to around 12. For my British readers, who might not have heard about this series before, it is written by Maud Hart Lovelace and is based on her own childhood in Minnesota, USA. The stories are charming, very old fashioned (the feminist in me was cringing at some of the views about women so if you read them, do take them as a product of their time!) and comforting. My favourite by far was Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown where a lovely Christmas scene just warmed the cockles of my heart. There was also a wonderful description of the moment Betsy and her friends see their first ‘horseless carriage’.

Reading The Betsy and Tacy Treasury and also an email conversation with my friend Cristina, who sometimes comments here, got me thinking about classic children’s books this week. Cristina asked me about the books children read in primary school in the UK so she could share them with her sister, who is working in a school in Colombia. As I thought about this, and the other books I enjoyed reading between the ages of about seven and ten, I realised that some of these books stay with you for your whole life. You might have read them in school, or had them read to you at bedtime, or read them by yourself on a rainy afternoon and somehow they found a little permanent little place in your personality. 

Here is a short list of some of those children’s books that have always stayed with me. I’m sure if I’d grown up in America, Betsy and Tacy would have been on this list too.

Anne of Green Gables series by L.M Montgomery

Charlotte’s Web by E.B White

The Narnia series by C.S Lewis

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Witches and Matilda by Roald Dahl

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

What would be on your list? (*scurries off to try to track down the other Betsy and Tacy books!)