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.



Top Eight Books for Summer

I mentioned recently that I have books I definitely consider to be ‘summer’ books, to be read on holiday and when the weather is balmy. I thought I’d make a list of the top eight (I tried to do five, but just couldn’t narrow it down!) in my opinion and see if you agreed or disagreed with me!

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan

One of my favourite ever books. The description of a summer of privilege at a country house before disaster strikes is beautiful.

2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett O’Hara just demands to be read in summer so we can imagine the sultry southern heat at Tara.

3. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I first read Harry Potter on holiday in Italy in 2000 so it is forever associated with summer for me.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Escaping the heat of New York, Nick Caraway is sucked into the ill-fated love affair of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan one summer.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

My favourite Stephen King is between this and The Shining, but this shouts summer to me I think. It is an epic battle of good and evil in the Nevada desert.

6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I blogged about this recently, but a wonderful summer read.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It marked the summers of my school years when we read it often, with the smell of freshly mown grass in the air.  What an incredible story!

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

That image of the children playing in the rye is haunting and all about summer.

Will you be reading any of these this summer?

I’m Not Scared

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I’ve recently finished I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti. It is the first time I’ve read a modern Italian author in translation I think so I approached it with interest, especially after reading some excellent reviews of it. I should caveat this review with the fact that this book was first published in English in 2003, so I am a little late to this!

I’m Not Scared is set in a seemingly endless summer, in a world which seems by turns boring and terrifying. Ammaniti captures the sense of stifling heat really well – I could just imagine struggling to sleep in the tiny little room Michele shares with his sister. The writing in general is beautifully taut which suits the story perfectly. I imagine that this came across even more strikingly in the original Italian. The imagery is also superb, with fields, farmhouses and their tiny village all vividly described. Where this book did not work for me was that I could not really care about the characters. The matter-of-fact narrative and spare style put too much distance between myself as the reader and Michele, Maria, their Mama and even Filippo ultimately. For that reason, I finished I’m Not Scared in quite an ambivalent frame of mind about it. I think perhaps this is one of the rare occasions that the film might work better than the book for me because the imagery is so cinematic. One for the Love Film list!

This book did get me thinking about some of the other great stories told by child narrators – To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind immediately. Both Harper Lee and Ammaniti manage to capture a horror in everyday language, describing terrible violence in deceptively gentle ways. I think the juxtaposition of childhood with very adult themes like corruption and kidnap often makes it  much more powerful than had it been narrated from an adult point of view and as such it is a great technique.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Whilst I was on holiday, I read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I must be one of the few people who have never seen the film so I came to the book completely fresh and with no expectations. What I found was a lovely story that warmed the cockles of my heart! To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of my favourite books, and because of that, I have a definite soft spot for novels set in the deep south. The same deceptively gentle storytelling that Harper Lee uses is at work in this book as well, masking some horrifically violent events that happen in the course of the novel. The way Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn Couch’s conversations reveal the story of Idgie and Ruth is a very clever device and I cared about all the characters deeply. I had wanted to get to know Idgie better than this method allows though as for me she is such a central character, and yet remains a bit of an enigma. The other thing I really liked about this book was the recipes at the back. Food and feeding those you love was such a central theme to the book that the recipes feel like the perfect ending. I have yet to try Sipsey’s Fried Green Tomatoes, but I certainly will if I see green tomatoes in the shops! If you are looking for a heart warming easy read with love, food and triumph over adversity, this is the book for you!