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.

 

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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?


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My life in books

I caught an old episode of ‘My life in books’ this lunchtime and it got me thinking about which books I would choose. I believe the format is two childhood books, one formative book, one adult book and one guilty pleasure: five books in total. Phew, it is a hard task to narrow down all those books I love but here goes:

1. My first childhood book is Matilda by Roald Dahl

2. My second childhood book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

3. My formative book is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

4. My adult book is Atonement by Ian McEwan

5. My guilty pleasure is Katherine by Anya Seaton

The first book from my childhood was the most difficult of this whole list to choose . I have so many happy memories of fairy stories, Enid Blyton, C.S Lewis, Nancy Drew, Mrs Pepperpot, Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, Little WomenThe Borrowers etc that I read, and had read to me, in my early childhood. I choose Matilda in the end as it was one of my favourite books when I was very young. I think Roald Dahl mixes the humour and the darker side of childhood better than anyone. Matilda trotting off to the library to read appealed to me as a bookish child and Miss Trunchbull has to be one of the best literary villains of all time.

Jane Eyre was the first classic ‘grown up’ book that I read aged 10 or 11. I remember being precociously proud that I was reading Jane Eyre whilst my friends still grappled with The Famous Five. At last, I had found something I was really good at: reading! Since then, I have reread Jane Eyre many times for pleasure and more recently for one of my early MA essays. It contains one of my favourite quotes from any book: ‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will…’ Ever since that has helped me remember that I am free to choose, which I do need reminding of sometimes!

The Handmaid’s Tale is a strong contender for my favourite book ever. I was 15 or 16 when I read this for this first time and I vividly remember reading the last sentence, looking up from my chair and feeling like my understanding of the world has profoundly changed. It literally blew me away. Since then, like with Jane Eyre, I have reread it many times for pleasure; studied it for A Level English Literature and chosen to use it for my MA dissertation. I think it is one of the most important books of the twentieth century and I am sure it will stand the test of time.

I have chosen Atonement by Ian McEwan as another for my list. This is again a rare book which fundamentally changed my outlook on life. I was haunted by it after I’d finished for weeks and thought the twist at the end was one of the most clever things I’d ever read.

Finally, my guilty pleasure is Katherine by Anya Seaton. This is one of my favourite books and I am blushing as I type this as I know it is somewhat uncool. I am a complete sucker for a good historical romance and Katherine is one of the best. The research Anya Seaton had done shines through and Katherine emerges as a real, believable woman, very much of her time, but someone who made her own independent choices (see Jane Eyre quote above to know that is important to me!) I recently had to buy a new copy as my original – given to me by my Grandma – was falling apart I had read it so much!

What would your list contain?

Autumn reading!

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I’ve had a wonderful Paralympic week, culminating in a session at the Athletics last night. It was absolutely awe-inspiring – the achievements of these athletes come across even more poignantly in person than on television. I had to bite back a  lump in my throat several times. The noise and colour of the stadium was also overwhelming – my pictures can’t really tell one thousand words here but give just a flavour of the magic:

Paralympic Athletics 3rd September 2012

Paralympic Athletics 3rd September 2012

Olympic Stadium 3rd September 2012

Olympic Stadium 3rd September 2012

So I’ve been waving my Union Jack frantically over the last week rather than writing my blog. However, I settled down on Saturday with The Telegraph’s Review supplement (all reviews here) because there was a rather tempting special on the literary treats that Autumn has in store! So far, I’ve added Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Zadie Smith’s NW, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Restoration and Merivel: A man of his time by Rose Tremain and Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford to my must-read list.

When I’ve not been at the Paralympics, I’ve been glued to Parade’s End on BBC2. I’ve never read or really noticed Ford Maddox Ford before, but I am enjoying this adaption so much. I also watched the documentary about Ford after the first episode. I would recommend it highly as it helped set the context of the novel for me. I really love the fact that Christopher, the hero, is such a man of principle. Honour is a quality often lacking in real life I think and I like reading about it. The documentary explained that in reality, Ford was a rather unscrupulous character and so he wrote Christopher as the man he rather wished to be. I think if I were ever to try to write something, I would also create a character who was everything I wished to be. It would be interesting to explore the consequences of that!