chestnut book blog

Read. Recommend. Revel.

Leave a comment

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.  



1 Comment

Christmas Reading Reviews

Over my Christmas holiday (14 blissful days off although a while ago now!) I read quite a few books and I thought I’d share my thoughts on them with you now in a big collective review.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

As you may already know, I’m a bit fan of Gilbert’s style in books like Committed and The First American Man, but this was the first novel of hers that I had read. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was immaculately researched. I can’t say botanics and mosses in particular is something that particular interests me, but Gilbert manages to enthuse me almost against my will! I particularly admired two things about this books; the descriptions of the dinner table discussions and the exploration of the tragic misunderstandings and miscommunications between the heroine, Alma and her sister. The ending is also brilliant, but I won’t say anymore about that in case I spoil it! This is not a perfect book. Aspects of it made me cringe slightly, such as the relationship between Alma and her husband; it felt flawed and false somehow. However, it is an interesting and enjoyable read. It is also one of the most original novels of 2013 because of the research, the spotlight on a female scientist and the many themes it explores. I would definitely recommend you give it a go!

The Emily of New Moon trilogy by L.M Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables series was one of my favourite childhood books. I’m not quite sure how the Emily of New Moon series passed me by when I was smaller, but it did. I put that right this Christmas as I read all three books back to back. It was charming, but it didn’t quite hold the same magic Anne did for me. I’m not quite sure why, because in some ways this series is more accomplished and was the author’s favourite. Perhaps it was just because some of the characters felt like pale copies of my favourites, Marilla, Matthew, Diana and Anne herself.  I also found Emily’s involvement with the much older ‘Jarback’ Priest uncomfortable and some of the attitudes to women felt less progressive than in Anne somehow. All that said though, it was still lovely and no fan of Anne should miss it.

Mary Berry, The Autobiography: Recipe for Life

Mary Berry, Recipe for Life

Mary Berry, Recipe for Life

Oh how I love Mary Berry! Elegant, kind, successful, inspiring and her recipes never fail! This is her autobiography, but it also peppered with her favourite recipes which is perfect. I don’t read autobiographies that much but when I do, I usually really enjoy the insight into someone else’s life. Mary has led a fascinating one. This was a joy to read and I enjoyed getting to know her better. This was probably my favourite book I read over Christmas.

Stoner by John Williams

This book intrigued me. Quite slight and forgotten in the author’s life time, it is now enjoying a renaissance thanks to Ian McEwan’s patronage. It is exceedingly well-written and an accomplished meditation on a disappointed life. In some ways, it was a sad read, but I took hope from the fact that Stoner, despite his failed marriage and career, did once experience true love and intellectual inspiration. I am glad I have read Stoner; it certainly makes you think, but whether I would recommend it to friends?…I am unsure.


Christmas Reading List

I am looking forward to a glorious two whole weeks off over Christmas this year, the first half near London with my in-laws and the second half with my family in Yorkshire. One of the things I’ve been enjoying recently is the building of, and the anticipation of, my Christmas reading list. I fully intend on spending as many hours as I can get away with cuddled up with my books!

Here is what I’m taking with me:

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt and the Goldfinch book cover

Courtesy of

A current sensation. I loved The Secret History, am currently reading The Little Friend and so it seemed rude not to take this with me for Christmas.

2. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was going to wait for this to come out in paperback, but I cracked!

3. Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams

I saw this in Covent Garden Waterstone’s this afternoon whilst browsing on my lunch break and was intrigued. I haven’t heard much about it, but on returning to my desk, I googled it and much praise appeared…I’m even more intrigued!  (Here is one of the articles I read)

4. The Emily of New Moon series by L.M Montgomery

Emily of New Moon

Continuing my recent trip down memory lane, I’m taking a children’s series with me. Somehow, I missed Emily of New Moon whilst I was growing up, but I’m very excited to get acquainted with her soon.

What are you reading this Christmas?