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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The Scottish Play

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…

Inside The Globe

Inside The Globe

Yesterday, we went to see a new version of Macbeth at The Globe. Since studying Macbeth both in primary and secondary school, it is one of my most loved of his plays. As a tragic hero, I think Macbeth is one of the most sympathetic. Ambition is an understandable fatal flaw. Hamlet’s indecisiveness, King Lear’s blindness, Othello’s jealousy are all on some level incredibly frustrating whereas Macbeth’s ambition could be a wonderful thing, until it becomes ‘vaulting ambition, which o’er leaps itself’ as he says himself. Credit to him for self-awareness!

Macbeth’s soliloquy towards the end of the play after (*spolier alert!) Lady Macbeth has died is etched  into my memory after committing it there for an exam.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

It is hard to think of a more despairing but beautiful speech. I always thought that this reaction to Lady Macbeth’s death was strangely muted, but perhaps the more tragic for it. It seems Macbeth knows there is no hope for him and, without her, feels it doesn’t matter anyway, as life is an illusion that signifies nothing.  This speech is also a dose of healthy scepticism about theatre as well, if life is just a poor player that signifies nothing as well. At the end of his career when he wrote Macbeth, does this say that Shakespeare tiring of theatre? I can’t agree that theatre signifies nothing. I think it is an important mechanism for culture, art, release, social and political commentary and entertainment. However,  does it have a tendency to take itself a little too seriously? Yes, sometimes, and I love Shakespeare all the more for his commentary on his own profession.

Every time I see Shakespeare, I marvel at his continuing relevance and beautiful words. His deep knowledge of what makes human beings tick, despite writing four hundred years ago, knocks me for six every time.

Macbeth Programme August 2013

Macbeth Programme August 2013

Shakespeare trip

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After a few months of pledging to get to know Shakespeare better, I decided it was time to visit Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time. So, despite the torrential rain, we took a few days off work and headed up the M40.

Here are some of the places we visited:

Shakespeare's birthplace

Shakespeare’s birthplace


Ann Hathaway's cottage

Ann Hathaway’s cottage

The highlight of the trip was a wonderful version of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the RSC. I have to admit that I don’t usually find Shakespeare’s comedies very funny (a bad experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at school is perhaps responsible!), however this was hilarious and just the tonic after a challenging few weeks at work. It really was a very good adaption; the casting was superb and we had a fantastic night! As we walked back to our hotel, we discussed that, even though it is not one of the traditional great Shakespeare plays, it is so endearingly warm and witty and it deserves more recognition for its sheer timelessness. It, just like Fearny did, showed me that humans really haven’t changed very much in the last four hundred years, which I find comforting! The behaviour, relationships and jokes were all recognisable. I also thought the production worked really well in modern dress – I had a little titter to myself when Mistress Page walked on complete in Boden skirt, Mulberry-esque handbag and a take-away coffee!  Middle-class stereotypes abounded! If you are in Stratford-upon-Avon between now and January, I’d really recommend a trip for a lovely evening full of laughter.

Richard III

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Did you see that archaeologists may have found the bones of Richard III today? The church he was buried in was destroyed in the 1530s; a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries. More recently, that site has been a Leicester city car park. It seems a sad place for such a figure, good king or otherwise, to be forgotten, and so I am delighted that they might have found him.Only DNA matching from his descendants will prove it for definite, but signs on these remains, such as curvature of the spine and a violent death, all tally with what we know of Richard III.

Richard was the last king of the House of York, which is near where I was born, so maybe it is in my bones to be supportive of a proper burial! I have been to his castle at Middleham many times. It is a very special place and I think it says a lot about the man that this was his favourite castle. It is now just ruins, but it must have been grand, wild, secure and forbidding in its day. I actually find it a very peaceful place so I hope that is what he found there and why he liked it, because he lived and died in great trauma.

It is  because of this discovery that I have decided to read Richard III as the September installment of my Shakespeare Challenge – if you remember I had challenged myself to read one Shakespeare play (that I have not read before) a month until I have completed them all. The particularly big hole in my knowledge is the history plays, as my studies were dominated by the tragedies, so I will start there.  I will report back shortly on my impressions and thoughts, for what they are worth! In the meantime, if you are interested, the Richard III Society website is an excellent resource for more information on Richard III.

Closing Ceremony London 2012

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“Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises” Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Wow! The Closing Ceremony for London 2012 was incredible. I am so glad I managed to stay up until the bitter end, despite being a little fatigued today! I am hard pressed to identify my favourite bit, but there were several real highlights. Early on, I loved the juxtaposition of the Union Jack stage with the word ‘Freedom’ ricocheting around the stadium. It reminded me that, although our past and present are by no means perfect, Great Britain really does offer a free way of life which I am very grateful for and we should be proud of. The pixel screens at the spectator seats really were inspired Danny Boyle and throughout the programme they dazzled me. I also really enjoyed the 3D jigsaw of John Lennon’s face, projection of Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox, the London Taxis, Eric Idle and Take That. Some of the artists were less stunning and I never really see a need for Russell Brand, but those are minor gripes in a show that overall was my slight preference to the Opening Ceremony (which I also thought was amazing, but a bit disjointed after the forging of the rings) – I felt it flowed better. A special mention has to go to the Royal Ballet and Darcey Bussell. I have always loved watching ballet, but last night they were magical. It was also a perfect choice in terms of physicality and athleticism. The performance to modern music, the phoenix imagery, the beautiful movements and the fabulous costumes were a perfect part of the finale.

Shakespeare Season 2012


Shakespeare unlocked


Have you watched or listened to any of the Shakespeare season on the BBC this month?  I have had a long and intimate relationship with some of Shakespeare’s work: Macbeth, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anthony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. However, there are huge gaps in my knowledge, not least King Lear and Henry IV part 1 and 2. As I am in my late twenties and consider myself well-read these oversights are somewhat embarrassing. Therefore, to correct this grievous wrong, I will be setting myself a challenge this year to read one new Shakespeare play each month for the rest of the year. I am also going to go to Stratford upon Avon to get to know the Bard better. So stay tuned for more on Shakespeare and undoubtably what I will learn about myself in the process.