Books are often the first casualty of an enthusiastic declutter or downsize so taking a few minutes to go through our shelves we each chose a book or books we would never part with; here are the results …
The Bible & The Puffin Book of Magic Verse
There are two books I would never throw away. The first is a bit Desert Island Discs – despite not having set foot in a church or picked the book up for a long time it has to be The Bible. The second is a book I bought when I was ten. I think I dragged it along to a few Book Club meetings. ‘The Puffin Book of Magic Verse’ chosen by Charles Causley. The introduction says ‘All poetry is magic. Charles Causley’s far- ranging anthology includes not only incantations and curses, and poems about elves, changelings , wizards, ghosts and mermaids, but it also introduces poems on the mystery and the magic of the natural world and everyday life.’ The selection includes a poem from Cherokee Indians – A Spell to Destroy Life that I couldn’t even bear to touch the page of, let alone read when I was ten- to Shakespeare, Blake, Bronte, Yeats , Frost, Hardy etc.
The pages are brown with age, the pages have all come away from the binding, but the book still captures me with its magic.
Possession by A S Byatt
The book that immediately came to mind for me was A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION. It’s many years since I read it – in fact probably when it first came out in paperback in 1991. But the power of the excitement I got caught up in so early in the book has stayed with me. I was so excited myself by the discovery of the letters and can still feel the awe of how amazing it would be to make an academic discovery like that which would have a huge impact on current understanding and to possess the knowledge alone in that first instance. Then there is the interconnectedness of the old and new love stories, the nature of possession – whether it be a lover or an academic discovery. I should re-read it!
A Grief Observed – C S Lewis
This may surprise those who think of CSL for “The Narnia Chronicles” or “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe” or less commonly his works on theological topics. Lewis found love late in life with Joy Davidman whom he married at the age of 57/58, 17 years his junior, almost immediately after they met she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They married in a civil ceremony in 1957 but in in 1958 they entered into a Christian marriage celebrated at her hospital bedside. She died in 1960. This book is a profound reflection on the grief which ensued.
The Plague – Albert Camus & Revolution in the Head – Ian MacDonald
It feels a bit pretentious choosing a Nobel Laureate but it was an A level text which has remained with me long after studying it, with my handwritten notes from another era.
The second book is a definitive guide to every song The Beatles ever wrote plus a bit of cultural commentary on the Sixties and their place in history. All very niche but a great antidote to today’s marketing-led music. There is a wonderful chronology in the back under four headings – The Beatles, UK Pop, Current Affairs and Culture. Can’t throw it away as, believe it or not, I still refer to it from time to time not just about The Beatles but also for the glossary (Doo-wop anyone?)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
My most precious book is ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain. Published in 1933, it is a powerful autobiographical account of the brutality of World War I, and its pointless waste of human life.
Aged just twenty when the war started, Vera lost, one by one, her fiancé, beloved brother, and two closest men friends. Other friends returned, maimed. Vera Brittain wished this book to be a lasting memorial to them, and to the futility of war.
Vera’s story is also an inspiring portrayal of feminism in action. Before the war, she struggled against her parents’ opposition to win her place at Oxford – a rare achievement for a woman at that time. Then, as war dragged on, Vera reacted with passion to the events which shattered her life and the lives of those she loved most. In the midst of her grief, she decided that in order to honour those young men who had given their lives, she too must not flinch from playing her full part; and so she gave up her Oxford studies (to which she later returned), and became an auxiliary nurse, caring for the wounded and dying in the carnage of Northern France. Her experiences turned her into a lifelong pacifist writer and speaker.
When she died in 1970, according to her wishes her ashes were scattered over the grave of her brother in Italy, by her daughter Shirley Williams.
This book reminds us not only of the horror of war, but also of the nobility, courage and idealism of the human spirit at its best – and that is why I love it so much.
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace – Kate Summerscale
The book’s main interest lies in the fascinating historical record of a real woman’s travails in the mid 19th century. Mrs Robinson’s real live divorce in 1858 – just after English law relaxed the rules on divorce and took it out of the church’s control – was tilted in her husband’s favour. The only spurious evidence of adultery came from her diary – which, written by a very intellectual, imaginative person represented her desires, rather than fact! Was she suffering from mental instability?
And finally a miscellany of treasured books
Choosing books I would never part with proved more of a challenge than at first realised. Books one loved in childhood and early teens included, I suspect for many of us, Louisa May Alcott’s enduring classics Little Women and Good Wives. Funnily they didn’t seem at all old fashioned at the time of first reading as the characters had so much robust vitality and each of the four sisters was so acutely described. I also loved and still sometimes re-read a book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, published in 1943 and a best seller for many years after, about a dreamy bookish girl from a struggling immigrant family and the character of New York in the early years of the 20th century. Also I relish two short story collections by women writers, The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy and Doris Lessing’s A Man and Two Women.
Is there any book you couldn’t bear to part with ? If so, please let us know in the Comments section.