yet more stuff:J B Priestley (Dulcie Gray): This is a short biography of essayist, playwright, novelist, broadcaster and journalist JB Priestley written by actress/writer and long-time friend of Priestley, Dulcie Gray, and published in 2000. Although I’m now a little wiser about the man (but Wikipedia would probably have provided me with a better background), it’s not exactly an academic book – actress Gray focuses, somewhat predictably, on the theatrical (and Priestley’s various mistresses!). What I hadn’t appreciated was that he wrote an article “Britain and the Nuclear Bomb” which sparked off the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Tales From A Long Room (Peter Tinniswood): I came across this when attempting to re-organise some of our bookshelves and, once I’d started to re-read it, just had to finish it. Published in 1981 (when I first read it), it’s a completely irreverent, entirely non-politically-correct and VERY funny (you probably need to like cricket, as it’s full of references that only “old” cricket-lovers would appreciate). The book pretends to be a collection of tales recounted to the author by the “Brigadier” – who “loves fine claret, Vimto, quail in season, barrage balloons, blotting paper, EW Swanson and his sister Gloria”. Glorious!
Ancient Light (John Banville): This is a story, set in 1950s Ireland - when the narrator was a 15 year-old schoolboy - but recounted some 50 years later, about his illicit and steamy meetings with a 35 year-old woman. The narrator recalls this relatively brief episode ten years after the death of his daughter, as he tries to make sense of the boy he was. I found reading it, at times, a strangely uncomfortable experience (not that I had any similar experiences in my own youth, I hasten to add!), but was eventually won over by Banville’s skill as a writer and a story-teller (with some reservations). Like the only other Banville book I’ve read to date, “The Sea”, it’s a book about coming to terms with death, events from his childhood and matters of memory and experiences.
Jill (Philip Larkin): The novel’s set in war-time Oxford of 1940 and recounts a northern boy’s first term at an Oxford college… where he experiences privileged southern life, and snobbery, for the first time. Jill is the name of his imaginary sister who he invents to try to impress his roommate (a well-off, public school-educated, southerner) before he becomes infatuated with a real-life Jill, called Gillian… Larkin wrote the book in 1943, when he was 21 and an undergraduate of St John’s, Oxford. Although Larkin’s experiences of Oxford are hugely different to mine (I didn’t attend an Oxford college, just the school of architecture on Headington Hill, and 27 years after the book’s setting), there were parts of it that reminded me of my own first experiences of Oxford… as a working-class boy from Birmingham (Larkin was born in Coventry) and having the feeling that everyone else seemed to be far more knowledgeable, far more experienced and far more worldly-wise than me. It’s not a classic, but I certainly enjoyed the book – with its evocation of one of my favourite cities and vague memories of my youth!
Searching for God (Cardinal Basil Hume): This is a book, published in 1977, adapted from talks given by Basil Hume to Benedictine monks, when he was Abbot of Ampleforth. It’s a really beautiful, profound and compassionate book and its guiding principles are still relevant for the general reader and monk alike as they were for the members of the monastic community some 50 years ago. The book provides a real sense of Hume as a very spiritual, wise and humble man and, most certainly, as a man of prayer.