Friday, March 27, 2015

february-march 2015 books

More book stuff:
Trouble for Lucia (EF Benson): My sixth, and last, Benson “Mapp+Lucia” book (written in the 1920s and set in Rye). Dominated by the exploits of the ludicrously, self-indulgent snob Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas. As before, lots of wonderful, elegant description of the “arduous” lives of the upper-middle-classes(!). To be honest, although I’ve really enjoyed reading these comic novels, I have to admit that there’s just part of me that’s grateful that I’ve come to the end of the series... time to move on!
From The Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple): Certainly the best book I’ve read this year… and probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. This is a brilliant, insightful, thought-provoking, saddening and illuminating book that follows the Silk Route of ancient Byzantium through the present-day Middle East tracing the 6th century journey of monk, oral historian and traveler, John Moschos. To describe it as a travel book would hardly do it justice; Dalrymple’s closest equivalent might be Bruce Chatwin – he has the same gift for words but additionally, for me, much humour and poignancy mixed in. First published in 1997, the book provides a depressing - but incredibly powerful and articulate - background to the world of today, 18 years on, dominated as it is by religious fundamentalism. At some stage, I might write a blog post focusing on faith and conflict over the centuries… but don’t hold your breath!
Her Privates We (Frederic Manning): Hemingway described this novel as the “finest and noblest book of men in war” he’d ever read. It’s set in the late summer of 1916 in the Somme valley, northern France. Manning himself had served in the Shropshire Light Infantry and took part in the heavy fighting on the Somme at that time. The book was particularly fascinating and poignant for me because my grandfather Frank Walker was also fighting on the Somme at the same time (he was with the Royal Horse Artillery). It’s gruelling, raw and brutally honest. It’s the closest I’ve got to even beginning to understand what it was like to have been there. Frankly, at times, I struggled to read it… but I’m glad I persevered. A superb book.
The Ship (Antonia Honeywell): This is novel starts in London, sometime in the not-too-distant future. Floods and fires have wreaked havoc; food is all tinned or dried – nothing grows, seas no longer support life. Parks have become shanty towns; gangs rule what used to be underground stations; lose your identity card and you lose your life. Mass culling is an official method of limiting the population to suit available food supplies. Climate change, globalisation, financial collapse, totalitarianism. You get the picture… it’s pretty grim (initially, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”)! But one man has a master plan to take 500 carefully-chosen people away from this mess on a large ship – stocked with vast quantities of food, clothing, medical supplies and sterilised water. They even have a cinema, a sports hall, book groups and much more. Life on board is wonderful. But the 16 year-old daughter of the master planner/messiah figure is a rebel. She wants to go back and do something to help all those left behind. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking and disturbing book. At times, I found the synopsis flawed – or at the very least questionable or simplistic (it would make an excellent book group book!). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since finishing it… haunting! I highly recommend the book to you.
Listening For The Heartbeat of God (Philip Newell): I first read this book 15 years ago and have decided to use it as my spiritual-book-for-Lent.  Phillip Newell talks about the experience we have all had at different points in our lives of “missing the moment”. All too often, we are guilty of “looking, but not seeing” or “listening, but not hearing”. Listening for God within the whole of life. It was good to re-read it. It reminded me of some fundamental truths (for me, anyway).

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