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  • Writer's pictureHelen

What are you reading?


 

Friends who talk about what they’re reading are particularly welcome in our house! And if they want to know what we’ve been reading – that’s a bonus! A  long-time word-loving friend whom I haven’t seen for years visited this week, ‘I’m not leaving till you tell me what you’re reading,’ she said. Luckily, I keep a list of books I’ve been reading (if I don’t, sometimes I forget what I have read!) As you tell someone else about it, you realise what really matters so much to you that you spend hours with your nose in a book about it. The conversation this week offered me no surprises really: novels, biography, history, theology, writing... same old, same old!

 

Of course, it’s not always the subject matter but the approach. The older I get the more I want to read books by wordsmiths: people who can mine everyday human experience and come up with words to describe authentic experiences. Words to evoke experiences which I may have had but may not be unable to articulate or which I haven’t had but they offer an insight into a new world. In that category I recommended a book I read a few years ago - Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘Hamnet’  an imaginary first-person description of the experience of Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes (alternative to Anne Hathaway) in the death of her son. As an evocation of the complex experience of motherhood, I don’t think I’ve read anything better. (This year I was disappointed by O’Farrell’s latest The Marriage Portrait)

 

Earlier this year another historical novel wasn’t a pleasant read but gave me an insight into really difficult topics about which I have little or no personal knowledge. The novel, Days without End by Sebastian Barry is written from the standpoint of an Irishman who lost his family and went alone to North America to get away from the potato famine of the mid 19th century and eventually enlisted as a soldier in the Indian Wars and the American Civil War. The evocation from the inside of a consciousness that manages to maintain simple humanity and love in the face of the extreme inhumanity of impersonality and isolation, famine and war, racism and violence and prejudice was profound.

 

A different and authentic consciousness came through this spring in actor Richard E. Grant’s account of his 40-year relationship to his wife Joan Washington, the accent and dialect coach to the stars, and her death from cancer. The book is called ‘A Pocketful of Happiness’. At first I thought I would have to put it aside as too heart-wrenching but I was glad I persevered. The warts and all account of what sounds like a long and authentic marriage is an emotional roller-coaster but I ended up with a ‘pocketful of happiness’ that such a relationship can maintained to the end in the heart of the artificial world of show-biz.

 

I’ve never read a Stephen King novel but I did read his fascinating semi-autobiographical book ‘On Writing’ written while he was recovering from a near-fatal road accident. My friend had read his novels and recommended some! I’ve also returned to Elizabeth Strout to read I am Lucy Barton and O William. Hilary Mantel(another favourite, of course!) said it all when she referred to Elizabeth Strout’s ‘attention to reality as so exact that it goes beyond a skill and becomes a virtue’.

 

There are more but our word limit approaches! What have you, our readers, been reading? All recommendations gratefully received!



The picture shows an excerpt from Days Without End

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Elliott
Elizabeth Elliott
Jun 30

Best reads of 2023 for me were: Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey (his spiritual autobiography), Love Wins by Rob Bell (very thought-provoking), Demon Copperfield by Barbara Kingsolver (is she even capable of writing a bad book?), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (loved, loved, loved this one - incredibly moving) and All the LIght we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (beautiful, evocative writing). Good reads so far this year have included: House of Music by Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason (an account of how the talents of the amazing Kanneh-Mason family were honed), A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (gripping) and A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (engagingly written study of short story writing…

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Mike and Helen
Jun 30
Replying to

Thanks for these Elizabeth…good to hear your input which includes some old friends…the one we haven’t read but heard a lot about is All the Light we Cannot see…With Rory Stewart you have a (rather depressing!) treat in store..Love the Kanneh Masons so that, Towles, Saunders and maybe Grossman are ones to look out for…

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valerie.weedon
Jun 30

I love this blog! I too have started keeping a record of what I have read so I don’t forget I have already read it. We saw Hamnet on stage but enjoyed the book more and I agree the follow up was a little disappointing. Interestingly I have just taken a Sebastian Barry out of the library - The Secret Scripture’. A new author for me so we shall see… At present I am reading ‘The Gift of Stillness - Iona Pilgrim Ways’ by Rosemary Power in preparation for trip to Iona next year ( missing Greenbelt to join the group). Also ‘ Bright kids who can’t keep up’ due to a granddaughter’s recent diagnosis of slow language processing .…

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Mike and Helen
Jun 30
Replying to

Thanks Val…impressed that you’re organised so far ahead😇. … A friend gave me Secret Scripture and first time round I gave up…tried again and persevered and loved it..

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colin.weedon
Jun 29

Well, I was reading “the corner of fourth and non dual” by Cynthia Bourgeault but I gave up. (Extremely rare for me .. I usually persevere). It is one of a series called My Theology and the (very short) volumes by Keith Ward, Alister McGrath and Malcolm Guite were all good …. But this one I found impenetrable. So now I’m reading The White Queen by Philippa Gregory which is surprisingly absorbing (I picked up all six volumes of the Cousins War series in a bargain offer so couldn’t refuse). Then I’m revisiting Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy which turns out (with prequels and sequels) to be 7 books no less ! In parallel I’m just about to restart The Dummy’…

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Mike and Helen
Jun 29
Replying to

Wow Colin! Thanks for this…just the sort of response I was hoping for…That theology series sounds good. We both liked Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Wisdom Jesus…but agree, she’s not easy. Love Malcolm Guite and read him most weeks in the Church Times. My theology at the mo is A Feminist Companion to the Gospel of Mark - a book of essays edited by Amy-Jo Levine, a Jewish New Testament specialist….so many serious insights…..I went through a Philippa Gregory phase…maybe need to revisit! Isaac Asimov and SLR photography above my pay grade!!! Thanks so much again…keep ‘em coming!

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