Three Books. Three Good Reads

Considering that reading is such an important part of my life, it’s perhaps strange that I rarely blog about books.  Thanks to Sandra, writing from A Corner of Cornwall, I’m going to put that right this week.  She in her turn responds to Sam, at Taking on a World of Words.  Every week, she poses this question:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I can answer that.

I’m reading Benjamin Myers’ The Offing.  I first met this writer  Under the Rock, his poetically written book about his home patch in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, and which simply defies categorisation – autobiography, geology, true crime, edgelands, poetry … it’s all here.

The setting for ‘The Offing’: the coast near Robin Hood’s Bay.

The Offing though, is fiction.  It tells the story of Robert, the sixteen year old son of a Durham coal miner, on the cusp of adulthood, as he foot-slogs slowly southwards just after the Second World War.  His simple hand-to-mouth existence changes when he meets Dulcie, who’s older, eccentric, from a very different world, and who opens her home to him. I won’t tell you more, because you may like to join the long queue of would-be-borrowers at your local library.  Here you will find an involving story, lyrically told, by an author who’s immersed in the sights, scents and images of the northern countryside he knows and loves, and who paints his characters well.

It follows on well from the book I’ve not long finished:  Julian Hoffman’s Irreplaceable.  I was led to this book by Bookish Beck.  It’s her book of the year.  It may be mine too.  Its subject matter is urgent:  the destruction of our planet.  Hoffman visits marshland in Kent that’s been under frequent threat of becoming another London airport.  He visits Indonesian islands whose unique coral habitats have been partially destroyed through mining.  He visits allotments outside London; a Macedonian National Park; Kansas prairie land … and so many more.  Such variety, and all so threatened in different ways.  Some of these stories end well, others badly, and yet others … who knows?  This is though, a call to arms. Hoffman makes it clear that our future lies not only in the hands of ‘experts’, but in indefatigable ordinary people battling for their own communities, their own treasured landscape.  And it’s not simply a battle between Progress and Tradition.  Life is more nuanced than that.  Sometimes, compromises may be needed.  But what kind of compromises?

Now. Why have I chosen a photo of a toucan to accompany my thoughts on Irreplaceable? You’ll have to read the book to find out. (Photo from Nick Karvounis , Unsplash)

Though a fairly long book, this is an accessible one.  The prose is evocative and to be lingered over and savoured.  It’s an excellent, beautiful read as well as an important one.

And the next one to read?  This time, that’s easy.  Book Group is coming up: best get this month’s choice under my belt.  An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones.  If Barak Obama describes it as ‘moving’, one of his favourite summer reads of 2018, that’s good enough for me.  I wonder what Donald Trump’s favourite book is?

Barak Obama – street art in Montmartre (Lubo Minar: Unsplash)

 

Reading, Valencia style

I’m very keen on Valencia’s central library. It’s situated in a wonderful building founded in 1409 as the Hospital for the Poor Innocents. Astonishingly, it was a psychiatric hospital – Europe’s first. The splendid space shown here was for male patients. Females had the same arrangement upstairs. Suitable ceramic panels showing suitable saints still remain.

In 1979, the hospital moved on, and the library moved in. What a place! It was busy with readers choosing books, students writing essays. Malcolm and I sat and read yesterday’s Times.

We looked round the children’s section. We found a good selection of books in other languages, including a large selection in English. There are two reading and philosophy clubs: one for pre-teens, the other for teenagers.

And look at this list of activities. I draw your particular attention to the last one.

As one of the volunteers at Ripon Library – one of hundreds us working throughout the UK to help keep the library services functioning now that Government funding, or lack of it, prevents libraries employing a full complement of professional staff, I was beyond impressed.

The I Spy Book Challenge

I  opened a new post from Bookish Beck‘s book-based blog.  She’d taken up a challenge, which she’d read about  here.  I’m hoping at least one of you may pick it up too and give it a go (I’m looking at you, Sandra...)

The idea is to take the list of twenty themes and find a book on your bookshelves that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example in each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, be as creative as you want and do it within five minutes (or maybe a bit longer if you have too many books on too many overcrowded shelves, and you photograph them on the way).  The original challenge also contains the initials TBR, and it only later occurred to me that of course this means To Be Read.  So I’ve failed at the first hurdle, as I’ve read thirteen of my list.  Tough.

Food: Like Water for Chocolate: Laura Esquivel.  I still haven’t read this.  Put it on the TBR pile.

Transport: Stranger on a Train: Jenny Diski.  Am I going to read this?  You tell me.

Weapon: Where Poppies Blow: John Lewis Stempel  Not a weapon in the title or on the cover.  I think we can agree there were weapons involved in WWI.  This is a wonderful book putting the Great War in an entirely new context.

Animal: A Tiger in the Sand: Mark Cocker.  I love this man’s writing.  So I’ve enjoyed these essays.

Number: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: James Shapiro. Scholarly, readable social history.

Something you read. The Seabird’s Cry: Adam Nicolson.  There’s a reason for choosing this.  My friend Penny gave me this.  My friend Penny introduced me to Becky’s blog.  Perfect. This is a wonderful book: nature writing at its best.

Body of water: Caught by the river.  A good anthology for dipping into.

Product of fire: Rumi, the fire of love: Natal Tajerdod.  TBR.  

Royalty: Prince of the Clouds: Gianni Riolta.  I can’t remember if I’ve read this.  So I guess I haven’t.

Architecture: Invisible Cities: Italo Calvino.  This wasn’t an easy read.  But it was short and stimulating.

An item of clothing: Woman in White: Wilkie Collins.  It’s not an item of clothing.  But it is clothing.  And in my case, another TBR classic.

Family member: Daughter of Fortune: Isabel Allende.  How come I haven’t read this yet?

Time of day: How to stop time: Matt Haig.  A weird (in a good way!) and original time-travelling yarn.

Music: Music and Silence: Rose Tremain. I haven’t read this for years.  I know I enjoyed it.

Paranormal being: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams.  What would I have come up with if I hadn’t found this book that Tom must have left behind, all those years ago?  We used to listen on the radio together.

Occupation: The Shepherd’s Life: James Rebanks. A shepherd from a family whose occupation it’s been for generations.  This shepherd has been to Oxford.  He works for UNESCO. A realistic and illuminating  look at the realities of rural life in Cumbria.

Season: Hawthorn Time: Melissa Harrison.  A good story, with believable characters, with the countryside coming in at top spot.

Colour: The Red Notebook: Antoine Laurain.  A vairy Frainch little mystery.

Celestial body: Paradise: Toni Morrison.  An eloquent, poetic though quite difficult book, read a long time ago now.

Something that grows: The Tulip: Anna Pavord.  Though not a tulip fan, I like Anna Pavord’s writing.  Fascinating stuff.