Posts Tagged ‘books’

A few months ago my book pile was at the point of toppling over. Now it needs replenishing. (Nothing like browsing and buying books to reenergise the soul). A sense of achievement reigns over and I can look back and consider what I’ve read. Most were good; a couple excellent and there were a couple I could have done without. The latter were both psychological thrillers which, I’ve decided, are categorically not my preferred genre but were benignly recommended so I felt obliged to stick them out. I appreciate the plots are well thought through but in my humble opinion this over compensates for a lack of decent writing. Clunky descriptions, far too many adjectives, over sensational endings to each short chapter create a cartoon strip narrative without the distraction or excitement of comic book pictures. Suffice it to say, both titles were on the best seller list for ages so I accept I’m in a minority. (Nothing new there, then).

Here are three I’ve really, really enjoyed. I’d award each of them 📚📚📚📚📚 in my own book rating system.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar
The childhood memoir of BBC Wildlife presenter, Chris Packham describes in vivid detail his early encounters and the obsession he has continued to have with the natural world. Chris, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 44 also details his excruciating school days, of not fitting in and how, at the age of 14, he took solace from the confusing world of people and escaped by hand rearing a baby kestrel. This obsessive association would affect the rest of his life, with almost devastating consequences. Packham’s prose sings off the pages. It is typically intense, brilliant and raw; in turns hilariously funny and desperately sad. It is both brave and honest. Whether he wrote this as an intentional cathartic experience or not, he gives the reader an insight into the extraordinary world of the autistic brain. Even though there are parts that make for uncomfortable reading, I loved every word.
Since I read his book, a documentary about Chris, “Asperger’s and me” has aired on the BBC. He is patron of the National Autistic Society and has raised awareness of this debilitating condition and its associated daily struggles in this completely frank glimpse into his personal life. Seeing him as himself instead of the presenter we all think we know was a sobering experience. It made me love him all the more, realising just how much effort he has to put into his working life when he’d much rather be walking his dog in the woods.

 

Walking Home 
Poet Simon Armitage attempts the Pennine Way in reverse; that is, walking from Scotland to his home town of Marsden in Yorkshire. Aficionados of this route travel from south to north so that the prevailing winds are following them. Armitage undertakes to complete the walk in a fortnight, taking no money with him, pledging to earn his keep en route by giving poetry readings.

His lugubrious progress, dogged by awful weather and slowed by folks who join him for parts of the route, is single-mindedly determined. There is no doubting that the 270 miles over tough terrain is a hard slog and then to spend his evening reading poetry to an assembled throng in return for his bed and board is often the last thing he wants to do but he relates his journey in a light, darkly humorous tone, which makes for easy reading.

 

The Optician of Lampedusa
A true story of an ordinary couple from a small island in the Mediterranean who get caught up in an international tragedy and how the repercussions of this affects the rest of their lives. Told in stark prose by award winning journalist Emma Kirby, the opening chapter with its description of six friends embarking on a much relished fishing trip and what they come across will stay with the reader long after the completion of the book. Originally attracted to what they assume is the sound of excited seagulls, the full horror unfolds as the fishermen draw closer to discover hundreds of terrified people threshing about in the water after the vessel which had promised to transport them to the safety of Europe capsizes. As the friends call the coastguards they desperately try to rescue as many men, women and children as they can but realise their attempts are futile; the coast guards are slow to arrive. The people they left behind will haunt them forever. The Optician of Lampedusa is not an easy read by any means but it is an  essential one.

Are there any books that you’ve read lately that you would award 📚📚📚📚📚? I need to go on a book binge.

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Hello 2016! Over half way through January and already I‘m writing the sixteen part of the date with consummate confidence – no slipping back into last year for me. Yet what have I done so far? Nothing but feel lackadaisical, that’s what. Everything is an effort. Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having that assists my sluggishness – particularly in the writing department. However, thankfully I don’t think I’m alone. Several blog posts I have read lately seem to be complaining of similar afflictions. So I’ll heave myself out of my malaise and share my recently read titles and my new book pile, purchased delightedly with Christmas money gifted specifically for that purpose.

I started the Christmas break (it seems so long ago now), by reading the book club choice – “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?by Jeanette Winterson. This sorry autobiographical tale details her early life with a monster of an adoptive mother and how, against all odds and between bouts of being locked in the coal cellar she collected a forbidden library of books, taught herself literature and wound up at Oxford University before embarking on a career as a writer and journalist while seeking her biological mother. The title refers to a comment the adoptive mother made to Jeanette when she discovered her having a relationship with a woman.

This was an interesting read if only for the fact that she and I are of similar age and my own childhood was in complete contrast to hers. While I was riding my Raleigh bike with its Sturmey-Archer gears carefree through the leafy lanes of Surrey she had run away from home ‘up north’ and was living in the back of an abandoned mini car, wondering from where her next meal was coming. I won’t reveal the outcome of her search in case anyone chooses to take this on. To sum up – it’s a quick read but not an easy one.

Next up was “A Spool Of Blue Thread” by Ann Tyler, recommended by Lisa. I had only read Ann Tyler once before and hadn’t particularly enjoyed her so this was started with some apprehension. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this family saga spanning three generations. We start and end with Denny, the black sheep of the family and Tyler’s writing is pacy, winding us through various time frames and familial relationships using mainly dialogue. Her characterisations and her descriptions of place create a vivid visual picture. It’s a very clever story and well deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.

After seeing the film “The Lady in the Van” I just had to read Alan Bennett’s book to find out if the film was completely true. Both the film and the book are enchantingly British, very funny and well worth a watch or a read – preferably both. I’m not saying any more than that lest I spoil it for you!

Having enjoyed the above title so much I decided to revisit and indulge in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.” This is a compilation of the series of monologues he wrote to be performed both at the theatre and on BBC television. They hark back to the early eighties but lose none of their wit and poignancy over thirty years later. I‘ve read these more times than I probably care to remember but each time I find a new gem of an observation or turn of phrase that has me laughing out loud. The book I have lists the name of the actor who originally performed each one and the cast list reads like a night at the BAFTA’s. I find these monologues highly inspiring and am hoping that by reading them again now will send a jolt of creativity across my stagnant bows.

So…that’s what I have been reading and this is what my new book pile looks like:

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Having looked at Pauline’s new year list recently, I’ve pre-ordered two titles from hers – “The Forgetting Time” by Sharon Guskin and “The Reader on the 6.27” by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent. Neither title is available in the UK till later in the year so I’ll have a lovely surprise when either turns up on the doormat.

So many books…so little time. I keep the ones I might conceivably read again – the others I pass on, not minding if they are lost to me forever. Rather that than lend a precious title to a friend who returns it in appalling condition. This happened once, which inspired this 300 flash fiction. I haven’t lent anything to her since…

LENDING

As she adjusted the vertical blinds at the far end to stop sunlight streaming through the window and discolouring the books Margaret noticed with distaste that Ms Elizabeth Rivers was in again.  Only last week she had said to young David (work placement, not permanent staff); she had said to him, she said, that she would rather never lend Ms Rivers a book again.

While she tidied her pristine work area and wiped her computer screen with a vanilla scented wet-wipe, Margaret kept a disdainful eye on Ms Rivers rummaging through the shelves, opening a book, reading a page, turning it over, reading the back cover synopsis, ramming it back on the shelf, repeating the process with another title. The state her last selection had come back in had been a disgrace – corners bent over, unidentifiable smears on covers and, worse still, remnants of what looked like blueberry muffin squashed between the pages of “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”

David arrived from the kitchenette with yet another mug of coffee which he placed with exaggerated care onto a cork mat next to his keyboard. He looked at Margaret somewhat defiantly she thought, and nodded in the direction of Ms Rivers, who by now had chosen two titles and was looking for her third. Margaret turned her attention to Mr Dawkins, another regular who had an insatiable interest in Military History, and who treated the books he borrowed as if they were precious relics. Swiping his card with a flourish, Margaret heard David dealing with Ms Rivers who was remonstrating loudly.

“I’m sorry, Ms Rivers” she heard David say, “Your card appears to have been withdrawn.”

Margaret, head down, busied herself by straightening a pile of leaflets.

oooooooOOO~OOOooooooo

 

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Reading. Books: several of them. I’ve been wallowing in my book pile and, prompted and inspired by my blogging chum Pauline from way down under who listed the titles nestling on her bedside table, here’s a little resume of what’s been distracting me the past few weeks.

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First up is The Children Act by Ian McEwan. This was a book group choice. Nice and brief and classic McEwan. You either love or loathe him and as I’ve read a fair few of his works I guess I fall into the former category. A friend who struggles with him thinks he’s pompous which I can understand as he’s quite wordy and very British but his characterisations are spot on and often humorous. The Children Act introduces us to Fiona, a high court judge who specialises in family law. She is faced with a case involving a seventeen year old boy suffering from leukaemia who is refusing a blood transfusion to save his life because of his and his parents’ religious beliefs.

Fiona, who is highly regarded amongst her peers and for whom home and work life has to this point been straight forward is thrown by the vulnerability of this boy’s situation which then begins to reflect the disharmony in her personal life.

I read this book quickly, bounding towards the unexpected ending so typical of McEwan’s work. Definitely worth a read.

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Next was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This book had very mixed reviews which I trawled through after I’d finished reading the novel. Set in 17th century Amsterdam I thought the author evoked the darkness and damp of a major European trading city very well. The story revolves around young Petronella who is recently married to an older, well heeled Merchant who spends much of his life at sea. He presents Nella with a doll’s house replica of their home and she begins to furnish it with miniatures created by the mysterious Miniaturist. Strange co-incidences begin to occur between events in Nella’s life and the items delivered by the Miniaturist. It’s as if the pieces are for-warning her of subsequent tragedies. This is not a happy tale, there are several despicable characters here but this all adds to the darkness and gloom. The descriptions of place are excellent and the historical facts surrounding the trading laws at this time interesting.

The main criticism I read afterwards was that the ending didn’t tie things up but in my view, that was the point. I made my own mind up about the character of the Miniaturist (who, incidentally, we never meet) and I recommend that if you read this novel you take that approach too!

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Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj was a title we nearly chose as a book group read but it was considered too long for the time we had which was a shame because I think it would have provided us with a good debate. Essentially the book deals with how the Israel-Palestine conflict affects ordinary people. The story is presented from two points of view – those of Salim – a Palestinian and Judith who is Jewish. They meet in London in the 60’s and we track them through their life together, the familial conflicts they encounter and the heart rending decisions they are forced to make when their cultures collide. It’s an ambitious task for a first novel and I found some of the subsidiary characters unbelievable which weakened the plot slightly but that said, I enjoyed the read and although the ending was predictable my attention was held till the last page.

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I’m just about to finish Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. His writing is beautiful, very wordy which slows the pace but that works well in this story of a small town Irish woman, recently bereaved, and how her life is changed. She has to become independent, find a job, sell the family’s summer house and manage her children. To be honest, not much happens but the relationships between Nora and her family and the new friends she makes through her love of singing are completely believable. The dialogue is written so that the gentle Irish lilt comes through – very clever.

Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn has recently been adapted and released as a film starring Julie Walters. I think we’ll be in for a treat.

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And lastly – I must share with you the reading material being delivered to our eleven year olds in the run up to Christmas. One of my favourite modern tales, Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce can be enjoyed on so many levels. The class teacher and I are already drawing short straws for which one of us has to read out the ending. (It’s a tear jerker). The story deals with so many issues – happiness, bereavement, greed, friendships and is told through the voice of young Damian who has an odd but endearing penchant for Saints. In his quest to be ‘excellent’ he collects them while practising mortification. There are some laugh-out-loud passages (at least for the grownups in the room) and the story provides the opportunity for plenty of class discussion. Prior to beginning reading, the students were asked if we could ever care for a fictional character. One little girl answered that there would be no point in reading a book if we didn’t. She nailed it for me.

And with that in mind as well as the previous mention of the wonderful Julie Walters, here she is as one of my favourite characters of all time.

Who’s your favourite fictional character?

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You’d be forgiven for imagining that the bookshop experience put me off reading for life but some things are so far entrenched as to be unthinkable. In fact, the thought once crossed my fifteen-year-old mind to rescue countless titles from the grasp of those two hideous old witches and re-house them on some friendly shelves where they would be loved and appreciated.

I used never to throw or give books away: I let them accumulate – from Enid Blyton to the Metaphysical Poets I hoarded books of all varieties for years, rearranging them often and repeating the dusting ritual begun at Crooks Books.

I tend not to amass many these days – I pass them on to friends and colleagues, the charity bookshop or simply leave them on a train or plane. Only books that I may conceivably read again remain, on a small shelf in my kitchen.

I belong to a small book group. We get together every six weeks or so, in a different pub each time (who knew there were so many within a few miles of home) and we take turns in choosing a title to read to discuss at our next meeting. We’re very informal but it provides a challenge to read something that perhaps I wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. However, I make sure that I also have a title of my choice on hand to read straight after finishing the group one.

So what is my preferred reading material? How do I go about choosing a book? I’m not sure I’d know how to classify my choice given that I don’t go for Sci-Fi or Fantasy, Chick-Lit or Aga Sagas, Thrillers or Historical Fiction. I’m not partial to Mystery, Romance or Crime, either. Is there anything left? Most definitely. I’m never short of reading material – sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed at the height of my reading pile – so how do I choose?

I start off by having a good mooch around a decent bookshop. I have to say that a large Waterstones is perfectly adequate. I even have a loyalty card which accrues points and every so often – yippee – I have enough for a ‘free’ book.

I’m drawn to a beautiful cover, obviously. Good design coupled with a tactile matt finish can set me reaching for my credit card without even turning a page. I’m kidding, of course. Once seduced by the visuals I check out the title – anything slightly odd, quirky or off-beat ensures that I turn to the first page to examine the writing style.  Then, if I’m suitably gripped, I’ll turn to a random page halfway through. This is usually enough to help me decide whether to part with my cash. I used to always read the last page too – happily I’ve trained myself not to do this now. (Nevertheless, I do like last lines of novels and often remember them which is probably why, when I write a story myself, I work out the ending and write to that).

It is with caution that I recommend books – I’m happy to divulge an enjoyed read and then discuss it but I don’t like to provide a resume or write an appreciation or otherwise – I’ll leave that to the reviewers. Now, this might sound mad but I only ever read reviews once I’ve read the book because I like to make up my own mind about what I read and then find out what the literati might think. I have a few favourite authors I seek out and I like to read debut novels, as long as they fit my other criteria. I’m always interested in what friends and colleagues read and why they’ve liked the book or not although it won’t necessarily sway me to follow suit.

 If you’re curious, here are a few books that I’ve read and enjoyed in the last few months although I wouldn’t dream of presuming that you might enjoy them too.

We’re All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibin

The Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

City of Women by David Gillham

And here are a few that I’ve loathed:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I’m currently reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (the jury’s still out but it’s looking promising) and on my reading pile is H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (lovely cover) and The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

So, in the week that news has filtered through of Harper Lee’s ‘lost’ manuscript (should that be Hype-r Lee?) I’m wondering what’s on your bookshelf and how you decided it should be there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, having decided at fifteen that I really wasn’t cut out for baby-sitting I scouted around for another way to earn money.  As luck or not would have it, I discovered via our Parish Magazine that a Saturday boy/girl was required at a book shop in our nearest small town, accessible by an ancient and not wholly reliable hourly bus service.

A bookshop! I’d be in seventh heaven. I phoned them up, secured an interview and went on the bus to meet the owner. Crooks Books, as I shall from this point refer to the establishment, took up half an old Georgian house, the other half of which sold antique furniture. Mr Crooks owned both and we had a nice chat across a massive mahogany table. I was a pretty precocious and voracious reader for a fifteen year old which must have impressed him because I landed the position and arranged to start the following Saturday. I can’t remember the exact salary but it was probably in the region of around £2.50 for the day. I’d be rich beyond my wildest dreams.

When I arrived the following week, slightly nervous but aspiring to become young book sales person of the year I was puzzled to find not Mr Crooks in charge but his rapidly introduced elderly mother and her side-kick, Miss Lemon-Wedge. I was hurried through the shop with its shelves tantalisingly full of rainbow spines to a cramped little office at the back where the walls were lined with filing boxes and piles of papers, odd books and other office paraphernalia. Miss L-W cleared me a space on a surprisingly untidy desk and an in-tray filled to over-flowing was put in front of me. She advised me to get everything into alphabetical order before showing me the next stage.

It was chilly in that dark little office with only a single bar electric fire to heat the place. The atmosphere was decidedly chillier. I very soon realised that I would be playing Cinderella to the wicked step-sisters; Cordelia to Goneril and Regan or James to his Aunts Sponge and Spiker without ever getting near the stories themselves, out of reach in the shop. I might have been any number of Dickens characters …

Once I’d sorted the contents of the in-tray which I deduced were publishing house invoices, all stamped with PAID on them, Miss L-W showed me to the filing cabinet: through a door in an even colder corridor running down the side of the building with a main door to the outside. All I had to do was to put these wretched invoices into the corresponding folders.

5042254[1]Not rocket science but it took the best part of the morning, only broken up by Elderly Mother bringing me a weak-looking cup of tea and one digestive biscuit balanced on the saucer. Every time I see Green Beryl crockery I’m transported back to that filing cabinet. Shame really – it has in recent years become somewhat iconic in ceramic circles.

The shop closed for lunch, I was booted out and had to amuse myself for an hour in a small town with no appealing shops, no cafes or anywhere that was remotely interesting to my fifteen year old self. I optimistically thought that my afternoon might prove more exciting but sadly I was deluded. When I arrived back, two minutes early, I was again ushered through to the back room and shown how to cover books in plastic. These books would then be sent out to the local libraries: there were boxes and boxes of them. The job took ages, I kept creating bubbles under the plastic or for the loose covers I found that the tape wouldn’t stick. It was a horrible job but once I’d acquired the knack I begrudgingly admit that it has given me a skill for life. (Not that I have ever supplied any libraries with books, but you know what I mean).

I was allowed into the shop for the last hour of my day where my task was to dust shelves and straighten the books. Miss L-W dealt with customers and Elderly Mother counted the proceeds. I have never known time pass so slowly, even in a Maths exam but I stuck this slave labour out for about six months until another opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance, vowing that anything I did in the future would not involve filing.

The opportunity that presented itself came in the shape of Viv’s mother (remember Viv – she of the babysitting monopoly?). She was the manageress of an independent chemist shop in Croydon. Viv was already working there and another Saturday position had just become available. I could see that running monopolies obviously ran in Viv’s family but why should I worry – I was going to work in Croydon, shopping mecca of the south-east.

Croydon has now merged into the sprawl that is south London but in those days it was our largest nearest town. It was where we all went for serious shopping. There was a new precinct with Habitat, Chelsea Girl, Miss Selfridge and the like as well as lots of strange little units selling cheesecloth, joss sticks and loon pants. Now I’d have something to do in my lunch hour and I’d have plenty of scope to spend my hard earned cash. This was more like it.

Working in the chemist was a complete antithesis to the bookshop. It was light and modern. It was fun. It was busy. Viv and I were allowed to serve customers, to work the till (an old-fashioned one, mind; we had to work out any change needed. My mental arithmetic improved overnight). We marked up stock, we created window displays. We had a laugh. We had a stream of regular punters, some of whom would drop in for a chat with Viv’s Mum. One of her ‘specials’ as she liked to call them was a chap called Tommy. He was a female impersonator, as was the description provided to Viv and me. Outrageously camp, Tommy sang in a night club in Streatham wearing a sequinned evening dress and would swan into the chemist seeking advice on his makeup and false eye lashes. Viv and I were fascinated. The song Lola, by the Kinks always reminds me of Tommy and my chemist days.

At the end of the afternoon Mrs Gracie, the owner, would arrive with our pay packets. She was an eccentric old bird who chain smoked Capstan Full Strength cigarettes – even in her shop. Her gash of red lipstick never quite followed the contours of her mouth; she was always clad in black with uncomfortable looking high heels and seamed stockings and she was a million miles away from Miss Lemon-Wedge. I worked for her until I had a proper job.  My starting salary was £3.27 a day.

I had hit the big time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Things have been rather fraught here this week. The atmosphere at home has been charged with every emotion imaginable. If I compare it to something like the thrill of winning marathon gold to then be told that, as you cross the finishing line, you’re about to face extensive root canal work, should give you some idea of the peaks and troughs we’ve been experiencing.

I am talking about Son’s book. (I mentioned it last year in my post ‘Waiting for D-Day,’ which if you haven’t already, you can read about here ). His three years of research and writing about the 101st American Airborne’s time in England prior to the D-Day invasion in 1944 is on the brink of being published. (Marathon gold).

Proofs came back last week and while the cover and layout were perfect, inevitably there were minor changes required – a typo here, an upper case there and captions to check for the umpteenth time. (Root canal work).

Now that’s all been done, the book is back at the publisher’s awaiting final approval, there is nothing more Son can do but sit tight and wait and let that malignant enemy of all writers, self-doubt, descend.

So while being immensely proud I’ve been doling out pep talks and reassurance in equal measure. It’s exhausting. (And far more nerve-wracking than it ever was waiting for exam results). All being well – and it will be – (I have faith), his book will be available at the end of the month via Amazon. I will of course post details here as soon as he has a release date.

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My walks on the common therefore have been even more welcome this week. A sanctuary where there’s no phone coverage and where I can begin to deal with all the thoughts buzzing in my brain; to prioritise my own writing tasks I need to have finished by the end of the month and to let a dose of fresh air inspire me.

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I begin to see the wood for the trees.

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As the late afternoon sunshine sends its lengthening Giacometti shadows I turn for home, wondering which end of the spectrum I’ll be facing this evening. I trudge in my waterproofs over the slowly drying heath land and spy the season’s first wild crocus; green shoots of possibility pushing heads tentatively through a dormant tangle of brown bracken.

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 There’s an analogy in there somewhere but for now I’ll just do what’s needed.

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Do you buy a daily newspaper? I do, by force of habit – but I never read it properly – I skim and scan, as I learned in my early press office days.   We used to produce a list of relevant daily press cuttings for the company’s top brass to peruse at their leisure and while I quite enjoyed this exercise, I always secretly wondered why they couldn’t each take a different paper every morning and find their own articles of interest, and then swap them amongst themselves. It would have given them something to talk about at their endless board (bored) meetings.

 I always buy the Times because you get a reasonable view of what’s happening in the world without too much bias. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a preferred leaning – all papers do – but I can see through that and I buy it for its legendary letters page and the Times Two pull-out entertainment and culture section where I can manage the smaller crossword in the time it takes to do a London commute and there is usually something worth reading.

So I was a little irked that the publication in which I have invested so much of my time and loyalty over the years, (not to mention hard cash), decided to run a series last week, telling its readers what they should be doing with their leisure time. Their ‘experts’ produced lists. Twenty films you should watch; twenty plays you should see; twenty paintings you should know; twenty-five books you should read and twenty classical works you really should have listened to.

Now, I read books all the time and I‘ve only managed seven of the titles on their higher than highbrow list. (This doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed them). The only two plays listed that I am able to agree are worth recommending were ‘Death of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller and Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ There were others on the list that I’ve seen but I certainly wouldn’t suggest anyone sitting through any of them. The film choices were so beyond belief that I’m not even going to mention them here and if you couldn’t pick out Masaccio’s ‘Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ in a line up of early Renaissance works, then you’d definitely be at the bottom of the intellectual pile.

According to my paper of choice, I am an unenlightened philistine and have several years of hard reading/watching/contemplating to do before I can hold my own in polite cultural circles. How dare they? Who are these so-called ‘experts?’ It was the dictatorial ‘should’ on the title page that I found offensive. Why should I? I’ve never been good at being told what I should be doing, I know that, and some might consider it a flaw. I like to think of it as having a questioning and open mind.

I have pulled out these articles and am preparing to circulate them amongst my colleagues next week in an attempt to prove I’m not the only ignoramus in the staffroom. Meanwhile, I’ve thought about making a list of my own, but in no way will I expect you to have read or enjoyed the same things, and I’d be interested to hear what book/play/work of art/piece of music means something to you.

To kick off, here are a few books (in no particular order) that I’ve read and which have stayed in my head over the years, which must indicate that they mean something to me:

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

The Lady of Shalott,1888, John William Waterhouse

The Lady of Shalott,1888, John William Waterhouse

The first painting that wowed me as a child was ‘The Lady of Shallott’ by JW Waterhouse and I have a soft spot for Van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night’ painted in Arles  because I’ve been there for coffee.

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Café Terrace at Night, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

There are so many other works of art to choose from there is no way I could write a definitive list of my favourites – and the Times didn’t include installation art or sculpture – hey, what do they know, anyway.

Film wise, Cabaret would be right up there, along with The Great Escape, The Killing Fields, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,  Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and The Deer Hunter with Toy Story as a surprising late entry. (There is a Tom Hanks theme emerging,  for which I make no apologies).

So meanwhile, as I’m wallowing in the mire that apparently is my cultural wasteland, what would be on your list?

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