I've been doing a lot of spring cleaning recently...I just took a big bag of stuff to the local RSPCA charity shop. It wasn't rubbish...rather bits and pieces that are still good, but that we just don't need or have room for. Clothes that don't quite fit or look right...costume jewellery that I bought on a whim, without thinking about whether it would suit me! Baking accessories that I just will never use (purple plastic cupcake stackers that someone sweetly gave me...) Things that I hope others will love and get some use from. It feels really good to do this...even though I have to steel myself every time. I constantly fight that instinct that says 'keep it in case'!!
One thing that I do find impossible to throw out is a book...I just can't do it. I'll pass them on to friends or family, but I so love to read & reread...even if I only pick out favourite passages the second or third time. Paul is the same, luckily...we always find space for more! So today I thought you might like to see my 'special ones'. My desert island pile....the books I would absolutely hate to be without, ever. So much so that I have several editions of most of these...just in case I mislay or lend one and don't get it back!
First, the ones I've loved since childhood. Of course, I found it so hard to choose...Little Women, the 'Katy' stories, the 'Little House' series. But in the end, it had to be...
This edition was originally my Mum's. It's faded & misshapen & stained (it's fallen in the bath at least once!) But I so love the story of Anne (with an 'e') the red-haired, feisty little orphan who is taken in by kind-hearted Matthew & his crusty old sister, Marilla...even though they had really asked for a boy to help around their farm. It's so charming...still makes me laugh & cry and I can recite whole chunks!
Next, another book that my Mum passed down to me...not well known at all in contrast to Anne...
'Nuts in the Rookery' by Mathena Blomefield. It's an autobiographical account of her childhood, growing up in rural Norfolk at the end of the 1800's. This is actually the second she wrote - I managed to find the first, 'The Bulleymung Pit', just a few years ago. Wonderful. The cover is just brown, which is why I show the title page! Mum must have given it to me when I was about 5 years old...how do I know? Because I 'autographed' the endpapers....
As you can see, I was no artist!!
All of Alison Uttley's books are gems - this is my favourite. Quite similar to 'Nuts...' in that it's an autobiographical account of her childhood (although she's called 'Susan' in it) at around the same time. My addiction to history started pretty early! This one is still in print, but if you ever come across one like this, with illustrations by C.F Tunnicliffe, then snap it up!
Growing up now...
You might expect me to include something about my beloved! I've always really enjoyed reading scripts & screenplays. 'Amadeus' is in my top 5 movies...but this book is the script of the original play it was adapted from. Different in many ways...but it will always take me back to the magical night, over 30 years ago, when I first saw it performed at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. From the minute the curtain went up, I had goosebumps. Amazing. I once met the playwright, Peter Shaffer...and I was able to tell him just how much his creation had affected me.Such a special moment!
I have many, many books on Mozart....but on my desert island, I would have to take this volume of his letters over the others. Because they are his voice!
Another script I would take is 'Journey's End' by R.C Sherriff. Written just after the end of WW1 by someone who went through it. The language, the characters & the story...incredibly & almost painfully moving. I have seen the play a few times, and reading this brings it back to life for me.
The First World War is something I have always been drawn to...and now I'm writing a novel about it, even more so...
'Chronicle of Youth' by Vera Brittain is...sublime. Another of her books on the same subject, 'Testament of Youth' is more well known - I love that too. But this is the one I would take, because it is her actual diary of those years, and so we see the story unfolding as she did...and so we feel as though it's happening in real time. This desperately poignant tale of how she lost her fiancee, beloved only brother and two other close friends in WW1 encompasses the loss & futility of that period for me. 'Letters from a Lost Generation' is a compilation of the letters that passed between them all during that time, and fleshes out the characters & personalities involved. Unputdownable.
Neil Oliver's great book 'Not Forgotten' traces the stories that are to be found by stopping & looking at the names WW1 memorials...fascinating and informative, and he writes in a very personal way as though you are sharing a conversation.
While I'm on the subject of loss & tragedy....Claude Lanzmann's documentary film 'Shoah' should, I think, be required viewing for all teenagers as part of their studies. It's 11 hours long...but nothing for me has had a greater impact than these real people who experienced the holocaust (on all sides) simply talking. This transcript is treasured. The second book is so uplifting...it contains true stories of camp survivors and how they rebuilt their lives after liberation. Amazing lives. Such bravery and spirit.
I've put these two together, because they are both novels about women...and transformation...and ultimate happiness. 'Precious Bane' is a treasure and 'The Enchanted April' never fails to lift my heart.
Similarly, 'Dared and Done'....about the incredible clandestibe courtship & happy marriage of Elizabeth Barrett & Robert Browning is a courageous, romantic & triumphant story of love and its power to change everything.
Looking at this list, it seems that I generally prefer non-fiction...so it may be a surprise that my book of books is a novel. The one that I would choose (if I absolutely had to!) is...
I know that it's not a particularly original choice. But since I first read it at the age of 9, it has captured my heart. It is, to me, perfect. Several sequels and alternative endings have been written by other authors...they are superfluous, I think. Even the great Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine couldn't quite capture the magic, although they had Hitchcock's help...
It is a book of it's time, capturing the feeling of the 1930's as if I could walk through a door straight into it....it's a thriller....it's a truly fantastic piece of storytelling...and it's a great love story too.
I can pick it up the minute I finish and begin all over again...and find something new every time. And that's why it's my Number One!
Reading this post again, it occurs to me that my choices are fairly 'heavy'! I do read and enjoy all sorts of books...but I think that the ones I've chosen reflect the fact that I love to learn when I read...to experience different times & places and to take something from them.
I'd love to know your Number One - if you have one - & why it's special to you.
Thanks so much for your lovely comments, they are so much appreciated...and I hope that you have a wonderful week. Happy April - I hope it's Enchanted for all of us! xo