BooksPlease is 6: A Celebration of Books

Today my blog is six years old. Reading has always been a great pleasure and I began my blog to try and capture some of that pleasure. So, I thought that for today’s anniversary post I’d look back at some of the books I’ve read over the last six years that stand out in my mind as being most enjoyable.

It’s difficult with so many books to choose from and there are plenty more I could highlight, but here are six of the best fiction books and six of the best non fiction. I think the books I’ve chosen show the range of books that I enjoy – historical fiction, crime fiction, contemporary fiction, autobiography, history, poetry (just a few poets) and philosophy/psychology.

Over these last six years I’ve seen blogs come and go and there have been times when I’ve considered giving up blogging, but somehow I’ve hung on and looking back over my blog to do this post has proved to me the value of keeping it – it’s not just a record of what I’ve read but also a reminder of what I thought of the books too. And I hope my posts do convey the pleasure reading gives me.

Fiction (one from each year)

2007 – 

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. This is historical crime fiction set  in Cambridge in 1170 during the reign of Henry II. A child has been murdered and others have disappeared.The Jews are suspected and Henry is keen to find the culprit as the Jewish community in Cambridge are major contributors to his Exchequer. He enlists the help of Simon of Naples, who is accompanied by Adelia, a female doctor who specialises in studying corpses. I loved this book, reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales. The medieval world is vividly brought to life and it’s a fascinating murder mystery.

2008 – 

Atonement by Ian McEwan – a book that moved me to tears. It begins on a hot day in the summer of 1935 when Briony, then aged thirteen witnesses an event between her older sister Cecelia and her childhood friend Robbie that changed all three of their lives. It’s a captivating story of the use of imagination, shame and forgiveness, love, war and class-consciousness in England in the twentieth century.

From 2009 – 

Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky – a gem of a book, this is  set in a small village based on Issy-l’Eveque between the two world wars. The narrator is Silvio looking back on his life and gradually secrets that have long been hidden rise to the surface, disrupting the lives of the small community.  It is an intense story of life and death, love and burning passion. It’s about families and their relationships €“ husbands and wives, young women married to old men,  lovers, mothers, daughters and stepdaughters.

From 2010 – 

Wolf Hall coverWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – this is my favourite, so far, of Mantel’s trilogy about the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England.This first book in the trilogy is about his struggle with the King over his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. It transported me back to that time, with Mantel’s descriptions of the pageantry, the people, the places and the beliefs and attitudes of the protagonists. A wonderful book.

From 2011 – 

Blood HarvestBlood Harvest by S J Bolton. Crime fiction set in the fictional town of Heptonclough in Lancashire where the Fletcher family have just moved into a new house built on land right next to the boundary wall of the churchyard.  I was completely convinced not only by the setting but also by the characterisation that the place and the people in this book were real. It’s full of tension, terror and suspense and I was in several minds before the end as to what it was all about. I had an inkling but I hadn’t realised the full and shocking truth.

From 2012 – 

The Secret River 001The Secret River by Kate Grenville €“ this book completely captivated me and I could hardly wait to get back to it each time I had to put it down. It’s historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling following William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to his new life in Australia in the early 19th century. Dramatic, vivid and thought-provoking, this novel raises several issues €“ about crime and punishment, about landownership, defence of property, power, class and colonisation.

Non Fiction:

2007 –

On Trying to Keep Still by Jenny Diski  about her travels during a year when she visited New Zealand, spent three months in a cottage in Somerset and went to sample the life of the Sami people of Swedish Lapland. This is also a personal memoir, and is about being still, being alone, wanting to be alone, phobias and the problems of coping with life and especially with aging.  I can indentify with her feelings such as not wanting to make a noise in case people notice that I’m there, not wanting others to worry about me, and worrying that others are worrying about me; feeling the need to do something such as going out for a walk €“ not the desire to do it for itself but the feeling that I should want to. It’s a moving, amusing, thought-provoking and original book.

2008 –

Our Longest Days  by the writers of Mass Observation, edited by Sandra Koa Wing. In August 1939, with war approaching, the Mass Observation Organisation asked its panel to keep diaries to record their daily lives and selections from fifteen of these diaries are included in Our Longest Days. Because they are personal accounts there is that sense of being actually there during the air raids, hearing Churchill’s speeches, reading the newspaper reports, experiencing the grief at the number of casualties and deaths and the terrible devastation of the war, the food and clothes rationing and the excitement of D-Day.

also from 2008:

Robert Frost (The Illustrated Poets series) – a slim little book with a selection of Frost’s verse illustrated by American, English and French painters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Frost’s poems are written in deceptively simple language but they convey great depth of meaning. They are compact and powerful. And the illustrations are beautiful.

2009 – 

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson, a fascinating look at life in Britain during the summer of George V’s Coronation year, 1911.  It was one of the hottest years of the twentieth century and also a summer of discontent as the country was almost brought to a standstill by industrial strikes and the enormous gap between the privileged and the poor was becoming more and more obvious. It covers a wide spectrum €“ from King George’s accession to the throne to débutantes  politicians, poets, factory workers, writers, and women trade unionists. There is little about the suffragettes €“ they agreed a summer truce for the Coronation.

 2010 –

Agatha Christie: an Autobiography As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of  her thoughts and reflections on life and writing. She wrote about her childhood, teenage years, friends and family, and her marriage to Archibald Christie; but although she wrote about their divorce she didn’t write about her disappearance in 1926. She wrote about her travels around the world, the two world wars, her interest and involvement with archaeology and her marriage to Max Mallowan.  I read it in short sections and felt quite sad when I came to the end. It was like having a daily chat with Agatha.

2011 –

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre – this is about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was. The plan was to take a dead body, equipped with false documents, deposit it on a beach in Spain, so that it would be passed over to the Germans and divert them from the real target. Totally outside my usual range of reading this was so far-fetched as to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.

PS – I’ve enjoyed compiling this post so much that I’m thinking of doing something similar for the paintings and places I’ve written about.

35 thoughts on “BooksPlease is 6: A Celebration of Books”

  1. Congratulations on your blogging anniversary! Sounds like you’ve read some amazing books. (I think “Our Longest Days” is the one that I’m most curious about myself. It’s such a powerful way to learn about history.)

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  2. What a super post! Happy 6th. blogging anniversary, Margaret. I know what you mean about the vagaries of blogging, I too have wondered if I should give up several time but somehow have not been able to do it… and am glad of that really.

    I’ve read two of your favourite books, Mistress of the Art of Death and The Secret River: I too loved them both. I also own the Agatha Christie autobiography which I hope to get to soon. Most of the rest I will make a note of. I especially fancy Blood Harvest and On Trying to Keep Still.

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  3. Congratulations, six is a real landmark. 🙂

    I loved Our Darkest Days too, I thought it was very sensitively edited and really captured just how different everyone’s perspective on the war, politics, rationing etc actually was.

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  4. Congratulations, Margaret! Six years of blogging is quite an accomplishment. Your 2009 post about Fire in the Blood inspired me to read the book… it was wonderful.

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  5. Congratulations! I agree with you about several of your choices – but not about Atonement. It’s my least favourite of Ian McEwan’s books, wonderful story but I found his writing here too lush, too wordy – what I really like about his books are they’re so precise and spare.
    I hadn’t heard of Blood Harvest, it’s now on the wish list.

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  6. What a great way to celebrate!! And congrats! I am very interested in On Trying To Keep Still. I hope to read the AC book and The Perfect Summer someday soon. And I do love Frost.

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  7. happy anniversary! It’s been great following your blog – I love your descriptions of your travels, I love your thoughts on your books. Keep up the good work! (and post some pics of the cat too…)

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  8. Congratulations. I’m so glad you decided to keep at it. I’ve only read two of those books, the Christie autobiography and Wolf Hall, but I’ll be adding some of the others to my list. I hope you do compile similar posts on paintings and places.

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  9. Congratulations, Margaret, on blogging for 6 years! I hope you continue for many more. I’ve always enjoyed what you have to say about books, and sometimes life. I hope it continues to give you pleasure. As you say, you have struggled with it, and so have I, though in the end it comes down to pleasure about books, at least for me it does.

    I’ve read Blood Harvest and Mistress in the Art of Death. I really enjoyed both, especially the latter. One of the best historical mysteries, along with Dissolution by C.J. Sansom.

    I want to read The Secret River now, thanks!

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  10. Congratulations on this milestone. I, for one among many, are so happy you decided to blog about books. Yours is one of the first book blogs are starting following and you’ve introduced me to scores of new authors and titles. I can thank you for Ian Rankin and Ian McEwan (Atonement is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read), and you rekindled my interest in mysteries. And Operation Mincement is on my TBR pile, and is just begging to be read.

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts, and pictures of your travels in Britain–they make me want to lace up my traveling shoes.

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