I started the year trying to stick to a promise that I would not buy any more books. I think that lasted all of six weeks, as I love reading so much and there were so many new books on offer that I just caved in. I don’t normally have an issue with self-discipline unless books are involved. I have read a great deal once again this year. It’s important as a writer to read. It’s also important as an English teacher to model the behaviour I expect of my students. Well, that’s my excuse.
PLEASE NOTE: I have not included any Bronte books in this list deliberately. I will blog about them in a separate post.
Muriel Spark : A Far Cry From Kensington
I watched a great documentary on BBC2 at the start of the year about Muriel Spark. This fuelled my interest in rereading some of Muriel’s novels. I have always loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I was not disappointed. The book is set in the mid-Fifties and tells the story of Agnes ‘Nancy’ Hawkins who works for a publishing firm that is on its last legs.
Andrew Morton : Wallis in Love: The untold true passion of the Duchess of Windsor.
I am fascinated by the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. I also love Royal history. I think I have read every book on this subject. This book claimed to bring a new perspective based upon personal letters. It claimed that Wallis had always been in love with someone else for much of her life and that she never really loved Edward VIII, who is painted as a very weak character. As with most of Morton’s material this really did not live up to the hype.
James Pope-Hennessy and Hugo Vickers : The Quest for Queen Mary
Without a doubt, this has to be the best book that I have read in a long while. In the 1950s, James Pope-Hennessy was charged with the task of writing a biography of Queen Mary. This was in the days when there was still a certain mystique surrounding the Royal family and before the realisation that the monarchy had to evolve in order to survive. Much of what Pope-Hennessy discovered in his research had to remain a secret. Thus it was that for fifty years some of his research had to remain hidden away. That was until Hugo Vickers managed to access the files and edit the previously unseen and censored material. I love the writing of Hugo Vickers. His prose is intelligent and yet so easy to read. He has chosen to select some of the more gripping observations of royalty for all to read here. There are some incredibly candid studies of the somewhat eccentric Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester, the somewhat less-known brother of George VI, as well as wonderful observations of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who come across surprisingly genial and well-intentioned. One of the images depicted in the book that will always stay with me, is that of Queen Mary over-zealously chopping away at every tree and ivy plant she encountered in other people’s homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to any lover of royal history.
Lady Colin Campbell : The Queen’s Marriage
There has been a great deal of publicity surrounding this book for all the wrong reasons. I was intrigued to read it as I had heard that Lady Colin Campbell was the first biographer to mention Diana’s bulimia. I started reading it on an app and found that I could not put it down. Lady C writes beautiful prose and is a great story teller. Her depiction of the Queen Mother is totally accurate, as no doubt she was such an actress! Look beyond the headlines and you will see there is far more to this book than salacious gossip! I loved it!
Veronica Lucan : A Moment in Time
This book is undeniably poignant, almost like a final goodbye. I spoke to Lady Lucan just before she killed herself and she appeared to be quite good humoured regardless of the course her life had taken. She had spoken to a television crew for the final time, wrote a book and then, falsely believing that she was suffering from Parkinson’s after self-diagnosing, she took an overdose of tablets and alcohol. An incredibly sad end to such a sad life. In one telling episode she recalls being asked why she did not go to university, “I married a peer of the realm instead.” One almost wonders if she would have led a more fulfilled life if she had taken the other path.
Lily Allen : My Thoughts Exactly.
This book was not what I expected. I’ve got to say that of all the celebrity books out there, this one is by far the best. It’s beautifully written, which is surprising given that Lily admits early on that she has no formal academic qualifications. It’s raw and above all else, it’s honest. It’s incredibly introspective and I suspect that writing this novel was a form of therapy for Lily after her marriage breakdown.
Carl Honoré : Bolder
I was interested in reading this book after hearing it as Book of The Week on Radio 4. In it Honoré considers the issues surrounding the fact that we are all now living much longer lives. He looks at the cultural, medical, and technological developments that are opening new possibilities for us all. Bolder is a radical re-think of our approach to everything from education, healthcare and work, to design, relationships and politics.
Roger Moore : The 007 Diaries
This book is utterly divine. It details life of a sadly now bygone age, when actors were treated as huge stars. The book is a reprint from over forty years ago. It is Roger’s own diaries from shooting the legendary Bond film: Live and Let Die. I love the disclaimer in the introduction which states; “Views were not as progressive as they are today.” This is an utterly fascinating read.