This season, as part of our book sharing campaign, we asked you to tell us about the books that have enriched your lives. We were overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of your replies. Though there were many brilliant suggestions we have chosen a few of our favourite comments to share with you, including the winner of the prize draw who has received a year's subscription to Persephone Books and £500 to spend at TOAST. Thank you to all who took part!
THE WINNER: Aoife
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. I used to love reading and this had been my favourite book since I first read it in 2005, in my friend's flat while visiting her in Toronto. At only 21, without understanding the pain of love or of loss, this book was a window into a world I didn't know or even need to know, but I thought it dealt with those themes beautifully and I read and reread it too many times to count. I now understand those pains and I lost my love of reading for almost three years. I am slowly regaining my sense of self and starting to read again and yet I still cannot bring myself to reread this book. Am I afraid of what new layer I will discover?
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas – a play; a poem; an observation of the wonderful variety of people and life! I have read this so many times – both aloud and in my head, and always with the gentle lilt of a Welsh accent hovering on my tongue. Each time I am reminded of the richness and the power of language; its versatility and playfulness. What I like best about this piece of work, though, is that it makes me stop to listen to what’s around me, to my own small world; to the sounds that usually fail to pierce through my thoughts.
I find difficulty choosing just one book, one of the first to really profoundly influence me in my teens was ‘Siddhartha' by Herman Hesse and I love the poetry of Mary Oliver, but I guess I’ll choose from the now and recommend my most recent read. I have just finished ‘Song of Increase’ by Jacqueline Freeman a beekeeper and biodynamic farmer who writes about Honeybees and her relationship with them. Alongside a wealth of information about their lives and her personal insights are teachings received from the bees themselves. I found it to be a remarkable, miraculous and heartening book which speaks about interdependency, and the profound spiritual connections to be found within the natural world, which can lead us naturally to more sustainable practices.
Off the top of my head, as a child I was an obsessive reader, generally found curled up in an armchair somewhere, and Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers and St Claires series' both left me in no doubt that I was destined for boarding school. I was very lucky that my parents indulged this idea and helped me apply for a scholarship which I won. More recently, books have been important in my nursing career: Still Alice has helped me enormously in understanding what it feels like to have dementia, and Being Mortal has brought a new perspective on end of life and how we manage this as a community.
I choose Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi - it has given me so much more than just great recipes. Its been the discovery of relearning the simple pleasure of cooking, slowing down at the end of a hectic day and creating a family dinner. A much needed gift in my life. For that I am truly grateful.
“The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.” This line begins Laurie Lee’s memoir As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning Walking from the deep sultry valleys of the Cotswolds to the wilds of Spain on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. The book is actually the sequel to the infamous Cider with Rosie but I read this one first and have always loved it above all of his other books, in fact having read this first I was actually slightly disappointed when I finally read the prequel! This book came into my hands by pure chance when I was far from home - a slim tattered book with loose yellowed pages that I found on a street stall swapping it for three new shiny volumes I had bought from home. I don’t remember the titles of the books I swapped but I do remember that both myself and the bookseller walked away thinking we had got the better deal. Over the several months away I read this book over and over and it became my most important possession it was the first time I had travelled alone and at times I felt paralysed with homesickness. I had never heard of Laurie Lee before this book, but his rich and evocative writing took me back to the valleys of home before leading me out to the unknown of a strange and unfamiliar land and at the end I always felt brave and bold. It was the one of the few things that remained when I returned home and I still have it now.
I was working as an Intern at Buxton Festival when Helen MacDonald gave a talk about depression, grief and the misscommunications surrounding anti-depressants in response to her novel H is for Hawk. Her blunt reminder that anti-depressants don't change who you are but make you able to cope really stuck with me in a time of my life when I really needed that. I have since read her book and found it startlingly honest and told with a conviction which has remained with me in my dealings with my own mental health issues. I am thoroughly convinced that I left her talk and reading her book feeling undeniably enriched.
The book that has most enriched my life is Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. It is a children's picture book. I am a primary school teacher and have read this book to many children each year. The children's reactions and giggles to this amusing and unpredictable story is simply joyous. Every single child cracks a smile, although usually they end up in uncontrollable bursts of laughter. What could be more enriching and fulfilling than moments like these.
One book that moved me and enriched my life was in fact a book about a book club! 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' by Azar Nafisi, an extraordinary memoir recounting the Nafisi's experience of living in Iran during the revolution and teaching at the University of Tehran; courageous and uncowed in the face of tyranny she refused to wear the veil and formed a forbidden book club at her home for seven of her female students. They would meet regularly at great danger to themselves to discuss Western literature including Lolita, Great Gatsby and novels by Henry James and Jane Austen. It is a wonderful tale of female strength and solidarity, and defiance in the face of oppression. It is also a passionate defence of literature as a mode of refuge and comfort and a compelling reminder of why books matter, and how they give a voice to those who would otherwise be silenced.
When I was a child of about 5 years old my mother bought me a book called 'Primrose and the Winter Witch' by James and Frantisek Hrubín Reeves, illustrated by Jirí Trnka, It was a fantastical tale of a little girl tending her garden and the harsh reality of nature... I can still picture the beautifully illustrated drawings of the the frozen flowers and the gnarly winter witch to this day... it was a book tinged with moments of sadness, of moody nature and of extremes and has influenced me greatly in my love of the the wilderness, of all that is natural and organic, of being outside in the elements no matter the weather and in later years my photography.
Illustrations by Jessica Creighton