Posted by: billpurdue | May 25, 2010

The 100th!

I didn’t imagine that when I started these postings in April 2008, that I would last this long!

I hope you think it’s been worth it.

Well, I’m not stopping now, so for this 100th edition, I’m going to look back over the past 2 and a bit years and pick out the books which I feel have been the most significant. I’ll also look forward to the Lowdham Book Festival which takes place in the quiet rural village of Lowdham in central Notts. from June 15th to July 1st.

This will be the 11th Book Festival and the driving force behind it is Jane Streeter, manager of the village bookshop called “The Bookcase”. The highlights include  talks by actor Robert Lindsay (who grew up in Ilkeston), cricketer Simon Hughes, children’s writer David Almond, Gavin Pretor-Pinney author of “The Cloud Spotter’s Guide” and Stephen Booth will talk about the factual and fictional settings for his detective novels set in Derbyshire, but there’s lots more. For more information go to where you can download a complete programme. The phone line for bookings is 0115 966 3219

You can listen to an interview with Jane Streeter here (from May 26th onwards). Since the interview was recorded, the period of the festival has been extended – see above.

Now for a look back over the past 99 issues. Having checked back through all of them (they are all still available to view on WordPress, should you wish to trawl through them!) I have shortlisted a few of those titles which have made a lasting impression on me

Very early on I read a book called The Last Family in England by Matt Haig, a tale of a “normal” suburban family with a Labrador dog – and it’s the Labrador that narrates the story. Prince – that’s his name – tries his best to keep the family together in spite of family crises, attempted suicide and infidelity. The more I read, the better it became.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, took some getting through, but it was all worthwhile; it’s set in the early nineteenth century, when everyone believes that practical magic no longer has any relevance. Mr Norrell, a magician living in Yorkshire is determined to prove that magic is still alive and well, but wants to keep the magical powers to himself…but then along comes Mr Strange.

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham is another page turner. Maybell Brumby from the USA, recently widowed, decides to pop across the pond to live with her sister Violet in London and infiltrate the upper echelons of society with her old friend Wallis Simpson. It’s told in diary form, but don’t be put off by that.

I’m not one for too many biographies, but occasionally one pops up which I really enjoy. This was the case with Great Western Beach by Emma Smith. Her memoir of growing up in Newquay  in the 1920s vividly portrays the life in a small Cornish town by the sea in the early part of the twentieth century. A spellbinding read.

There were more reminiscences in Milk, Muck and Memories, this time from people who worked in agriculture in Derbyshire in the recent past in the area between Chesterfield and Matlock, especially the Ashover area. It was worth reading if only for the short but quite magical description of haymaking by moonlight.

Now for two humorous titles, both of which really should be bought, because they can be enjoyed two or three times over: Guy Browning’s Never Push when it says Pull is a collection of very short pieces from Browning’s Guardian column (hilarious) and The Doings of Hamish and Dougal: You’ll have had your tea? by Barrie Cryer and Graeme Garden, featuring their housekeeper, Mrs Naughtie and the Laird at the big hoose. This is a compilation of some of the scripts from the short BBC Radio 4 programmes.

I’ve saved the best three until last. Deliverance by L A G Strong was first published in 1955 and tells the story of Georgie, an orphan boy who comes to the end of his stay in the orphanage. He is sent out into the world to fend for himself and is totally unprepared for the challenges that life throws at him. It’s a memorable read and I called it a “hidden gem”.

Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is the story of the Fitzwilliam family who lived at Wentworth House in South Yorkshire, the largest privately owned house in Britain. It deals with the exploits of the family, including their connections with the Kennedys and their relationship with the miners who worked in the Fitzwilliams’ collieries. Roy Hattersley had some problems with the way this book was written, but I couldn’t put it down.

Perhaps the most memorable of all the books I’ve read since I started the blogs is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer.     It was the title that attracted me to begin with, but I was completely absorbed in this tale, set just after the second world war, of a London author who is looking for inspiration for her new book. She hears about this strangely named society in Guernsey and begins a correspondence with the members of the society to find out more. Totally absorbing. There’s a new paperback edition out next month.

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