Ten books

Over on Facebook, Laura Murdoch nominated me to list “the 10 books that have meant the most to me and I carry with me – some worthy – some not!”

Here are mine:

Here’s why – as you’ll see, I strongly associate the books I read with time, place and people:

The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne

Happy memories of my dad reading this (plus Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows) to me and my brother when we were small.

Fattypuffs and Thinifers – André Maurois

An early taste of Sci-Fi, and Anthropology, plus perfect illustrations. The childhood read that has stayed with me most vividly.

The School at the Chalet – Elinor Brent-Dyer

… because I loved this school series even more than St Clares and Malory Towers – and that was before I discovered that Elinor M. Brent-Dyer lived for much of her life in Hereford. I never did manage to track down all 57 books in the Chalet School series, despite scouring the secondhand bookshops of Hereford and Hay.

Lymond Chronicles – Dorothy Dunnett

Third year at St Andrews, living in The Hirsel Cottage, Maths finals and Viking Scotland – and falling in love with Francis Crawford of Lymond.

After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell

I can still remember sitting on a rail replacement bus, trying to hide my tears as I read the final chapters of Maggie O’Farrell’s first book. A beautiful, passionate, heartbreaking novel on love and loss.

Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson (plus Green and Blue too, for the full set)

I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy as a teen – Asimov and McCaffrey were favourites then. But my favourite science fiction of more recent years is this trilogy about the settlement of Mars.

Although there is plenty of technology and science, it isn’t dry sci fi or robots taking over the world or galactic empires doing battle. It’s a convincing account of what might happen, how people will behave and why – not just as individuals but as groups / organisations / businesses / governments – and (at many levels) of the new world they live in. “Future history” if you will.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet – David Mitchell

A novel telling the arrival of the Dutch East India Company in the Land of a Thousand Autumns and the reaction of Japan’s traditional, closed society, brought to life by wonderful characters – good, bad and ugly. A book that will always remind me of summer 2010’s holidays with Hazel & Cat and with Phil.

Landfalls – Tim Mackintosh-Smith (plus the two preceding books in T M-S’s travels in the footsteps of 14th-century traveller Ibn Battutah)

Three books for any traveller – there’s autobiography (T M-S), biography (IB) and a whole heap of ‘other places’ visited by a 14th-century Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battutah, and his 21st century shadow.

This is the last, and most poignant, of Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s travels with his tangerine, although…

“It isn’t the end, of course. As long as people read, and travel, and write, as long as readers take to the road then go home – whatever it is that home has become – to tell their stories, the journey never ends. It is both circular and linear, a double helix inscribing itself back into the past and forward into the future.”
Tim Mackintosh-Smith, p350

Among Muslims: Meetings at the frontiers of Pakistan – Kathleen Jamie

My 2006 trip to Pakistan marked the start of my more adventurous travels, and the Northern Areas is a beautiful part of the world with an amazing history. One day I hope to return. Kathleen Jamie’s account of her travels there really resonated (I’d go so far as to confess envy), and led me to her beautiful book, Findings, which in turn led me to Robert Macfarlane.

The Places In Between – Rory Stewart

Afghanistan is a destination that has long been on My Wanderer’s Wish List. But I suspect it is a wish that will always remain unfulfilled. I have a romantic fascination for the ‘Stans – the heydays of the Silk Road, the intrigues of the Great Game – but Afghanistan has more. Look past its turbulent ‘modern’ history, and you’ll find eras of high culture and civilisation.

I love this book, not only because it’s Rory Stewart’s account of his walk over the mountains from Herat to Kabul, but because it is in the footsteps of Babur – great-great-great-grandson of Timur (Tamerlane, Tamburlaine), first of the Mughal Emperors and great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the beautiful Taj Mahal as a tomb for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. En route Rory Stewart also shares his deep knowledge and love for this part of the world, borne of a willingness to engage and understand that he subsequently took into Iraq.

Two close contenders for this spot:

So there you go.