Books Are The Treasured Wealth Of The World

Issue 78

On the way to Bamburgh during half term, my husband and I stopped off at Barter Books in Alnwick. As I gazed in rapture at the inviting rows of pre-loved books, and eyed up a limited edition of The Waste Land- a mere snip at £2,500 - it led me to think about how books have shaped my life and how many hours I must have spent over the years in bookshops and libraries, a habit that was formed from the age of about two, when I visited our local library for the first time.

I was fortunate to have grown up about two hundred yards away from this library, and it was the perfect babysitter for my mother when she had her hair ‘done’ at the local hairdresser, as ladies of a certain era were wont to do.

Moreover, just after half term, the School Librarian asked me to say what my favourite book was for a display for World Book Day. I started to say Pride and Prejudice, which is largely true, as it the book I have read the most times- at least 23 – and relied upon as the ultimate comfort book in times of illness or duress. However, after debating with her for a few minutes, I ultimately said the Shorter OED, which sounds pretentious but it’s also mostly true: it was the volume that this working class child used constantly in order to extend her vocabulary – sometimes with qualified success. I then went on to think about other books that have been influential in my life, plus books I have not liked so much thus far:

The book that made me a bibliophile – Little Women by L M Alcott, because of the character of Jo March and her avowed love of reading and writing. The series of books that made me laugh the most- All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot- I will never forget Tricky Woo and Mrs Pumphrey.

The scariest book I have ever read- a toss-up here between The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty and Dracula by Bram Stoker but I will probably go with Dracula, as I think the visceral horror that I felt reading The Exorcist was probably a vestige of the film version, whereas I had not seen a screen version of Dracula that matched the fear of the novel. Definitely not one to have by your bed at night! The book that made me cry the most as a teenager – Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I studied this for A Level and taught it several times. I can still weep when I remember when Tess informs Angel Clare of her past life, and how he instantly rejects her. The book I think is very over-rated – Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens- a literary sensation a few years ago, soon to be released as a film starring Daisy Edgar-Jones. Although I sympathised with the protagonist, I found the ending predictable, and the prose overly descriptive.

The book I cannot finish – The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien and its sequels. As heretical as this may be for Tolkien devotees, I think that life is too short to try and attempt this again, after three abortive attempts over two decades!

Best novel of the 21st century for me so far: there are many contenders here, including The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, but possibly Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. This is brilliantly evocative, provocative and a worthy joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize with Atwood.

Every day is an Open Day at Durham High School. Call 0191 384 3226 or email to find out more or arrange a visit.

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