Tuesday, 26 July 2011

WriteAngled’s Top 100 reads: an annotated list (in no particular order!)

This annotated list of my top 100 reads makes no attempt to score books by defined notions of literary merit nor does it focus on books that “ought to be read” because some choose to define them as “classics”. Nevertheless, a few standard classics are included. These are one hundred books, which have made enough of an impact for me not to forget them, hence for me they are top reads. They include fiction of diverse genres and some non-fiction, old titles and somewhat newer titles, although not current bestsellers. I regret sometimes  that the massive attention given to the newest titles causes some marvellous less new works to be neglected. 

I would love to have your comments and find out some of your top reads.

I’ve placed links to these books at The Book Depository, which sells books at discount prices and ships them worldwide with no added shipping charges. Targeted AbeBook (used book seller) links are available there for books, which cannot be sourced new. 

1. Possession by A.S. Byatt
Probably my all-time favourite book. It tells the parallel stories of two Victorian poets and their love affair and of the modern day man and woman who are researching into the lives of these poets. Not only is the story gripping, but Byatt has even composed poems that were "written" by her protagonists. Although this could be classed as a love story, it is never sickly and sentimental. 

This is an extended essay about how lack of money and personal space and other factors have prevented women developing their talent. Although she talks mainly about writing and I am not a writer, it blew me away. I read this at a time in my life when I was in a bad marriage, totally dependent on my then spouse for money, denied real privacy, and constantly subjected to thought police tactics if I dared have opinions and beliefs that differed from his.

I love this author so much! He seems to have dropped out of fashion now, but was all the rage when I was a student in the mid-1970s. All his works are allegorical. This one uses the life of an Indian man as a framework. I’ve decided to list only one book by any given author in my main list, but other favourites by Hesse include: Journey to the East, Glass Bead Game, and Narziss und Goldmund.

Barcelona is my favourite city and this book is Barcelona at its most atmospheric. The city forms the background to the story. A boy is captivated by a book and wants to find out more about the author. Instead, he finds that his copy of the book is the last one still in existence and that a mysterious person is intent on eradicating everything to do with the author. He spends many years in pursuit of the truth. The language is so poetic. I know that the book has flaws, but for me it is nevertheless magical. 

This is a BIG book (1000+ pages) set in India at the time the country was adjusting to its newly-gained independence and following the stories of four families. What I like is the way it gave me a feeling of being a “fly on the wall”, listening in to the private conversations of the characters. Some people have found it boring, but I was really sorry when I reached the end.

This is a complex tale of several nested stories, moving from the present, through various historical eras to ancient times and back again. Marvellously written and a real page turner. It all starts when a girl attempts to find out what happened to her father through reading his letters... 

I have always been a bit wary of reading Kazuo Ishiguro. I somehow had the opinion that I might find his works difficult or even, dare I say it, boring. However, this book blew me away completely. Set in the UK and Shanghai of the 1930s, it concerns the search by a detective for his parents, whom he lost as a small child. This is the overt plot, but the story moves into a dream world of memory and illusion. I cannot really define what makes this book so compelling and haunting, but it is one of a handful of books that I could hardly bear to put down once I had started reading.

An ever insightful and sometimes very funny description of Chile, Chileans and Allende's family.

I really could not leave this out! At the age of 10, I was recommended The Hobbit by the school librarian and loved it. I wanted to read more and had to persuade the adult section of the local public library to lend Lord of the Rings out to me. Later on, I purchased my own copy and read it several times in my 20s. Then, in my 30s, I read it to my daughters as a bedtime story over many weeks. I think I'm due for a re-read soon! What makes it so special is the manner in which Tolkien uses fantasy to treat major issues of good and evil, human failings and the victory of love.

Another fantasy, the first of a series of four books, about the development of a young wizard and the moral issues he faces. In my opinion, it is incomparably superior to Harry Potter in writing style and in content.

Another book dealing with a search through time, this time to find out about a skeleton wearing a scold’s bridle, who was buried in the narrator’s garden. The writing style and story held me riveted, so much so that I could not put the book down and read it within a day. This is a story about identity, spirituality, love, historical parallels, defiance of convention and so much more. This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.

An account of three generations of women in China, from before, during and after the revolution. Eye-opening account of a world about which I know so little.

This is a book containing a bit of everything that appeals to me: books, mystery, the occult and a good dash of quirky wittiness.

Totally scurrilous, totally silly and very, very funny.  Mark Gatiss provides a spoof on several types of literary genre, bringing together murder, mystery and mayhem and set off magnificently by the Beardselyesque illustrations. Definitely not for the prudish!

What defines Englishness? This was an amusing and illuminating read of observations made by a professional anthropologist who wanted to put her own culture under the microscope. I was interested to see how much would apply, because I grew up in a Polish émigré family in a London suburb with a large Polish community. Of course, it is difficult to evaluate oneself totally objectively, but my conclusion is that perhaps I am less prone than the true English to some of the inhibitions that are discussed, although I am probably as socially dysfunctional as the best of them!!!

True stories of the lives of Chinese women. I found this book harrowing and at times barely believable, especially the story of the girl who kept a fly as a pet.

I loved this book and actually put off reading the final pages for some time because I could not bear to finish it. The story line held me all the way through, although I do wish the author had allowed something not to happen that did and something to happen that did not. This is a tale of the defence of the West, which draws all the strands of the Western esoteric tradition into a desperate stand at the gates of Vienna under Turkish siege. The author obviously has a fairly broad esoteric background and extensive knowledge thereof. Below the seemingly chaotic mix of Venetian feuds, Viking longboats and Viennese breweries is a pointer to the inherent underlying unity of magical thought and action.

Followed by The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road - the trilogy is called the Fionavar Tapestry. This is a tale of four students who are drawn into the war between good and evil in a parallel fantasy world. Beautifully told and heart-wrenching at times.

Exciting, often surreal, tale of a young man who falls into a parallel universe set in the sewers and tunnels of London. Gaiman is a master storyteller. This was the first of his books that I read, but I also recommend American Gods and his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors

This is the story of three women of three different generations, who are each at a major life transition point. We are led into the history and the innermost being of these women by means of a narrative style that blends human warmth, intellectual erudition and mythical symbolism into a very special kind of literary magic. I loved this book!

This is based on historical fact and is set in the witch-hunting era of the 17th century. I was totally absorbed in this book from start to finish. Good characterisations, descriptions and dialogue as well as clever turning of historical facts into an excellent plot.

I found out recently that this was Golding’s own favourite out of his works. It is the story of a tribe of Neanderthals and their encounters with the first humans.

An account of a trip through South America. Che, together with his friend, is mostly occupied with trying to bum lifts, beds and meals, and they get into some hilarious situations while doing so. However, the underlying political consciousness and identification with the common people that later made Che take the path he took are also evident, as is a gift for writing and a poetic imagination.

The semi-autobiographical story starts in 1908 at the "Convent of the Five Wounds" school in London. This is actually the Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Roehampton, London. It is a boarding school. During 1965-1972, I attended the day school run by the same order of nuns in Hammersmith, London. Although more than 50 years separate me from Nanda Gray, the heroine, the descriptions of the school and its attitudes match my experiences totally. An eye-opener to anyone who has not gone through a standard Roman Catholic education (and yes, in the eyes of my old school I would be seen as having turned out bad ;) )  

Anna Wulf records her life in four notebooks: black for the struggle to be a writer, red for her political activities, yellow for her relationships and feeling and blue for daily life. It is only when she starts a fifth, golden, notebook that she starts being able to make sense of her life and to transform it. On first reading,I identified so much with Anna. That was more than 30 years ago. Perhaps it's time for a second reading.

I loved this book from the very first page. Calvino uses the images, although not the usual attributions, of the tarot to retell classic, archetypal stories, at the same time showing how they are all intertwined in the great matrix of human consciousness and the human psyche.

Surreal, fascinating tale of Clodagh, who escapes the meaninglessness of her life by running across the rooftops of London with her new friends. Absolutely gripping.

I found this in a secondhand bookshop and started to read it while walking home, causing much consternation to passers-by each time I burst out laughing. This book is a real gem. It is a re-telling of traditional fairy tales so that they do not give offence to those who feel it necessary to impose political correctness so as to guard our collective “morality”.

First of a superb trilogy set in a parallel universe which mirrors mediaeval Europe, but in which religion includes, for some, SM practices. Phedre is one such, and her calling leads her along strange paths. I experienced some deeply emotional moments while reading.

One representative of the very extensive Deverry series. I believe the books have different titles in the US. This is a Celtic universe caught up in the fight between good and evil. What makes this series unique to my mind is that the author goes back and forth through time and through various reincarnations, where the same characters encounter each other over and over in various different relationships. In a sense, it doesn’t matter in which order these books are read. I keep finding some new pieces fall into place each time I read them.

The title is the same in the English translation. Classic story of young love, longing and nostalgia. The author was killed at the age of 28 in World War I. A boy becomes separated from his friends and finds himself at a wedding party in a country house. There he meets and falls in love with a young girl, but is unable to find her again. This is a story of adolescence and growing up, the romantic ideal and our search for that which we cannot have.

Superb retelling of the Arthurian legend from the viewpoint of the women who were involved. The sequels are just as good, but this book is also a very satisfying standalone read.

This is described as a study of alienation, creativity and the mind of modern man and was a huge success when it first appeared in 1956, being taken as an apologia for the "Angry Young Men" of that period. Wilson looks at famous individuals, both real and fictional, who felt they did not fit into the normal world of others. It still has relevance today.

This is a wonderful book. It consists of two related stories, one set in 1900-1910, and the other in 1997-1998; both are love stories, but not standard romance fodder, and deal with the relationships of two Western women with Egyptian men and their families. I read this book while on holiday in Egypt and enjoyed comparing the descriptions of Cairo with my own experiences. The book also manages to provide a lot of information about the development of Egypt and Egyptian nationalism during the 20th century, but this is never allowed to get in the way of the plot. The writing style is refined and sensitive. The book was described as being the best runner up for the 1999 Booker Prize, and certainly merits the prize itself in my opinion. I classed this as my best read in 2004.

This book will probably not be to everyone's taste. I think it helps to know a little about Christian theology, the different strands of the Anglican church and depth psychology (e.g. Jung) and be interested in the phenomena of psychism, gnosis, possession and exorcism. These are the elements that Susan Howatch interweaves into a work that is simultaneously a thriller, a gripping account of a spiritual path, and a discussion on the interplay between religious experience and psychology.
This is superb writing for children, which manages to mix the modern and the mythological (Celtic) and magical without being contrived or twee.

Very powerful writing. It is a book that makes heavy demands on the reader, due to the complexity of the setting and the plot, and more delicate (squeamish) folks will be additionally challenged. Basically, it takes place in a series of parallel worlds inhabited by a demon race, whose members are either living or dead but still active, other fantastical beings, and humans somewhere in the background. There is much darkness, but also compassion, tenderness and love. A young girl, who is seemingly incompetent in the basic abilities of witchcraft nevertheless manages to cross between the worlds and do things that have been thought impossible. She is sucked into a web of power games and at the same time must battle with the darkness within her own family. In order to survive, she must form some extraordinary friendships. This is the first part of the Black Jewels trilogy.

Three stories, two in the ordinary world, one in a decrepit castle where Quiss must play strange games in order find the answer to a riddle, but a riddle to which he does not know the question. In the end these tales merge, but what is real and what is not?

A wonderful parable, with so many phrases that go straight to the central issue, and told beautifully, like the best spiritual teachings, in the form of an extended joke. A call to listen to the urgings of the inner Fool.

Eliot is a true mystic and amazing poet. His dramas were an eye opener to me as well. If I have to choose, then the Four Quartets poem cycle is my favourite.

This was a very powerful, revelatory read. I have always been a loner, for various reasons and my friendships have mainly been confined to a few male lovers at certain phases of life. There have been times, when I felt sad about my lack of success in forming friendships - perhaps my expectations are too high and my definition of "friend" too rigorous, who knows. Margaret Attwood's exposition of female "friendship" makes me feel that maybe I have not missed out on much at all. At least books and music cannot scar a person for life in the same way that so-called friends can.

Smilla refuses to accept the official explanation for the sudden and violent death of a disturbed six-year-old boy and goes in pursuit of the truth. I was totally gripped from start to finish. I am certainly not as brave as Smilla, and have no feeling for snow or ice - can't keep my balance! - but I did find many points of contact with her character.

Although Adams is better known for his rabbit story Watership Down, which I also liked very much, I found this tale of a bear taken into captivity even darker and more compelling.

Another "animal story”, this time of moles, and again an allegory of good and evil and personal sacrifice. There are several sequels to this book. Some very powerful statements are made about religion. I like the fact that Horwood uses real locations in England and Wales as a background for his tale.

Eye witness account by an American journalist of the events of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. We hear so many negative things about this that it is sometimes difficult to imagine why it should have received the support of ordinary people. Reed shows us the other side, the hope, the aspirations, the dedication, the excitement of those first days, before things went wrong.

Another eye witness account, this time of the Spanish Civil War, by a brilliant novelist who went there to fight against Franco. Being in the anarchist POUM rather than in the Communist International Brigades, Orwell had first hand experience of how Stalin cynically manipulated matters and betrayed the anti-fascist cause to serve his own interests. An important but also eminently readable book.

This is not an easy book to read due to its concepts and dense style, but it is an absolute eye opener. Kuhn looks at the workings of scientific research and demonstrates how most scientists actually work against the processes of true discovery and progress.

Graves, a major poet himself, subtitled this “A historical grammar of poetic myth”. He looks at the interrelationship between mythology, goddess worship and the work of the poet. This book is crammed with the most fascinating information. The emphasis is on Celtic material, but there is a lot more besides.

This is a huge study of mythology, religion and magic ranging over many traditions. Knowledge has progressed further in many of the areas covered, but this book is still unique and valuable in trying to bring it all together.

This is an exploration of the "new physics” for non-physicists. Zukav has a talent for explaining the most abstruse matters in a way that is understandable. I like the parallels he draws between some of latest theories and the ideas that were developed centuries ago in the philosophies and mysticism of the East.

Box set of the five children’s books that make up this series. Another fantasy, based mainly on Celtic mythology. Some of the best writing for older children that I have ever read.

 This is a parody of Gothic fiction, which was very popular in Jane Austen's time, and also pokes fun at the people who read it. It is very funny!

Beautifully expressed thoughts on life, love and spirituality. The piece about children is perfect!

The character of Zorba is one of the most memorable ever. He represents an ecstatic love of life, that is set against the bookishness of the narrator of the book. The description of Zorba dancing on the beach is fabulous. I also recommend two other books by Kazantzakis, Freedom and Death about events during the rebellion against the Turkish rule of Crete, and Christ Recrucified, a retelling of the Passion in the time of the Turkish occupation of Greece.

Jung’s ideas have had a huge influence on me, so I naturally enjoyed reading these autobiographical notes plus thoughts by one of my intellectual heroes. While Jung’s writing can be dense and difficult to follow, this books forms an easy introduction.

The story of a poor boy in Anatolia, who flees into the mountains, from where he fights against the greedy landlord who are destroying the people of his village. Kemal has written three more books featuring Memed, of which I’ve read and enjoyed They Burn the Thistles

One of the most charming fantasies I have read. It is a mixture of satire, gentle humour, parable and fairy tale of Schmendrik, a very unsuccessful magician, and his companion Molly Grue, who try to help a unicorn find others of her kind. I loved the animated film and loved the book even more when I finally found it.

Comic science fiction featuring a crazy religion. This is one of very few books that make me laugh out loud, laugh so hard that it hurts. His Cat’s Cradle, which features another crazy religion, does the same, but Sirens has the edge as far as I’m concerned.

59. Roads to Freedom by Jean Paul Sartre
In this fictional trilogy, consisting of The Age of Reason,  The Reprieve and  Iron in the Soul, Sartre explores the philosophy of personal freedom and destiny against the background of wartime France. I read this after seeing the BBC TV series in 1970 and found it very powerful. In contrast, when I tried to read Being and Nothingness, Sartre's major philosophical work, I gave up after the first few pages. 
Tale of a fallen Catholic priest, who finds himself the last surviving cleric in a Central American country that is determined to become fully secular. Greene looks into the mind of the priest and also of the secret policeman who is hunting him. Greene seems to have fallen out of fashion, which is a pity because he is a very great writer.
For Greene in much lighter vein, try Travels With My Aunt.

This is a wickedly funny, non-politically-correct satire on the US funeral industry. It’s not the greatest of Waugh’s creations, but is very funny indeed.

This is the first of the Detective Inspector Rebus books I read. I found it in a hotel where I was spending the weekend and kept awake through most of both nights in order to finish it before I left. Set in a superbly atmospheric Edinburgh, with a murder, an Internet game run by the mysterious Quiz Master, and tiny dolls in tiny coffins.

This is a story of the legal and political twists following a hit and run accident involving a rich financial whizzkid and a poor black in New York. It’s marvellous entertainment and a surprisingly quick read for such a long book.

Another tale of crime and punishment, set in an earlier period and far, far darker than the Tom Wolfe book. I read this decades ago and it has remained in my memory over this very long period.

I’ve read quite a number of Zola’s novels and find them all very powerful, however this is the one that has stayed most with me. It is a sad but beautiful story of a priest who dares to fall in love.

Generally, I’m not the greatest fan of Dickens, however I really enjoyed this novel which centres around a long drawn-out legal suit concerning some property and the ensuring emotional and financial damage, not to mention scandal and murder. The opening paragraph about a London fog is one of the best pieces of descriptive writing I have read.

Although the central characters in this story are technically the brothers Paul and William Morel, it is their mother and the hold that she has on them that drives the plot forward. Lawrence wrote this as a semi-autobiographical account of his own attempts to escape the Nottinghamshire mining society and of his relationship with his mother. I first read this for “O” Level English over 40 years ago, and it has stayed with me.

I’m the world’s biggest coward, perhaps this is why I have a fascination for books about travel and adventure, which help me to experience vicariously what I could never dare to do. I revelled in Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and Ra expeditions as well. I chose to list this particular one because, in addition to the theories inspiring the voyage and the adventures during the voyage, it includes Heyerdahl’s moving account of how he burns the Tigris boat as a public protest against the wars raging in the Middle East.

Lovely fantasy for children about a boy trying to find treasure before it falls into the hands of a group of witches. It’s written by a poet, and this shows. The sequel Box of Delights is worth reading as well.

I had the pleasure of meeting Philip by chance in Bristol in 1989. I looked up some of Philip’s works when I got back home and this won me over totally. It’s a poetry collection, aimed at children, which describes the ghostly goings on in a rather comic haunted house. I love how Philip uses various classical verse forms, thus giving his readers a tour of the possibilities of poetry without it ever feeling that he is “teaching”. 

I think Spanish is the most perfect language for poetry, and Borges writes some of the most perfect poems in Spanish! This is wonderful, lush language full of imagery. This is a bilingual edition by Penguin, which presents the poems in their original Spanish side by side with a translation in English. Another poet I greatly admire, who writes in Spanish, is the Cuban, Nicolas Guillen. Guillen uses poetry to reconcile his mixed black and white ancestry. His most famous poem is “Los Dos Abuelos” (the two grandfathers) in which he addresses his black and his white ancestor, slave and conquistador, respectively. I mention Guillen in this note without giving a book title, because I have only read him in Spanish.

This was great escapist reading for me when I was a child. Totally kitschy derring-do of the supposedly witless fop, Sir Percy Blakeney, who in truth was the daring Scarlet Pimpernel, a masked hero who rescued French aristocrats before they had their heads chopped off. Light frothy reading, perfect for times of being in bed with flu, and similar.

Horror fantasy novel of two teenage boys becoming embroiled in a nightmare travelling fair. Despite the protagonists being young, this is a book for adults not children. The writing is amazing, really atmospheric and spooky. Bradbury is also an absolute master of short story writing and there are many collections of these in print.

This book consists of observations made by Lorenz, scientist and Nobel laureate, of the animals in and around his home. It is a mix of anecdote, comedy, psychology, natural science and more, and altogether makes for a superb read.

This is a small book about relationships and their significance by a Jewish philosopher and Hasidic scholar. Buber divides relationships into two categories: I-It and I-Thou. The second type of relationship is the one that brings significance, that allows for a coming together. It is the I-Thou relationships in our lives that contribute the aspect to the sacred, and bring us into relationship with what Buber calls the “Eternal Thou” and some call “God”.

This is one of many books that I read in the 1970s-1980s when I was active in the Latin American solidarity movement. Domitila speaks of her life as the wife of a Bolivian tin miner, her involvement in political activity and subsequent imprisonment, torture and exile. At times harrowing, at times inspirational, this is an important account about a region of the world that is so frequently forgotten.

Another volume from Latin America, consisting of the collected writings of  Camilo Torres, who exemplified in his life and death the synthesis between the Catholic faith and Marxism that resulted in the school of liberation theology, which had a major impact in Latin America. Camilo was a Roman Catholic priest and academic from Columbia, who felt that he could not continue to preach the gospel from the pulpit while his country was subject to so much oppression and injustice. Searching his own conscience, he came to conclusion that the situation justified him taking up arms. He joined a guerrilla organisation and was killed in action.

This is an account of anti-fascist activity in East London in the 1930s-1940s, including the Battle of Cable Street. Piratin stood as the Communist candidate in the elections in Stepney and was MP for the constituency 1945-1950. I read this in the 1970s, when I was active in a very broad movement against the British National Front party, and it was interesting to note the parallels and the differences.

The Book of Coming Forth by Day (more commonly, but erroneously, called the Egyptian Book of the Dead) is a collection of inscriptions that were painted into Egyptian tombs to help the ba (soul) of the dead person travel through the underworld to find refuge in the halls of Osiris. This immensely beautiful and poetic free translation brings the spirituality of the Egyptians to life in brilliant colour.

The reputedly “wickedest man in the world” turns his hand to fiction in this story of a magical war between a white lodge and a black lodge. A number of the characters are based on Crowley’s friends and enemies, and there is a lot of magical detail. It is a surprisingly good read, with an unexpected ending.

This is a classical study of the psychological basis of fairy tales and how they impact on our lives. I found it fascinating.

I borrowed this from the library, was thoroughly enchanted, and spent a couple of decades looking for a copy of my own. Set in the pre-Christian ancient world, it mixes history and myth in the adventures of a young witch, who falls in love with the king she is supposed to destroy after marrying him.

Yet another Celtic-inspired fantasy, which, with its sequel The Moon of Gomrath, captivated me as a child, as did Garner's Elidor and also The Owl Service, a retelling of the story of Blodeuwedd set in modern times. I’ve read them all several times since. Alan Garner uses his local landscape around Alderley Edge as the inspiration for many of his tales.

What I love about Dylan Thomas is the fluid way in which this Welshman uses elements of the English language to create his musical poems. The same expressiveness is found in his radio drama Under Milkwood. If you want a real treat and if you can find it, listen to the original BBC recording of the drama, with the gorgeously sexy-voiced Richard Burton as the main narrator. A Child’s Christmas in Wales is another lovely piece of prose writing of reminiscences. The Outing is a hilarious account of male choir's day trip, which is heading for Porthcawl, but doesn’t quite get there.

I’m not usually a big fan of short stories, because very often they seem to lack meat. Maugham, however, is a true master of the art. It’s a pity that he seems to have fallen out of fashion.

We “did” Betjeman at school, which put me off him for some years. Later, as a student, someone made me listen to Banana Blush, a recording of JB reading his poems over a musical background. It made me realise that many of the poems are quirky, satirical, with a wicked humour, and at times a depth of feeling and meaning I had not previously recognised. JB is now one of my favourite poets.

I became fascinated by the Faust legend after seeing a performance of Gounod’s opera, Faust, in my early teens. This Elizabethan play in blank verse and prose is the most straightforward telling of the story.

Goethe was apparently obsessed by the Faust legend too. His retelling is much more complex, with allusions to classical and metaphysical concepts, and also bringing in the redeeming power of love. I have only read it in translation, but would love to attempt it in the original German one day. This is the version that inspired Gounod’s opera.

This huge complex book brings the Faust story into the early 20th century. The faustian protagonist is a German composer, who having caught syphilis makes a real or imaginary pact with the devil to receive 24 years of being a genius if he gives up love. It is a very symbolic work, with lots of allusions, and is considered a reflection of the moral decay of Germany during the Nazi era. I found it a tough, challenging read, even in English translation, but definitely worthwhile!

90. Faith Hope and Charity Trilogy by Len Deighton
Very complex story of plot and counter-plot, moves and counter-moves set in the Germany of the Cold War. Many red herrings, and even more surprises. It is definitely worth reading all three books of this series. 

A satire on English society in the early 19th century. Most of the characters are shown in their negative aspects. Although Becky Sharp is an “anti-heroine”, being shown as calculating and lacking all moral sense, she is in some ways also attractive, being shown as a woman who actually tried to shape her own destiny.

I first saw the 1988 film with Glenn Close and just had to read the book! It was written near the end of the 18th century and is the story of a man and a woman, both aristocrats, who play a game of rivalry in which they attempt to seduce and other influence the sex and love lives of others. The book has the form of a series of letters written by the various characters.

This is a mixture of reminiscences and philosophical reflections plus two short stories, held together by the fact that the title of each chapter is a chemical element. Primo Levi was an Italian Jew and a chemist, who survived Auschwitz to become a major literary figure.

I neglected work and gave up on sleep to try and grab as much time as possible to continue reading this. The story moves at various paces, but always in a tantalising manner, giving small glimpses of ever bigger things, so that we move from what seems to be a dystopic American Mid-West, to the notion of parallel worlds, alternate realities and more and more. I am now slowly working through the rest of the Dark Tower series.

This is a fictionalised account of the life of Hypatia, an outstanding mathematician, astronomer and Neoplatonist philosopher. She lived in Alexandria during the rise of Christianity and was murdered by a Christian mob. Kingsley was a parson and Hypatia is considered to be his veiled criticisms of tendencies he found undesirable in the Church of England. The book got him into trouble with church authorities.

This is a story of feral cats. One of the things I really liked about this book is how Tad Williams has created a whole feline mythology to underpin the story line.

Fromm looks at the concept of freedom, which he divides into two types, "negative" and "positive" freedom. While the first type, which is freedom from something or someone is the sort of freedom often fought for, Fromm considers it to be of little value if it is not accompanied by the second type, the freedom to do or be something and thus to create a new social order. Fromm also looks at how people try to escape from the uncomfortable feeling freedom can give them through authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformity. A thought-provoking and valuable read.

Teilhard was a French Jesuit and also a palaeontologist, as well as one of the greatest mystics of modern times. Like all true mystics, he got into trouble with his church. He presents a spiritual view of evolution and achieves a truly cosmic vision, which is breathtaking to read. A possible barrier to readers is that he uses the language of Roman Catholicism to express this vision.

A fast entertaining read and amusing story about what happens when the gods of the Greek pantheon go downmarket in a decrepit house in London, and about their cleaner Alice and her friend and hero-to-be Neil.

No longer is there a need for students of the mysteries to have great libraries of treatises on astrology, tarot, alchemy, druidism, hermetic magic, qabbala, etc. etc. This little volume proves all Wisdom founts from the "Great Bear" Winnie (and his companions of course!). A sister volume to Pooh and the Philosophers, in which the Pooh books are shown to contain the whole of Western philosophy. Both are very amusing but also thought provoking in places, but of course make most sense to someone who has also read and enjoyed A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner

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