My top 13 books for this year; none of which were published this year, all of which I read this year, some of which I read for the second time this year.
Broken by Karin Fossum
I picked this book up in the little bookshop at the end of my road, as part of a 3-for-£2 deal. This tends to be my source of fiction when I need something to rest my brain in between reading heavy academic tomes. Broken, when I opened the first page, looked like it might not be the break I needed. It was written in that linguistically interesting way that makes you realise as soon as you’ve passed the first line that the author has put their heart and soul into the writing. You know the kind. Much as I’m all for excellent authorship, what I was looking for at the time was a little light reading. I decided to give it a go, and it turned out to be perfect. Incredibly well-written – even more so when you consider that the English version is a translation – with a story that grips the reader, pulling them gently through the pages up to the climax. Definitely recommended.
Aula Lucis by Thomas Vaughan
Written in 1651, Aula Lucis is a work on alchemy. Unlike the vast majority of “old alchemical texts” out there, this one is interesting and has a ring of sense about it. Definitely worth reading if you’re looking for anything alchemical, it would also be of interest to the reader of general literature and mythology. A number of themes run throughout the short book, which may be easier to find in its later edition among the collected works of A.E. Waite.
The Book of Black Magic by A.E. Waite
Speaking of Waite, his Book of Black Magic also makes it into my top thirteen. Why? Because, like Aula Lucis, this book is slightly different from the majority of magical texts. For those who wish to skip straight to the ‘how-to’ section, there is a grimoire at the end; but for those who are interested in the philosophy of magic, the development of the idea of ‘black’ and ‘white’ magic, and the history of the two, the first part of the book will be invaluable. Whilst I would hesitate to suggest that Waite’s work is infallible, particularly considering the level of rivalry within the magical community in general, it is certainly worth reading for any would-be student of magic.
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
Surprisingly something I had not read before, The Myth of Sisyphus encompasses so much of philosophy that reading it seems almost essential. It’s short, it’s concise, it’s easy to read. It concerns itself largely with the idea of the absurd; a subject which of course fascinates me, but will be of interest to anyone who has ever sat back, looked at the world and thought: “They’re all mad.”
Sophist by Plato
Another large gap in my reading that was filled in 2009, Sophist is a work of Plato and therefore intrinsically valuable to the student of philosophy. Here, Plato furthers his conception of the Forms, discusses the puzzles of Parmenides, and generally gets the grey matter going. Go. Read. Enjoy.
Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark
The Queen of Suspense had to be in there, didn’t she? Higgins Clark is one of my favourite authors to whom I turn for solace when my brain is imploding from too much philosophy, physics and thought. Where Are the Children? was the first of her books I ever read, and is also the one I have read the most times. It has all the best components of an excellent work of crime fiction – mystery, desperation, fear, intrigue – woven together to form a beautiful and ultimately satisfying work that leaves the reader with that slightly hair-raising feeling. Crime fiction perfection.
The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar by Gordon Napier
This book is on here for one reason: it’s realistic. Taking the myths concerned with the Knights Templar and gradually dispelling them to reveal the truth, this book is a must-read for anyone studying the history of this order of soldiers. Also recommended if you know someone who has read too much Dan Brown. There are parts that will make your eyes widen, but more because of the sheer audacity of the Catholic Church throughout history than the mysterious rituals associated with a shrouded temple order. A refreshing break: back to reality.
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
Another pre-2009 gap in my reading, Leviathan was an excellent work of political philosophy; an area of reading which I rarely visit. Truly one of those books that can survive through the centuries, it raises important questions for today’s politics and sheds light on a great mind. It might take a while to read – it’s certainly not small – but it’s well worth it.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Husband gave me this book before we were married, and it has taken me until late this year to actually get around to reading it. Kerouac’s writing style is truly amazing; not many could get away with no paragraph breaks; but On the Road is a work of art before it is a work of literature, and the creative value of the text teamed with its truthful tales shines through. It’s one of Husband’s favourite books; it’s one that I appreciate for its beauty.
Accidentally Engaged by Mary Carter
A psychic woman accidentally ends up getting engaged to a man she neither likes nor knows, for reasons that are as alien to her as they seem to be to him. Thoughts of fate, control, life and hilarity entwine to create a genuinely great book that will have you in stitches throughout. It made me make embarrassing snorting noises on the train, and that in itself is a recommendation.
The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch
I kept having to stop and remind myself to breathe during this one. It will take your world view, turn it upside-down, shake it around, throw in some bright colours, paint the ceiling, make the ceiling into the floor, place you on your head, gently return you to the right way up, and then inform you that you were right all along. A strange work of physics and philosophy, The Fabric of Reality lacks something in the philosophy department but more than makes up for it overall. It will terrify, it will grip, it will upend. Read it only after stocking up on a large supply of tea and biscuits, and a huge comfy chair: you’re going to need them.
The Mathematical Experience by Philip J. Davis & Reuben Hersh
The only book I have ever read that really outlines the beauty of mathematics, The Mathematical Experience was recommended by Marcus du Sautoy on one of his programmes, and I picked it up a little while later expecting something interesting but relatively dry. Oh no. Ohhhhh no. It is beautiful. Not only does it take you through the normal bits: philosophy of mathematics, history of mathematics, life stories of some mathematicians, how ideas were born; it takes you right to the bare bones of the subject. For example, reading an account of how Pythagoras actually arrived at his famous theorem was simply amazing. Taking you far beyond the basic mathematics and deep into the minds of those who founded the discipline, this book will make you want to become a mathematician; or at the very least, you’ll see mathematics in everything for weeks afterwards.
The White Goddess by Robert Graves
Since I was seventeen years old, my favourite book has been Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. A fantastic philosophical tome, I thought nothing could ever overthrow its place as Number One Favourite Book In The World Ever. But that was before I read The White Goddess. I had heard whispers about it here and there – people saying I’d like it, but they say that about everything – and then, when we got married, a friend gave it to us as a wedding gift.
There is so much to say about this book that I can’t possibly cover it all here and have no idea where to begin. Its subtitle calls it ‘A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth’; and that it is. Written by a poet-historian who devoted his life to reading, writing and considering, it scrutinises myths and legends in ways only grammarians could, taking them in their historical contexts and drawing parallels not only with the rest of the literature of the time but also with the world around them. Graves seems to be able to get inside the minds of the writers of old, watching them draw their inspiration from the trees, the country, the world; and allowing us to see what they saw through his own eyes.
On top of this is the personal aspect: Graves speaks about his struggle with his life’s work; how he felt unable to call himself a ‘poet’ without losing respect from others, and how he therefore devoted himself largely to being a historian and author of more popular texts, neglecting the poetry he so loved for the sake of society. The happiness he feels at finally being able to release a work both of and about poetry shines through the text, making it a glorious and beautiful work of literary genius.