Welcome to the Foxholes Book Club! This week, we’re delighted to share an exclusive blog post written by our very own Hilmar Warenius:
It’s an almost impossible task to choose just ten books out of a lifetime of reading. To omit so many great authors such as Somerset Maughan, Thomas Hardy, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, The Brontës, Tolstoy, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, PG Wodehouse and innumerable others is unforgivable, but here are just ten of the many brilliant books that have fed my imagination over the years.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
When I was 15, I was handed this book on a Friday afternoon, along with the rest of my school class to be read for GCSE exams. I started on it immediately and didn’t put it down till the early hours of Monday morning, having done nothing but read it all weekend.
I suffered pangs of unrequited love for the unattainable Estella and struggled with Pip as he despairingly realised the irony of the “Great Expectations” of the book’s title, and the ignominy of finding his real patron was not Miss Havisham – but a very undesirable character. Arguably Dickens’ greatest novel.
Just William by Richmal Crompton
The ultimate children’s book. We all wanted to be William Brown and to regularly find ourselves in furiously humorous adventures. The school inspector came into our English class at The Grammar School one morning and asked us to name our favourite author. I still remember the extremely pained expression on our teacher’s face when the whole class erupted into an unscripted appreciation of Richmal Crompton.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
A beautiful little book of short stories by the celebrated science fiction author of the forties and fifties. He was famous for his books on robotics and his novel, Fahrenheit 451, where the job of the fire brigade has evolved into burning great literature rather than putting out dangerous fires.
In The Illustrated Man, the writer accompanies a traveller whose upper torso, bare to the world, is covered in tattoos – except for one empty panel on his back. At night, each of the tattoos comes to life and the writer describes the story enacted in it. A collection of beautiful science fiction short stories. Read to the end to discover the significance of the empty panel on The Illustrated Man’s back.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A wonderful story about a student called Raskolnikov who, at the outset of the novel, believes certain individuals can be free to be completely amoral – and so commits a shocking murder of an old woman.
By the end of the novel during a lengthy jail sentence, however, he achieves redemption and spiritual peace. Aside from its powerful moral and spiritual analysis of “La Condition Humaine”, this remarkable novel introduces us to Porfiry Petrovich, the first depiction in literature, in which we can recognise the modern investigative agent, a prototype for so many persistent detectives of future crime novels – including Ian Rankin’s Rebus and more.
Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli
Don’t be put off by the title and the fact that it is not fiction. This book is well-worthy of a visit. Carlo Rovelli is a philosopher as well as a modern physicist with a compelling interest in ideas, written in a wonderful lucid prose.
The author starts with the sensational claim, at the time, by Democritus in ancient Greece, that the universe was made of atoms. In a series of beautifully written short story accounts, the book follows the path taken by the evolution of ideas about the nature of creation from Democritus, up to the present.
Time and time again, Rovelli teaches us that many far earlier concepts can still make valid contributions to our modern understanding.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I loved this novel from its famous opening sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged….” to Elizabeth’s feisty response to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s attempt to prevent the marriage to Darcy. Elizabeth states that she was resolved “….to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” And including the response of Elizabeth’s father, a lovely gentle man to whom she was very close.
When her mother said she would leave home if Elizabeth marries Darcy, her father replies, “…and I will leave home if she does not”.
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
An amazing story of three generations of women (Wild Swans) spanning the political upheaval from the last days of Imperial China, through Japanese occupation, then Mao’s communist takeover and finally, the post Mao era.
The three swans are a grandmother, Yu Fang, the concubine, wife of an imperial warlord, her daughter, Bao Qin, renamed De Hong (meaning virtuous wild swan. Hence the book’s title) married to a communist officer, and the granddaughter who narrates the story.
I loved the powerful and detailed insight into China and its people at such a critical time in the country’s history. The author was aware of the terrible consequences of Mao’s political rule, devastating failure in food production and launching of the red guards long before the Western world.
The Rainbow by D H Lawrence
Another story of a three generation family. This time, the Brangwens are living on a farm in Nottinghamshire. This psychological, emotional and physical study of human sexual relationships and the struggle of seeking individual validation within the constraints of society is totally absorbing.
It was shocking when first published, being considered pornographic because of the fearlessly frank way Lawrence deals with human interactions. I’ll always remember the beautiful implication of human sensuality in the movements of the trees in the breeze and the gathering of the harvest.
L’étranger by Albert Camus
The word ‘existential’ is now appended as an unnecessary adjective to many different words, instead of the more appropriate words ‘actual’ or ‘real’. For instance, a ‘real’ threat is nowadays described as an ‘existential’ threat. The ever-changing way in which we use words can obscure rather than clarify earlier meanings.
Existentialism, espoused by Jean Paul Sartre in Paris and Albert Camus in North Africa, amongst others, was a mid-twentieth century nihilistic philosophical idea that there was nothing at all in existence that had any true meaning.
L’étranger can be translated into English as the stranger or the foreigner, but I prefer the term outsider – someone who is outside the accepted normal moral world. There is a striking similarity to Dostoevsky’s Raskalnikov here. The “hero” of L’étranger commits a motiveless murder of a stranger on a beach. The philosophy and psychology behind this murder are fascinating.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans used the masculine sounding nom de plume, George Eliot – apparently because she believed only male writers were taken seriously (I’ve no idea what on earth she thought about Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters).
I loved Adam Bede, Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch, but they are quite demandingly long. Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe is, by contrast, a beautiful little jewel of a book. It is a moral tale told with a touching sentiment.
Silas, a devout man, is forced to leave a tiny Calvanist community with whom he worships by the false actions and lying testimony of someone he thought of as his best friend. The girl who was to be his wife marries the friend.
Silas loses all trust in God and retires to a solitary existence as a miserly weaver in the little village of Raveloe. He hoards his earnings as gold buried by the hearth. Through a plausible series of events his gold is stolen, one day, and in its place he finds a beautiful golden-haired abandoned baby girl whose love gives him what gold never could, healing the bitterness which the miser had been hoarding over his first years in Raveloe.
Here, there is redemption as in (the very different) Crime and Punishment. I suppose what links all these works is that they are about how people try to make sense of the world and their relationships with one another. Even William Brown expresses clear philosophical views from time to time.
Hilmar is proud to be writing his very own novel this year, an autobiography that details his fascinating journey into medicine, as well as offering insight into his loving family.
Watch this space for updates!
If you’d like to find out more about the Foxholes Book Club, or you’d like to speak to a member of our team about our services, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about Hilmar’s new book, take a look at our previous blog post.
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