Prices in brackets are Church Times Bookshop prices (Use code CT205
The Great War and
Modern Memory by Paul Fussell (OUP, £12.99
I believe that there can
often be a right time to read a book. Sometimes you buy a book,
knowing you will want to read it at some point, but for the time
being it goes on the shelf. With the anniversary of the start of
the First World War coming up, now seemed the time for The
Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell, first published
in 1975 by OUP.
It shows in brilliant
fashion that not only do we remember the First World War through
the well-known poems of people such as Wilfred Owen and the
literary memoirs of people such as Siegfried Sassoon, but that
those who wrote home did so in language and images drawn from the
literature by which they themselves had been shaped. For example,
letters from the trenches often mentioned the glorious sunsets over
Fussell points out that
people started to write about sunsets only in the late 19th
century, having had their eyes opened to them by Ruskin, who was
widely read at the time. Fussell's thesis seems to be that the war
was such an obscene, grotesque experience for those in the trenches
that it was beyond the range of everyday speech.
The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop
of Oxford, and an Honorary Professor of Theology at King's College,
Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway
(Canongate, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-85786-074-3).
I admit to scepticism when I was given this book as a preaching
gift. I had never read Holloway, despite his massive output.
Surely this memoir counts as the quintessence of his life's work.
Here, Holloway is frank in his admission of self-deception;
honest as he traces failure and vulnerability; shameless in his
exploration of doubt and death.
Moving descriptions of his life in working-class Glasgow
contrast with his enchantment with the Church. The clash between
harsh realities and glorious ideals is, indeed, pervasive. Elegant
in style but candid in content, it is an account of defeat and
disappointment. Despite its well-made attempts to avert
sentimentality, I shed a tear as he left Edinburgh and "headed
for the hills".
The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain of Goodenough College,
Dreams by Denis Johnson (Granta Books, £7.99
Train Dreams, Denis Johnson's Pulitzer-listed novella, is an
epic of just 116 pages. Robert Grainier lives by hacking down
trees for the railroad - "It was only when you left it alone that a
tree might treat you as a friend. After the blade bit in, you had
yourself a war" - and covers that time when the American pioneering
spirit bumped hard into industrialisation.
Although full of tenderness and wonder,Train Dreamsconstantly
tests this new world, in search of its true costs.
Simon Jones is editor of Third Way
Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard (Jonathan
Cape, £16.99 (£15.30); 978-0-224-09744-4).
Hunters in the Snow is a hauntingly brilliant first novel about
how we respond to the past. Readers of this newspaper will enjoy
on York Minster, and the thunderbolt that struck it after the
consecration of the modernist Bishop David Jenkins. But there is
much else, including evocations of the Wars of
the Roses, the slave-memoirs of Olaudah Equiano, and the
mysterious death of Lord Kitchener. I envied, as well as
admired, this author's literary command. A star is born.
A. N. Wilson is a writer and newspaper columnist. He is the
author of The Potter's Hand (Atlantic Books, 2012).
Lustrum by Robert Harris (Arrow Books, £7.99
Cicero could be boring. But Robert Harris's Lustrum, the second
volume of his Cicero Trilogy, is anything but. First-century Rome
bristled with ambition, jealousy, class-consciousness, plotting,
and the toxic mixture (strange to us, normal to them) of religion
and politics. Harris brings it all scarily to life.
We meet, and recognise: Cato, the self-righteous Stoic; Pompey,
disappearing up his own magnificence; the ruthless and amoral
Julius Caesar; and - my favourite, because she reminds me of
someone I know - Cicero's loyal but sharp-tongued wife, Terentia. A
crash course on the dangerous world into which Christianity was
The Rt Revd Dr Tom Wright is Professor of New Testament and
Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews.
Round the Square and
Up the Tower: Clifford Chambers, Warwickshire nby Sarah
Hoskins (Hosking Houses Trust, £9; 978-0-95731422-1).
The Hosking Houses Trust has
produced an utterly charming book about its church, St Helen's, in
The Square, in Clifford Chambers, a tiny village just outside
Stratford-upon-Avon, and I think it is this year's favourite read.
The book is beautifully produced, and contains an eclectic (and
often eccentric) mix of history, sociology, art, poetry (the poet
Michael Drayton lived here), and theology. The well-known poet
Felix Dennis, the acclaimed church historian Stephen Prickett,
and a number of other grandees have pieces here.
I read it while engaged in some tough writing in one of the
17th-century cottages in The Square, and it was a kind of spiritual
counterpart to the physical haven.
Salley Vickers is a novelist. Her latest book is The Cleaner
of Chartres (Penguin, 2012).
New Selected Poems by Denise Levertov (Bloodaxe
Books, £9.95 (£8.94); (978-1-85224-653-2).
The biography of Denise Levertov written earlier this year by
Dana Greene led me to rediscover this extraordinary poet. Her
mother was Welsh, and her father was a Jewish Russian immigrant,
who became an Anglican priest. The grittiness of her life taught
her to bring joy out of suffering. The Hasidic sense of wonder
gave her the ability to "see the sparks of God everywhere".
Her imagination taught her how to live with a "door open to
transcendence". Despite much personal sorrow, her later poems are
luminous as she embraced faith, and became a Roman Catholic.
Esther de Waal is the author of Seeking Life (Canterbury
Press, 2009), and other books.
A Keeper of the
Word: Selected writings of William Stringfellow, edited by
Bill Wylie Kellermann (Eerdmans, £16.99 (£15.30);
Not all LSE graduates become politicians and bankers. This
year, I have been reading the theological work of an American
alumnus from the 1950s, William Stringfellow. Stringfellow spent
most of his life working as a lawyer representing poor and
disadvantaged people. But he was also a theologian, described by
Karl Barth as "the man America should listen to", and whose work is
only just starting to receive the recognition it deserves.
A Keeper of the Wordis an edited selection of his writings,
reflecting Stringfellow's unusual combination of autobiography,
theology, social critique, and his occasionally excoriating
The Revd Dr James Walters is Chaplain to the London School
Into the Silent
Land by Martin Laird (DLT, £10.95 (£9.86);
978-0-232-52640-0); A Sunlit Absence by Martin
Laird (OUP, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-0-19-537872-6).
My favourite read of 2013? These two books by Martin Laird. For
me - as something of a novice in the contemplative practice known
as "mindfulness", pioneered by my friend and colleague Mark
Williams - Laird's work has really opened up the rich meditative
methods and traditions found within contemplative prayer. His work
is centred on the part played by breath and awareness in the
spiritual life, which, although often associated with Buddhism,
is also an ancient practice rooted in early Christian
Laird's great genius is to bring together scholarship, pastoral
practice, and personal experience. Both books are beautifully
written, and quite exquisite.
Canon Martyn Percy is the Principal of Ripon College,
What W. H. Auden Can Do For You by
Alexander McCall Smith (Princeton University Press, £13.95
A poet I turn back to again and again is W. H. Auden. It is the
mixture of his forgiving humanity with the affecting precision of
his language which draws me. He dispels illusions without becoming
disillusioned. There are many great guides to help us understand
Auden - John Fuller and Edward Mendelson spring to mind - but
Alexander McCall Smith's What W. H. Auden Can Do For You is a
graceful and personal response of gratitude for Auden, celebrating
the resonance, reverence, and rebellion of the man who believed
"truth is catholic, but the search for it is protestant."
The Revd Mark Oakley is Canon Chancellor of St Paul's