More guilty pleasures…

or ‘How what you read in your teens can scar you for life…’

2016-04-12 10.24.30

Last week, with the girls still at home for Easter, we found ourselves in need of some new books – as you do…

Naturally the first choice on these occasions is Hay-on-Wye, but as it’s over four hours away by car, it isn’t really an option for a quick mid-week fix. Instead we opted for Berkhamsted, (of Ed Reardon fame), where I have a soft spot for the Oxfam bookshop.

I really do think it’s the sort of shop where they should have lock-ins, like pubs once did. I’m pretty confident I could spend several hours (quite possibly days) working my way through the shelves there without ever getting bored.

I came away with an old Folio Society version of ‘Richard III The Great Debate’. It contains Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, and Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

I blame Rosemary Hawley Jarman for my Richard fetish. I read We Speak No Treason when it first came out in the 1970s, at that impressionable age, and have been in love with him ever since. Loads of history books, TV programmes and a car park exhumation later and I still enjoy reading anything about Richard and that era.

I’m looking forward to reading what More actually wrote. As a chief propagandist against Richard I’m naturally inclined against him – even studying Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in the Sixth Form didn’t make him any more forgivable and Anton Lesser’s portrayal in Wolf Hall fits better with my view of More. But the great benefit of being a history junkie not a proper historian, is that you can happily indulge your own prejudices to your heart’s content.

I know next to nothing about Horace Walpole, so that section will be educational on several levels.

The useful thing about Berkhamsted, is that if there’s a book you want but can’t find in Oxfam, they’ve thoughtfully built a Waterstones just down the road.

I didn’t want anything else and was just browsing while the Daughter looked for a specific title when two more books leapt into my hands – as they do…

Mary Beard’s SPQR A History of Ancient Rome and Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey My Own Life.

My knowledge of Ancient Rome is best described as patchy, being the result of a few lessons about the Greeks and Romans which I had when I was about eight years old and from watching (avidly) and then reading (almost as avidly) I, Claudius when it was on TV in the 1970s. It feels like having a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to guide you and lots of bits missing. Hopefully Mary Beard will help me put it all together and fill in the gaps.

I hadn’t heard anything about Ruth Scurr’s book before I saw it on the shelf, but I have  been a fan of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, since I read it as a history obsessed teenager.

At the time, I’d only encountered history text books and historic fiction, so to find Brief Lives was a revolution, here were snippets of information about famous and now largely forgotten people in a style unique to Aubrey.

So to find a biography of John Aubrey and one written in such a delicate homage to Aubrey’s style, weaving history and biography together, is a fabulous treat.

Looking at the books when we got home, it suddenly struck how they all linked so much to the teenage me. I suppose some things never change.

Happy reading…






14 thoughts on “More guilty pleasures…

    1. Good old Josephine Tey – I wonder if somewhere in the heavens Richard III is buying her a drink and thanking her for rescuing his reputation 🙂

  1. “The Flight of the Heron” turned me into a raving Bonnie Prince Charlie supporter, although as an adult I find him harder to support! Countless Jean Plaidy books too…

    1. Oh yes – Jean Plaidy! Now there’s a back catalogue – I might start doing a charity shop challenge to try and find them all! No, I know what you mean about Charlie – not quite the tall dark brooding hero material, but a fascinating story nonetheless.

  2. I am so intrigued! And have added We Speak No Treason to my list. I am a lover of historical fiction … kind of like being a history junkie, extra, extra light, since you just get to absorb other people prejudices and then wonder how much is actually true and then google it. 😉 Also, most of what I know about ancient Rome is based on I, Claudius and Colleen McCullough’s Ancient Rome books. I’d better stop before I embarrass myself further.

    1. I suspect that a lot of proper historians have their appetites whetted by historical fiction before they go on to study! Try We Speak…, but remember, I was a teenager when I read it, I’ve never re-read it – I’m not sure what I’d think about it now:)

  3. I was reminded by what you said about lock-ins about a bookshop in a pub that my husband took me to when we were courting – some 20 years or so ago! It was heavenly: you got your drink, went upstairs, and there were shelves and shelves of excellent books, Of course, you spent much more than you planned because your were “encouraged” by the alcohol – but what an excellent business model …. why aren’t there more of these?! I still have some of the books I purchased there, and treasure them particularly.

    1. Amazing! Why indeed – it’s exactly my idea of heaven. Perhaps we should suggest it! Do you think it might help solve the problems of failing pubs too…

  4. My interest in Richard was piqued in the early ’70s when I lived in Leicester, where my parents were from. For a few years we lived a stone’s throw away from King Richard’s Road and walked it most days, great local shops at the time. So close to where they found his remains, makes you wonder if the clue wasn’t in the original naming of the road! Still haven’t read anything serious about him though, maybe you’ve inspired me to do that; look forward to your thoughts on your …The Great Debate.

    1. Yes, I’ve heard other people make comments about the finding of Richard and it does make you wonder – at the very least about the power of story to communicate something down the centuries – makes me wonder about other folk memories.

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