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