Paul Cheney’s Ten Books and Why I Acquired Them

Article published on November 2, 2017.

In the latest instalment in our ‘Ten Books and Why I Acquired Them’ series, Paul Cheney presents his ten picks:

1. In March 2015, the late great Sir Terry Pratchett passed away. He is one of my favourite authors and up until now I have normally only collected the paperbacks of his books. The final book in the Discworld series, The Shepherd’s Crown, was published posthumously and I thought that I would treat myself to the slipcase edition. I am glad I did as it is a beautifully produced book. It is one that I have in paperback too, but have still not read. One day I will, knowing there is never going to be another Discworld story.

2. I regret not making the time to go and see Sir Terry Pratchett when he was still with us, so when the opportunity came to hear Neil Gaiman speaking in London about his new book, The View from the Cheap Seats, I jumped at the chance. He is a wonderfully eloquent man who is generous with his time and ideas. The price of the ticket included a signed copy of the book and it is one that I am glad to have in my expanding Gaiman collection.

3. I am not completely sure how I came across The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane; I have a vague recollection of a friend suggesting it was well worth reading. I remember getting it from the library and reading it for the first time back in 2008. The book is an account of him seeking the few wild places left in the UK and he heads to the remote islands of Scotland and sleeps alone under the stars. He comes to realise that wildness is all around us, all we need to do is look for it. Macfarlane is a fine author and this book blew me away. It opened my eyes to the genre of landscape writing and it was a book that I had to own.

4. My local bookshop has held a literary festival for a number of years now. One of the events that I went to was a walk round the grounds of Deans Court just after dusk with the author Chris Yates. It takes a short while for your eyes to adapt to the lower light levels and your other senses heighten as you rely less on your eyes. It was a wonderful experience that was enhanced by Yates’ knowledge. I had read his book before the walk, but I did buy a copy after the walk. Not only did he sign it, but wrote a delightful dedication and sketched an owl, the archetypical night creature.

5. We used to have a caravan is a little place called Norman’s Bay in Sussex. The gentleman in the caravan next door was the headmaster of a school and knowing I was an avid reader, he passed me a book called Secret Water. This was my introduction to the wonderful series of books written by Arthur Ransome and I slowly collected and read almost all of the paperbacks; I still have them too. However, I still wanted a hardback with this cover on and managed to find one.

6. China Mieville is an immensely talented author who writes stories that mess with your head big time. Perdido Street Station is a fantastical city that is full of strange and wonderful creatures, but one of my favourites of his is The City and the City. It is a murder mystery story but set in a pair of cities that are blended into each other and where the border is sometime along the middle of a road. The residents of each city ‘unsee’ each other every single day. For me, he has written about the stratification of society that is happening in a lot of world cities where the ultra-rich do not see those who are of a lower class and social status. It is challenging and beautifully written.

7. I have always been a science fiction fan, reading classic authors such as E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Asimov and Clarke in my formative years. I don’t read enough of it now, and feel that I should do. One of my all-time favourite sci fi authors is Iain M. Banks and his richly imagined Culture series. In my opinion, these books redefined the science fiction genre and what an author could achieve when building a galactic system.

8. Flora Britannica is a huge book; it is A4 in size and almost 500 pages in length. But it is a seminal work as Richard Mabey brings together all the local vernacular and knowledge about plants into one huge book. I first read it around 20 years ago having borrowed it from the library and when I was asked one year what I’d like for my birthday, I decided that this was it. It sits alongside several others of a similar vein now to be dipped into as and when the mood takes me.

9. Nigel Slater has been the Observer cookery writer for two decades now after being handed the apron from the late great Jane Grigson. It is a position that he has made his own. It is really hard to pick a favourite of mine, but one that we keep returning to and that has filled many a tummy is Real Cooking. I was fortunate to get a signed copy of this and it bears the scars of a working cook book.

10. I am a big reader of travel books as I find them to be an enjoyable way of finding out about other people’s perspectives on the rich and diverse world that we inhabit. I could have picked a dozen different books by a dozen different authors such as Pete McCarthy, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Kathleen Jamie and Lois Pryce, but I have chosen Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron. He is a fine writer who passes through a country leaving only footprints and taking away the memories that he then writes about in the most wonderful way in his books.

Paul Cheney
October 2017

You can submit your own ‘Ten Books and Why I Acquired Them’ list here.



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