I am an avid reader and, despite Kindles and other electronic ways of producing the written word, I still love to hold a book, and use my collection of colourful bookmarks. To me, as a Christian, the most beautiful book that I have is, without doubt, The Bible. It is crammed with lovely stories and good advice, even though these can be brutal and violent. We have only to think of Daniel in the lions’ den, the story of Samson and his betrayal, the plagues of Egypt and, of course, the crucifixion. It is also full of love, kindness and understanding. No wonder it is the top book to take on a desert island! Just pause for a moment. What was the first story you remember being told or taught? What impact did it have on you and why? Was it the content of the story, its outcome, or just the sheer love of being able to read it, or hear it being read to you? As a teacher, I always tried to instil into my young learners the beauty of The Bible – the hope and love portrayed within its written word – always keeping in mind the multi-cultural context of many of the children that I taught.
Over the period of the last eighteen months, and before, reading has been a way out of the reality of the day, into imaginary worlds and times, with characters so beautifully written they appear to stand along side of you in their world. I asked a dear friend who, at the time, worked voluntarily at Mary Stevens bookshop, what she had been reading and what she could recommend. She went straight to the historical section and pulled out ‘Dissolution’ by C.J. Sansom. On reading the blurb I bought it and, believe you me, I have never looked back. I am now on his final tome (an epic of 800+ pages in length) and looking forward to again meeting the characters I have met in the other six books. These books are the ‘Shardlake Series’ and are set in Tudor England under the time of Henry VIII. Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer born in Lichfield, gets involved in solving crimes, and the stories, along with the characters, are so vividly described that you can almost touch, feel and smell life in Tudor England.
I was in Waterstones in Market Bosworth (before Covid), was looking at the Shardlake books and reading just the blurbs. A gentleman came over and stood next to me. ‘Have you read his books?’ he asked. No, I replied, and he proceeded to tell me how he had got into the Shardlake stories. He gave me a good piece of advice (after I said I was reading ‘Dissolution’). ‘Read them in order of writing,’ he said. ‘I read them all over the place and had to go back and read them again in order. It makes more sense!’ So I have, and they do dovetail into each other. The series has made me understand the period so much better – what a grim king Henry VIII was, the persecution at the time when Henry decided that England would no longer be under the Papacy, the troubles they had with religious changes and how scary it was (you feel the characters fears). I would like to visit the period for the day but definitely NOT live in it! They have also brought a thankfulness that we have far more religious tolerance than in those days, when religion and politics were so intertwined they had become one and the same to the populace of the time!
I do recommend these books, even if you aren’t a ‘historical reader’ or a crime reader! I dare you to get hooked! The order is ‘Dissolution’ (2003), ‘Dark Fire’ (2004), ‘Sovereign’ (2006), ‘Revelation’ (2008), ‘Heartstone’ (2010), ‘Lamentation’ (2014) and finally ‘Tombland’ (2018).