My favourite books of 2017

No need to explain. Perhaps just my usual proviso: Not all of these books were actually published in 2017, because I mostly just read old books, and I don't get around to new ones till they are no longer fashionable.

1. The Aimer Gate by Alan Garner (1978) - I didn't even know about Alan Garner till this year, when I started to see him mentioned on interesting websites connected to the 50th anniversary of his most famous book, The Owl Service. I was at Hay on Wye in September and I thought I would try to find some of his books. The first shop I went into had a little stash and I bought them all, and this is the first book off the pile I read. It blew my mind. I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn't this sparse, elegant, poetic little book that I read in one hour. I am still not completely sure what is going on here, though I read that it is actually part of an experimental quartet that explores changes in time and questions of ancestry in a small Cheshire village over a thousand years. This one is set during the First World War. It was incredible, and, as a writer, I found it transformative. Do people still write books like this, I wonder? I hope they do. I want everyone to read this.

2. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (2008) - It's almost a cheat listing an Alan Bennett book as he is such a pleasure to read that it seems almost like not bothering. But this is such a lovely and charming little book (another 2-hour read) that I can't believe it has taken me this long to read it. A must for any kind of book lover, and a great one for Royalists (though I thought Bennett wasn't one?). The Queen discovers a mobile library behind Buckingham Palace and then develops a real taste for reading, guided by her gay manservant. Great to read just before you watch the second series of The Crown, which is exactly what I did.

3. The Lightworker Oracle by Alana Fairchild (2017) - OK, I know it's not really a book, though it contains a beautifully written guidebook and it is printed material that requires reading, so I am willing to count it. I am a great user of Oracle Cards - I do a spread every morning, and I always consult them when I have questions or challenges. Alana Fairchild is someone whose work I greatly admire - a real Australian Wise Woman, and one of the great spiritual teachers of the 21st century, I think. This exquisite oracle deck is intended for those people who might characterise themselves as "those who love the light," people who are interested in spirituality, wonder and mystery. That's me. And I had an instant response to these cards, so much so that I couldn't put them down and carried them around with me everywhere, even overseas. Superbly illustrated and filled with wonderful ideas, inspirations and guidance, if this is your kind of thing make it a gift for yourself. Or give them o a spiritually-minded friend, who will thank you forever.

4. Rural Liberties by Neal Drinnan (2017) - Australian novelist Neal Drinnan has been writing for years (I read my first novel of his almost 20 years ago while I was studying in Vietnam) and his skills as a writer are, by now, extremely well-developed. This is a high camp, rather sexy, and very funny romp through small-town Australia examining the corrosive effects of reality television and the empty desire for fame that seems to characterise the early 21st century. Drinnan's rural Australian strugglers are masterfully drawn, and every word of his book seems true. Great fun, and deserves to be better known.

5. Bringing in the Sheaves by The Reverend Richard Coles (2016) - had you asked me in 1984 if my current pop star crush would end up being an Anglican clergyman 30 years later I would have scoffed - indeed, even threatened violence. But it has thus come to pass, and it turns out that 30 years can render all of us quite different people. And I'm not just talking body weight. The Rev. Richard Coles was the more musical half of The Communards, the band that made life just that little bit more bearable for sad little gay boys in country towns it the mid-80s. I always liked his dorky, bespectacled aesthetic. Now he is all grown up and is a village parson and writes lovely, reflective works of memoir that are quite Edwardian in scope and the sort of thing I image A. C. Benson would have written had times been different. A lovely insight into what it is  to be a clergyman in the 21st century with a wild and even scandalous sort of past behind you. A terrific read, and lots of fun.

6. The Way of the Traveler by Joseph Dispenza (2002) - I have actually dipped into  this book many times, and used its tips and advice on many trips. But this is the first time I have actually sat down and read the thing from cover to cover, and I found it immensely helpful and even life-changing. Basically it is a book on how to travel better and to make each trip a more profound, beautiful and inspiring experience. Immensely helpful to anyone who likes to travel, it is essential reading before you embark on any really big trip. Filled with practical advice and new ways of looking at the world, it is a unique and unexpected book that will really take you to interesting places.

7. The Ancestral Continuum by Natalia O'Sullivan and Nicola Graydon (2013) - This fascinating book was recommended to me by my friend and mentor Maggie Hamilton, who is strongly interested in this kind of ancestral work. I read it almost as soon as she recommended it, and I came away moved and, in many ways, confirmed in my own ideas of the importance of honouring our ancestors no matter who or where we are. Since reading this I have changed the way I work and the way I look at my life. I am much more interested now in honouring our cultural ancestors, and in seeing how my own family ancestors have had a hand in molding the life I live now. Practical, extremely thought-provoking and something that I think will grow to be of increasing importance in our world.

8. Flowerpaedia by Cheralyn Darcey (2017) - I have always been kind of obsessed by flowers. My beloved late grandmother  planted a bed of green zinnias for me when I was about 6 and this forever cemented my interest. When I was a younger man, I even considered becoming a florist, and at one stage of my life I was very interested in psychic flower readings when I regularly attended the Spiritualist church in Enmore. Cheralyn Darcey, a wonderfully flower-like character herself, has become the expert on flowers and their meanings in Australia, and I have always adored her work, This little encyclopaedia of flower meanings is an invaluable aide to any gardener or flower lover.

9. Walsingham Way by Colin Stephenson (1970)  - This year I took my parents to visit Walsingham, the English Marian shrine in Norfolk. It has been a dream of mine to visit there for perhaps 25 yeas, and I was completely captivated by the place. I would even consider living there. It was so holy, so beautiful and so completely other-worldly. My father said it felt like an episode of Doctor Who, and there is some truth in that. At the gift shop in the centre of town I bought a copy of this book , never expecting it to be such a rollicking good read. It is a complete history of the shrine at Walsingham, especially concentrating on its restoration in the modern era. Gossipy, inspiring, and endlessly fascinating, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Bristish history, Marian devotion and High Anglicanism. I never wanted it to end!


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