An honest and inspiring memoir: Twelve Rules for a Better Life by the Rev. Bill Crews (with Roger Joyce)

 The Rev. Bill Crews has long been one of my favourite human beings. I  have always admired his work in Ashfield, in Western Sydney, and later his radio show on Sunday nights on 2GB.

He has long been one of the most honest and unpretentious voices in the public sphere, and I have noted how he is willing to go anywhere to spread his message of compassion, charity and hope. He lives his spirituality, and in doing so he inspires so many others to look within as well as without and hope for a better world. 

I expected his book to be run-of-the-mill celebrity memoir with a bit of spirituality and self-help thrown in. But I was blown away by what it was. Twelve Rules for Living a Better Life is a beautifully-written, brutally honest and constantly inspiring account of the Reverend's life and the lessons he has derived from it. 




He is not afraid to walk into situations that might be painful and confronting to most of us, and he is also not afraid to delve into those areas in this book. 

If you want to be inspired by a man who walks his talk, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Oh, and listen to this podcast of me chatting with the Rev. Bill Crews about his book

A delicious entertainment for lovers of E. F. Benson: Mapp at Fifty by Hugh Ashton

 The love of E. F. Benson is so extreme and so all-consuming that many have attempted to "extend" the Lucia novels by taking the characters and their milieu and creating their own stories. 

Now, fans may or may not be receptive to this idea, nut nonetheless it seems like writers who love Benson - similar to writers who love Austen - love nothing better than having a go at continuing the literary journeys begun by  their beloved favourite author. 

When it comes to E. F. Benson, we have, over the years, seen authors like Tom Holt and Guy Fraser-Sampson write "new" Lucia books. The latest writer in this tradition is Hugh Ashton, famous for his Sherlock Holmes pastiche's. This little (and it is very little - no more than a medium-sized short story) book, Mapp at Fifty, explores Miss Mapp's birthday party and the disastrous things that attend it. We even get to meet her sister, who is quite a surprising character. 




It says much about Hugh's talent that, a couple of times, I thought I was reading Benson himself! 




This was great fun, and a nice distraction. You can read it in about an hour. It is, however, one for the hardcore E. F. Benson fans. I think that someone reading it without knowing the Lucia novels would be quite perplexed.

An unexpected literary surprise: Susan Howatch's Glittering Images

 I have discovered that it is always worthwhile exploring the literary artefacts of one's youth. 

I am not talking about the books that one enjoyed reading as a child. These are always worth picking up again. I have discovered so much about my self and the adult world I have created by re-visiting the books I enjoyed in my childhood (Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton's Book of Brownies, I Own the Racecourse, The Shark in Charlie's Window etc. etc....). What I have become interested in is the books I remember lining the shelves of my parents' house and the houses of my aunts and grandparents. Employing this method of enquiry I have, in recent years, discovered the joys of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Tom Sharpe, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Dennis Wheatley and others. 

One of the names I remember so vividly seeing on the shelves of the 70s and 80s is Susan Howatch. I never really felt inclined to pick them up - they were not designed to appeal to the aesthetic tastes of young boys. When my friend Maggie Hamilton told me a couple of years ago that she had found a Susan Howatch novel at an Airbnb in Greece and had been utterly enthralled by it I smiled nostalgically and thought nothing more about it. Maggie, however, mentioned it a couple of times more when we met, telling me I would love the ecclesiastic settings. Now, I value Maggie's literary judgement, and I also love any book about the machinations of the Church of England (I was definitely a High Church vicar in a past life), so I put it on my vague "must read someday" list. 

Finally, she bought me a copy of Glittering Images for Christmas last year. I have only just gotten around to reading it (it does take me a while to work through my book piles) and I have been so utterly entranced by the book that I can't think of anything else. 




Susan Howatch, dear friends, is a literary genius and why didn't anyone ever tell me before?

This book has everything: sex, mysticism, C of E bishops with deep dark secrets - even Evelyn Underhill

Oh, how you will love this! And it is not just enthralling, utterly engaging, fiction. It is also a call to spiritual arms, of a sort. It even includes a fascinating list of subjects to include if one is keeping a spiritual journal! Also some tips for defeating insomnia - in this case, sneaking out to a bishop's library in one's pyjamas and reading Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe




It has also prompted me to include some things in my life that I have let slip a little: prayer, a more disciplined approach to spiritual life, retreat and the comforting use of external spiritual prompts

This really is the most heavenly read. I am so glad I have discovered her, and can't wait to continue my Susan Howatch journey. 

For the Oscar fans: A Purple Thread: The Supernatural Doom of Oscar Wilde by Nina Antonia

Since I was a teenager I have been a fan of all things Oscar Wilde.

So I was thrilled when my friend Therese Taylor alerted me to this exquisitely written, designed and illustrated booklet: A Purple Thread: The Supernatural Doom of Oscar Wilde.




The fascinating author Nina Antonia has written a long essay discussing the occult thread that runs through Oscar Wilde and his family. It was such a thrilling thing to receive in the mail, and I sat down and read it instantly. I have since come back to it several times and used it as a reference in a couple of talks and courses I  have given. 

A beautifully-produced literary object that will thrill anyone who loves books and who loves Oscar. 

Produced by the craft-publisher Fiddler's Green, who always create literary objects that delight the eye and the heart. 

It's also thrilling to get and read stuff like this because it reminds us as readers that books can now be of any shape and size. I for one would love to read more of this kind of stuff - engage, quirky and specialist essays lovingly written and produced for the sheer art of it.


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