1.7.15

Book recommendation: The Two-Sided Man: A Selection of the Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling by Brian Harris OBE, QC

Somerset Maugham once described Rudyard Kipling as ‘our greatest short story writer’, adding, ‘I can’t believe he will ever be equalled. I am sure he will never be excelled.’ Known by many only for The Jungle Book and the Just So stories, Kipling’s range was in fact much wider. Most readers will be familiar with his stories about India and many know of his adventure tale, ‘The Man who would be King’ which was made into a record-breaking film, but how many are aware of his horror stories like ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’, his ghost stories like ‘They’, his mystery stories like ‘The Wish House’, his revenge stories like ‘Dayspring Mishandled’, or the enigmatical, ‘Mary Postgate’? All can be found in this anthology of sixteen of his favourite Kipling stories. It comes with an introductory essay by Brian Harris setting the author against the background of his family, his school and his times, confronting head-on such issues as his political and religious views and his supposed racialism. After posing the question, why should we read Kipling today, Mr Harris answers, ‘Here is someone who paid the respect that is due, but not always accorded even now, to the alien, the poor and the oppressed. As the unofficial spokesman of the greatest empire in the history of the world he described accurately and sympathetically the lives of the peoples living under its jurisdiction. Though no orthodox believer, he prized and in his writings illustrated the great Christian virtues of charity, compassion and forgiveness, as well as the more modest British virtue of toleration. Nor is it possible to read his stories without being surprised by the light they so often throw on the eternal mysteries of love, pain and loss. Ultimately, however, we read him, as our parents did before us, for sheer enjoyment. The Two-Sided Man comes hard on the heels of Mr Harris’ anthology of Kipling’s poetry (‘The Surprising Mr Kipling’) Available from Amazon.

24.6.15

Book recommendation: To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition Paperback by Harper Lee

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition. Available from Amazon.

17.6.15

Book recommendation: Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories by John Mortimer

Forever Rumpole - a hilarious new selection of the very best Rumpole stories by John Mortimer. Horace Rumpole lives alongside Mr Pickwick and Bertie Wooster as one of the immortal comic characters in English fiction. With his curmudgeonly wit, his literary allusions, his disdain for personal ambition and his lack of pomposity, he has, in the words of the Daily Telegraph, 'ascended to the pantheon of literary immortals'. Available from Amazon.

10.6.15

Book recommendation: The Great Defender: The Life and Trials of Edward Marshall Hall KC, England's Greatest Barrister by Edward Marjoribanks (Author) and Gary Bell QC (Introduction)

When Sir Edward Marshall Hall died in 1927 it was the end of an era. Tall, strikingly handsome and charming, the barrister was the finest advocate ever seen in the English criminal courts. Known as 'The Great Defender' as he fought tooth and nail for his clients, those in the shadow of the hangman's noose were often saved from execution by his dramatic and eloquent defence. His closing speeches to rapt juries were legendary and there was never a free seat in the public gallery or on the press bench when he was in the Old Bailey. Marshall Hall did not win every case - the 'brides in the bath' murderer George Smith and poisoner Frederick Seddon were sentenced to death - but not without a fight from the amazing advocate. One of his finest victories came in 1894 when he saved the life of Marie Hermann, a former Austrian governess who had resorted to prostitution to feed her three children, one of whom was blind, after her husband abandoned her. Charged with the murder of an elderly client, even she believed she would be hanged. Marshall Hall gave an impassioned plea to the jury which ended with him, with tears on his cheeks and pointing to her in the dock, begging, 'Look at her, gentlemen of the jury, look at her. God never gave her a chance. Won't you?' They did, and she was found not guilty of murder. Despite success in court, Marshall Hall's personal life was tragic. His first wife, Ethel, whom he adored, informed him on their honeymoon that she could never love him and died in agony following a botched, secret abortion after getting pregnant with her lover's child. This biography, written by his friend Edward Marjoribanks, with an introduction by criminal barrister Gary Bell QC, details many of the advocate's famous trials and his life outside court. Available from Amazon.

3.6.15

Book recommendation: The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells. These modern dispatches from an ancient landscape tell the story of a deep-rooted attachment to place, describing a way of life that is little noticed and yet has profoundly shaped this landscape. In evocative and lucid prose, James Rebanks takes us through a shepherd's year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost. It is a story of working lives, the people around him, his childhood, his parents and grandparents, a people who exist and endure even as the world changes around them. Many stories are of people working desperately hard to leave a place. This is the story of someone trying desperately hard to stay. James Rebanks is the Herdwick Shepherd, whose account of shepherding has a strong following on Twitter (@herdyshepherd1). His family has farmed in the same area for more than six hundred years. Available from Amazon.