Books for Christmas (3)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

First of all, the book that explains all the hidden meanings in two of the great masterpieces of children’s literature. Why do hatters go mad? Which one of their pets did Victorian children often keep in a teapot? where did the Cheshire Cat get its grin?

It’s “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner. An indispensable guide to two of the world’s most influential books:

And here, a great follow-up to “Annotated Alice”, the book that is, in my opinion, the best biography of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. It’s by Morton N Cohen, and you can pick up this very large book for quite a low price if you buy second hand and choose carefully.

I previously mentioned a book about the cricketers killed in World War Two and here is the much larger book about the cricketers killed in the previous conflict. It was amazing to see just how many upper class men had only ever played two or three games of first class cricket, but, equally, how many of them had a brother, or even two brothers who were also killed in the war. What a slaughter of decent men that dreadful war was:

As the Titanic was sinking, the lights of another ship were seen, right on the horizon. This ship, though, did not sail over to help. The press decided the ship was the Californian and then made the life of its captain a living hell. And that was completely without justification according to “The Titanic and the Californian” by Thomas B. Williams and Rob Kamps. A gripping read:

It’s not that long since the centenary of the Great War, when a great many books were published about that appallingly wasteful conflict. Being a teacher of nearly forty years’ standing, I was attracted by the books written about its effects on a number of English public schools. Apparently at Nottingham High School where I worked, the school flag was almost permanently at half mast. And that was far from unique. Such exclusive private schools provided the majority of the junior officers, Second Lieutenants, Lieutenants and Captains. The first two of those three finished with a casualty rate as bad as Bomber Command in WW2. Here are the four I enjoyed most. The first one is from Uppingham School whose website is here

The second one is Oundle. Again, you can see for yourself the school’s website which is here

The third book was of Magdalen College School in Oxford with its Headmaster, Mr Brownrigg. Here is its website.

The last one was of a Yorkshire school called Wakefield Grammar. Here is its website.

Personally, I thought that Wakefield was the best of the four books, because it contained a lot of interesting details of life at the school at the time. Magdalen was possibly the most poignant, although Uppingham, of course, was the school of the three friends of Vera Brittain, and feature in her book, “Testament of Youth”.

The next book is “Slaughter on the Somme 1 July 1916: The Complete War Diaries of the British Army’s Worst Day” by Martin Mace and John Grehan. This is definitely a book that can be picked up a lot cheaper than its full list price. The book consists largely of the reports of the worst day ever for the British army, written for the most part  by junior officers, who tended to tell the true version of events in plain language. What they recorded is quite simply astonishing. And the best sentence ? “It was apparent that matters were not progressing quite as favourably as had been anticipated.” Understatement or what?  57,470 casualties on the day, of which 19,240 men were killed. And in the entire three and a half month battle, around 420,000 British and Empire men perished.

I have always been fascinated by DH Lawrence, who seems to have been “a most peculiar man”. Of the next four books, I have not read a single one, but I can’t wait to get started. The first is “A MEMOIR OF D. H. LAWRENCE: \’THE BETRAYAL” by GH Neville. Neville used to travel by train to Nottingham High School with the fourteen year old Lawrence.

Later in life, Lawrence was to steal away the wife of a university professor at Nottingham, Dr Ernest Weekley. Her maiden name was Frieda von Richthofen, but she then became, eventually, Frieda Lawrence. So far, I have bought “Genius for Living:  a Biography of Frieda Lawrence” by Janet Byrne which may help me understand the behaviour of this very strange woman.

A modern day professor at Nottingham University, John Worthen, has gone as far as to write a novel about that shocking love triangle back in Nottingham in 1912. I am looking forward to seeing how he portrays some extraordinary events.

An outstanding aviation book is “Darwin Spitfires”, a book by a local teacher, Anthony Cooper, about the use of RAF and RAAF fighters against the attacks on Darwin by the Japanese. This one I have already read, and it is a marvellous eye-opener of a book, not to be missed:

“Fire from the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat” is a study by the American author, Robert C. Stern, of the phenomenon of the Kamikaze attacks on American and Australian ships. It is a superbly detailed book with a very interesting comparison of the kamikaze and the islamist suicide bomber.

I was surprised to find that the next book was still possible to get hold of as it seems to be so local in its concerns. That point of view is somewhat incorrect though, because the book is really about any one of twenty or thirty counties where there were airbases during WW2. It is a very honest book, and if the behaviour of the locals is disgraceful, then the author is not slow to tell us about it. A little gem.

This book, with almost 900 pages and so many heavily reduced second hand copies around, has been described as a bargain door stop but that is a tad cruel.  Indeed, “The Right of the Line: The Role of the RAF in World War Two” by John Terraine is a wonderful reference book about the RAF with every facet of their war explained and examined. Definitely a book to be dipped into, it is a valuable encyclopedia about the events and intentions of the RAF in the Second World War.

So there we are. The best part of forty or fifty suggestions about what to buy the boring old fart in your family for Christmas. And all of them recommended by a fully paid up boring old fart of a blog post writer.

I can even offer you an insurance policy. If all else fails, then buy him a box set. How about this tumultuous tale of a chemistry teacher gone wrong ? Very, very, wrong…..






Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, Literature, military, Nottingham, Pacific Theatre, The High School, the Japanese, Writing

25 responses to “Books for Christmas (3)

  1. jackchatterley

    “Slaughter on the Somme 1 July 1916: The Complete War Diaries of the British Army’s Worst Day”

    Mine mine mine mine mine mine!!!!

  2. Another fascinating collection. I am currently reading Barbara W. Tuchman’s Guns of August, the first of two volumes on the history of WWI.

    • I hope you enjoy them, Derrick. (If “enjoy” is the word with books on WW1.) I’m just finishing the book about cricketers killed in WW2 and the next one will be the story of the Luftwaffe’s attempts to bomb New York.
      I have a policy of “You buy it, you read it” which I try to keep to, although the older I get, the busier I seem to be.

  3. a great iist of possible reads. So much terrible loss and unnecessary from war. I did not know you liked Breaking Bad?

  4. A lot of great ideas here, John. Most I’ve never heard of, but all sound interesting!!

  5. Love your reading material, John. Like you I refuse to read junk so it warms my heart to know there is another person out there who is very particular with his choice of books. I say good for you!! And also, it does not surprise me.

    • Thank you, Amy. Whatever I read, I prefer that it teaches me something even if it is a novel. Of the fifty or so books I have listed, I think you might well enjoy DH Lawrence. He has always been billed as the writer who understood the female psyche. Indeed when he was an unknown novelist, some people thought that his first book had been written by a woman.

  6. Thank you very much John for highlighting some of your own thoughts and ideas. An excellent collection of books you have shared with us, if there isn’t one there that appeals to someone then the boring old fart is not you!

    • An excellent point, well made!
      Perhaps the next step is to have a little audience participation, with a blog post on “Books to avoid at all cost”. After my university days, I would start off with anything by Dostoevsky or by André Gide. On the other hand, I would fully accept that most people already steer well clear of those two.

      • I’m sad to say I’m not a great literal expert. My university reading list included primarily ecology or environment science books, not the lightest of bedtime reading perhaps. More recently it would be the factual aviation related books, and I can’t say that I’ve particularly come across a ‘bad one’ as such just yet. There’s plenty of education related books that I’ve struggled to even open yet alone read, now those I’d avoid like the plague!

      • Oh, the happy days of PGCE with the lecturer trying to make us all believe that what she said was right and that we weren’t all talking a complete load of b*****ks. And you are not wrong about the education books. And the sociology ones come to that.

      • Oh the list could be endless! We are repeatedly given these ridiculous books to read ‘by the authority’ that will ‘revolutionise’ teaching, same old same old regurgitated by someone else. I’ve not read one of them and haven’t lost out as a result.

  7. Thanks for the list. It will only be possible if I can find then in Australia. I’m still waiting for a book from England that was posted three months ago. I think there must be a virus somewhere.

  8. No John thePost office say it will eventually get back to normal but not until the planes start flying again and there aren’t very many flying in an out of Australia

  9. Such interesting books and I have not read one of them ! Hopefully I will be able to get some. There are so many books to read.
    I am reading Indica by Pranay Lal. It is a fascinating book.
    Indica – Penguin Random House India

    • You have no need to worry that you haven’t read any of them. I wrote the list more to help somebody select a book for an uncle or a nephew, a male person that you may not know that well.
      Having said that, I think you might well like DH Lawrence’s short stories which are really well written, and best of all, they are all short!

  10. You may like Todd Tyrtle’s page. He organizes an International Book club meeting once a month and we enjoy taking about books. Elizabeth too joins .

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