Books of the Year (Read not published)

I continued this year my recently found ability not to finish a book. It was a great relief when I could find myself adrift, disconnected, and happily able to lay something aside!

Meanwhile, apart from continuing my way through the short stories of Kathleen Mansfield at, I confess, a very slow pace, these are the five most compelling books I read in 2016 (in chronological order). [Mansfield's stories are beautiful - precise observations of people's complex psychologies, tinged with a regard for the not known, the indescribable somethings that haunt a life].

'The Man who could Fly' by Michael Grosso is a compelling study of St Joseph Cupertino, the seventeenth century Franciscan, who undoubtedly could fly. A feat he accomplished repeatedly accompanied by clouds of witnesses, many of whom were originally sceptical. The virtue of Michael's book is three-fold. First to carefully sift the evidence and establish that this was the case (and that counter arguments come not from 'facts' but from assumptions about the possible that St Joseph happily upends). Second that if this is so, what might it mean for our understanding of what is possible. Third what it might mean for our assessment of the purpose and direction of being human and how it might transform both our understandings of religion as well as science.

'The Magicians' by J.B. Priestley is a novel that tracks Priestley (at his own description) as a time haunted man. Charles Ravenstreet, the novel's principal protagonist, is given the opportunity by the three magicians of the title to relive two critical moments of his past and by doing so recreate them and his future (and defeat evil machinations in the process). It is a beautiful study of Gurdjieff and Maurice Nicoll's explorations of time and its meaning - and triggered in me my own pattern of return in time and renewed recognition. Novel as spiritual nudge.

'The Buddhist History of the West' is David R Loy's journey through critical moments in the development of the West seen through the lens of 'lack' - of an existential sense that something is missing and that my/our identity is unstable. It illuminates, informs and stimulates you to further thought. History as different contextual responses to lack, some effective and workable, others, especially as we move into the modern age, increasingly ineffectual.

'The Silver Darlings' by Neil M Gunn is his masterpiece. A long, complex novel on one level saturated in a social realism about the origins of the herring fishing industry in Scotland arising out of the persecutions of the clearances (brilliantly chronicled in a book published this year by James Hunter in 'Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances). At another level, Gunn's deepening exploration of yet something other of the 'fey' and the 'psychic' (second sight beyond the normal) and of spiritual intimation of a world that works together for an underlying harmony and unity, even as it can be hard and unrelenting.

'All Passions Spent' by Vita Sackville West that, as a novel, I would never have thought of if I had not found myself watching a BBC adaptation with a miraculous cast and falling in love with this gentle tale of a woman at the very end of her life finding freedom from responsibility and with the space to gently assess and remember roads not travelled and come to terms with possibilities not lived. The book itself is graceful and wise and written with an unstudied charm that is alluring.

There were others too but these are the five that most deeply resonated both in feeling and in thought.


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