The best books about spiritual places

The Books I Picked & Why

Highland River

By Neil M. Gunn

Highland River

Why this book?

I choose this book because it gives me the most haunting sense of landscape and place. The author was from the northeast corner of Scotland and it was in his blood. I find it incredible that he’s able to capture it so deeply. We can feel these things, but to put them on paper is something else, a different skill. But somehow he manages to take you with him and to bring that landscape to life in the most incredible and powerful way. I suppose my greatest compliment to this book is that I wish I’d written it myself.


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Ring of Bright Water: A Trilogy

By Gavin Maxwell

Ring of Bright Water: A Trilogy

Why this book?

This is a work of non-fiction, and it’s my very favourite in the world. On one level it’s about a man who leaves the world behind and goes to live in the most remote corner he can find to live with a pet otter. But it’s about a whole lot more than that. Gavin Maxwell brings to life the sound of the birds and the crashing of the waves; you can smell the seashore beyond the door of the house and you can walk out onto the beach to see the beauty in every direction. It’s a love song to the natural world, that’s what it is. And if it doesn’t leave you moved, then you’re harder than stone.


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The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

Why this book?

I only discovered this masterpiece a year or so ago. I had been promising myself that I would read the work of Wendell Berry and I hadn’t got around to it. There’s no contemporary poet with such grace and simple beauty as this one. What I admire more than anything is that he doesn’t have to use big or difficult words to bring the world to life. Instead, he uses words a child would use and understand. But it’s what those pictures leave behind in our minds and hearts that are so incredible. It’s the gentleness and the grace of the giving that makes us see and feel everything he reaches out to caress with words.


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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

The Road

Why this book?

This is not a beautiful book: rather, it’s a profoundly moving book and a deeply disturbing one. And yet somehow it is beautiful too. Something terrible has happened to the world and a father and his son are walking further and further along the road towards somewhere, they don’t know what. Everything from the world they’ve known is lost and gone. But McCarthy describes with such beauty the love of a father for his son that it’s weepably fine. He touches something within us that’s about the core of our humanity. And in doing so, when we finish reading that book, we look about us with new eyes and have gratitude for all we’ve been given, for all that’s precious.


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The Knot of Vipers

By Francois Mauriac

The Knot of Vipers

Why this book?

I studied this book at school and found myself coming back to it again and again long after I had grown into adulthood. It’s inspired by a part of France that the author knew well and loved deeply. It was a place of pine forests and great summer heat, and you can smell the trees and feel yourself in that landscape on every page of the work. The book is about an old man nearing the end of his life. He is not a good man nor a kind one: quite the reverse. And yet in these pages, there is redemption: he finds himself and he finds the peace he has longed for all the days of his life.


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