The best books to take you into another world

The Books I Picked & Why

The Morville Hours

By Katherine Swift

The Morville Hours

Why this book?

This is extraordinary, meditative, and beautiful. For me, it fulfils the most important element of any book – that magical sense of stepping into another world. In this case, it is the world of Katherine Swift as she describes the creation of her garden in Shropshire. Yet it is so much more than that. The book is built around the daily structure of monastic prayer, as in a medieval Book of Hours, and this contemplative mood flows through every page, taking us on a discursive journey involving horticulture, history, and the stories of some of the people who previously lived at Morville. Whenever I read it, I get that all-important sense of connection with nature and the rhythm of life.


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The Ivington Diaries

By Monty Don

The Ivington Diaries

Why this book?

I love books that chronicle the passing of time, going from dark and gloomy January, through the quixotic summer months and right into late December which I always think of as the fag-end of the year. The Ivington Diaries is a collection of Monty Don’s diary entries about his home and garden over several years. With charming honesty, he describes his gardening failures as well as his successes, the people he knows, and the vagaries of the changing seasons. Whenever I read this book it casts a spell over me and I feel as though I’m living in a secret corner of the garden at Ivington, watching all its comings and goings.


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Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants

By Gabrielle Hatfield

Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants

Why this book?

Plants are our companions through life. We grow, pick and eat some of them, but how much do we really value them? Our ancestors had an intimate knowledge and understanding of the power of plants and were aware of which were helpful and which caused harm. They wrapped comfrey leaves around the damaged legs of animals, believed that fairies sheltered from the rain beneath ragwort plants, cured childhood hernias with the aid of ash saplings, and recognized the benefits of rosehips long before science could analyse their nutrients.

Hatfield’s Herbal follows the tradition of so many other excellent herbals, weaving botany, plant magic, medicine, and folklore into an engrossing mixture that always keeps me reading long after I found what I was originally looking for. Read a good herbal and you’ll never look at a so-called weed in the same way again.


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The Owl Service

By Alan Garner

The Owl Service

Why this book?

The haunting themes and mood of The Owl Service lodged themselves in my imagination when I first read it as a teenager and there they stay, decades later. I’ve returned to its mysterious and beguiling world several times since then, and on each occasion, the book has immediately woven its old spell around me. It is rich in Welsh magic as the past is played out against the backdrop of the present, and a hidden collection of plates decorated with what might be a pattern of owls becomes something far more potent and sinister. This is one of the books that first introduced me to the mysteries of landscape, the power of the past, and the enduring life of myths.


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Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca

Why this book?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Rebecca. Actually, I barely need to read it now because I know so much of it by heart. It is a compulsively readable reworking of the classic tale of the outsider, with an unsettling and eerie atmosphere that always reaches out and grabs me from its famous opening sentence. Its Cornish setting is so immersive that it can be an effort to wrench myself away. Manderley, the ancient house in which most of the action takes place, is a character in its own right, full of secrets and intrigues that fester behind ‘the perfect symmetry’ of its walls. The unnamed narrator can’t break free from Manderley’s spell, and neither can this reader.


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