I am joined today by Jo Jackson, who has kindly come to tell us all about the books she remembers, as part of the blog tour for Beyond the Margin. Many thanks to Jo for taking the time to talk to us, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. Without further ado, over to you Jo.
Reading is something I have enjoyed all my life. When I talk to friends who say they never read a book I wonder what they do last thing at night, first thing in the morning, on a hot summer’s day in the shade of the lime tree or on cold wet Sunday afternoons when the log burner is on and its cosy inside.
I don’t have shelves of books. I won’t often read a book twice and I believe books are for sharing not for sitting on a dusty shelf. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, pass it on and when it comes back to you, pass it on again.
My favourite book is God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and my favourite author is Gerbrand Backer author of The Twin and Ten White Geese. The books below are books I remember for many different reasons.
Heidi by Joanna Spyri. I read this as a child. I no longer own a copy, but I can still see the illustrations so clearly. The beautiful alpine scenery, Heidi’s self-contained grandfather sitting outside his hut. Heidi snuggling into her attic bed. Then there was Clara, the lonely little girl who because of her illness couldn’t run and play and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine as Heidi did. This is essentially a book about love and how it grows when it’s shared. Perhaps it was reading Heidi that made me want to discover other countries and to always feel at home amongst mountains.
As a teenager on one of my regular visits to the library I brought home John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. This was like something I’d never read before set in a landscape quite alien to me. The story depicts the hardships of a family migrating west from the Oklahoma dust bowl. On one level it’s about family unity, on another about exploitation and greed set against growing political unrest and a rising fear of communism. I’m sure I didn’t articulate those points at the time, but I loved Steinbeck’s poetic prose and his imagery. His characters were brilliantly drawn and whilst I was reading it I was part of the family. Fifty years later it’s those characteristics that still draws me to a book. I devoured every one of his novels and by the time I studied Of Mice and Men at school, Lennie was already a character I would never forget. Recently I found To a God Unknown. Written in 1933 and described as literary fantasy it has a haunting spiritualism. It is a beautiful book. The scene in the glade remains forever with me.
In recent years I have travelled to the beautiful country of Ethiopia and on another occasion camped in the Empty Quarter after travelling through the Oman. These places were special to me because I felt I had already been there after reading Wilfred Thesiger’s wonderful travel books. He was born in 1910 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Life of My Choice is an account of his childhood and how, as he grew older, he became repulsed by the trappings of western life. He travelled extensively with the Bedu people and immersed himself in their way of life. His writing is succinct, descriptive and insightful. I suspect he was a troubled man trying to live at a time when having an unconventional personality was not applauded. He would have been difficult to know being controversial in his views and habits. I may not have liked him, but I wish I’d had the opportunity to know him because his books are wonderful.
My final book has a personal story attached but it is a book I believe everyone should read. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa was published in 2006 and explores life in post 1948 Palestine. It shows how love and loyalty can survive amongst the horror of war and why the Middle East question remains as insoluble today as it was then.
It is a meaningful book for me because in 1983 my husband and I and our three children were returning to England after living in Egypt for two years. Our plan was to drive back through Israel and take a ferry from Haifa to Venice before driving home through Europe. The journey out of Egypt was complex and ‘making friendships’ a necessary but slow part of the process along the way. The consequence being we were too late in the day to import the car at the Egyptian/ Israeli border and our only option was to take a taxi to the nearest hotel 70 km away. Our taxi driver, a Palestinian, offered instead to take us the short distance to his house near Gaza, let us sleep there and he would bring us back to the border early the next morning to collect our car, all for the price of the taxi fare.
When we arrived his whole extended family were there to greet us. He and his wife gave up their room and their bed and moved mattresses in for our children to sleep on. We had tea and pastries in the courtyard and anyone in the village who could speak a word of English popped in to say hello. At night he and his brother took us out for a meal and wouldn’t allow us to pay. Before we left in the morning, we had to have our photographs taken with each member of the family and his little daughter had proudly put on her best dress for the occasion.
We remember the kindness of that family with such fondness. As we watch the terrible destruction in the Gaza strip, we often think of them and hope their lives have been spared.
Of course there are many more wonderful books I have read but when I set myself this task these were the first ones to spring to mind. Perhaps you will have enjoyed some of them too.
Is living on the edge of society a choice? Or is choice a luxury of the fortunate?
Joe, fighting drug addiction, runs until the sea halts his progress. His is a faltering search for meaningful relationships.
‘Let luck be a friend’, Nuala is told but it had never felt that way. Abandoned at five years old survival means learning not to care. Her only hope is to take control of her own destiny.
The intertwining of their lives makes a compelling story of darkness and light, trauma, loss and second chances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jo Jackson reads books and writes them too.
Having worked with some of the most vulnerable people in society she has a unique voice apparent in her second novel Beyond the Margin.
She was a nurse, midwife and family psychotherapist and now lives in rural Shropshire with her husband. She loves travelling and walking as well as gardening, philosophy and art.
Her first novel Too Loud a Silence is set in Egypt where Jo lived for a few years with her husband and three children. Events there were the inspiration for her book which she describes as ‘a story she had to write’.
Win signed copies of Beyond the Margin and Too Loud a Silence by Jo Jackson. (UK only)
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To find out more about Beyond the Margin, have a look at the other blogs taking part in the tour.