The Screwtape Letters – by C.S. Lewis

10 04 2020

Many years ago I got my Grandpa’s very old copy (I think late 1950s, early 1960s?) of this book, which obviously was rather delicate and fragile, so I have kept it safely in a box ever since. A few years later I got the C.S. Lewis Signature Box Set which had a much more robust copy as part of it, and a few years after that, I’ve finally got around to reading it!

The book is a collection of letters from Screwtape (a senior devil) to his nephew Wormwood (a junior devil) – we can clearly tell that there are replies between, but we’re not privy to those. Wormwood has been assigned a ‘patient’ and the letters contain advice, critique and general feedback about how he is doing, what he needs to do differently, and what opportunities to look for.

It’s a confusing read to start with to get your head around the terminology. As a Christian, the phrase “the enemy” would normally mean Satan, and “Our Father”, God, but in this book the roles are of course, reversed! It’s very cleverly written and ends up challenging you in all sorts of areas. There’s a hugely strong warning against luke-warmness, they are excited when the patient is starting to head in the wrong direction, but thinks things are OK so long as he is still a church-goer.

I occasionally found it hard to read, the sentences got quite long in places, and C.S. Lewis is a very clever man, so I think sometimes it was just a bit beyond me, but mostly it’s readable, the content is good and the premise is superb. Definitely worth a read.

At the back is a section which I believe was previously published separately, called “Screwtape proposes a toast”, which is a 20ish page speech that he gives at the graduation at The Tempters Training College for young Devils. It was written maybe 20 years later, and again had good content but was a bit hard going at times – good to see Screwtape in another setting though!

Some of my favourite quotes are below (and remember to bear in mind, these are all written from a devil’s perspective):

  • “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
  • “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle sloe, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
  • “Let him think of [humility] not as a self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind o opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
  • “We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land with favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
  • “Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of ‘too much’. For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented.”





Twas the nightshift before Christmas – by Adam Kay

15 03 2020

“This is Going to Hurt” has been an absolute sensation and after reading it in 2018, when I saw that a short (142 pages) Christmas follow-up was coming out I was very excited to read it. I got it for my dad for Christmas as his career was in the NHS and he’d also loved the first one, and I’ve now borrowed it back from him! (Thanks Dad!)

There isn’t much to add to what I said about the first book (if you haven’t read that, I would read that first, just for a bit more context), it’s just a great insight into the reality of life in the NHS, a few highs – mainly lows of course, but told in a humour that means it’s an entertaining read.

My favourite thing about this was a footnote in the introduction:

“In mt first book, “This is Going to Hurt”, the most common reasons for entries being omitted included ‘too disgusting’ or ‘too Christmassy’. Here I make amends for both.”

If that doesn’t make you want to read it – nothing will!





Noughts & Crosses – by Malorie Blackman

8 03 2020

I remember this book coming out when I was a teenager, I remember loads of people reading it, but I never heard what it was about and never got around to reading it myself. With the coming of the new series from the BBC, I thought I’d finally give it a go, so got myself a copy off eBay and flew through it!

The basic premise is a divided society, where black people (Crosses) have all the power, and white people (noughts) are the downtrodden and oppressed in society. Callum is a nought teenage boy and Sephy is a Cross teenage girl. When they were kids, Callum’s mum worked at Sephy’s house and so they were friends, but as he is one of the first noughts allowed into a Cross school, their friendship is tested. Things progress from there as a group of noughts are trying to form an uprising. It’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet in its nature.

The chapters are narrated alternating between Callum and Sephy, and the book itself covers a few years, so things change a lot, but it’s told really well and keeps you extremely gripped. Technically it won an award for children’s fiction, but it’s definitely not suitable for young children, and the new BBC series based on it is airing at 9pm – there’s plenty of darkness in it!

I’m watching the first episode of the TV series as I write this, so won’t comment on that here other than to say it seems quite different so far!





Factfulness – by Hans Rosling

24 02 2020

There is a reason that on the front of this book is a recommendation from Barack Obama, and on the back, from Bill & Melinda Gates. It’s a very good, and very important book. I’d already heard of Hans from his TED talks, if you’re interested, some of his most viewed ones are at the bottom of the page.

We have a tendency to refer to the developed and developing world, but really the world is divided into more than these two categories, it’s more complicated. He gives us four levels, levels one and four are what we’d traditionally refer to as the first and third world, but this is the minority of the worlds population, he tells us that about five billion people actually live on levels two and three, maybe they have a camping stove to cook on rather than a fire, maybe a moped rather than getting everywhere on foot. He gives a thorough explanation of these levels, more than I can here, along with photos to help cement the idea. You can find a large selection of these on their Dollar Street website.

The subtitle is: “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think.” Hans takes us through ten instincts we all have about the world, which are outdated, or were never the case at all. For example, the gap instinct, that the world is divided into the rich and poor and that there is no one in the middle, which as explained above is not the case at all, in fact, the majority are in the middle. Or that just because things are bad, it doesn’t mean they’re not improving; things can be bad but better than they were.

The book is filled with these really interesting ideas, and each chapter ends with a helpful summary page, highlighting what the issue with the instinct is, and tips to avoid it, which I’m sure I’ll be referring back to!

I have folded down so many pages of this book that I won’t list all the quotes here, but along with that I already have a queue of people to borrow my copy! I normally really struggle with non fiction and would expect this to take a good few months, but it was only 2.5 weeks! While it’s a data-y book, it’s got graphs (his favourite is here, and a live animated version like those in the videos below, you can play with on their Gapminder website) and things to help understand, and is written in a conversational style, full of anecdotes, and is very easy to read.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the state of our world, and facts to back that up, as well as those just wanting to be able to assess information they receive better.





Normal People – by Sally Rooney

5 02 2020

Some people see a book everywhere and think they’re above it. Not me. I see a book everywhere and think, well, if everyone else is reading it, that must mean it’s good! And so I grabbed this in Tesco a couple of weeks ago. I started it Saturday night and finished it tonight, just under four days – not very like me, but I’ve been off work ill, so I had a lot of time!

There are a few things about this book that are a bit different:

  • None of the dialogue is in quote marks, you just have to work out where they’d go.
  • Each chapter starts by jumping forward in time, anything from a few days to a few months (and on one occasion, five minutes). I guess in that sense it had a bit of a feel of One Day about it?
  • The chapters are written in the present tense, apart from the fact that there’s a lot of catching up on what happened in the meantime which is written in the past tense, so it jumps backwards and forwards quite frequently – tricky to start with but you get used to it by the end.

All these put together mean it takes concentration, but I did find it engaging. It’s not often I can read 50 pages of a book without falling asleep, but I did that on three occasions with this book!

Connell and Marianne start the book at high school, his mum is her mum’s cleaner, she’s a bit of a loner, he’s got a load of friends, and they start sort of secretly seeing each other a bit. As usual I don’t want to give too much away, but as we go through the next few years including university, we follow the two of them and, as the blurb says, they “try to stay apart but find that they can’t”.

[There’s a few occasions in the book which get a little graphic, they’re fairly brief when they do happen, but just a warning if that puts you off.]





The Cross and the Switchblade – by David Wilkerson

1 02 2020

Just over a year ago I read a couple of books which you’d probably describe as Christian Autobiography – God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew of Open Doors, and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom about her experiences in WW2 – and found them incredibly compelling, so I was excited to pick up this very well known book about David Wilkerson, who was called by God from his quiet country parish to work with the gangs in 1950s New York.

It’s another tale of God’s provision at just the moment it’s needed, starting with enough money for him to drive to and from New York the very first time, right through to when they’re buying a building to house those in trouble for tens of thousands, whilst having about $100 in the bank. But it’s not just about money – at one point they’re trying to find a gang member’s family to try to get permission to see him in prison, and so pulling their car over and walking down to some boys to ask if they know where they need to go, they find they’ve parked right out the front of his family’s home.

Their mission is to tell these kids about Jesus, but there’s so many hurdles to get over, probably most notably, drugs and knife crime. But the work they manage to do is incredible.

Definitely a book to challenge our levels of faith!





Northanger Abbey – by Jane Austen

24 01 2020

Before this I’d read two of Austen’s books, but for a long time hadn’t read anymore. But it’s a new year, and I thought I’d give it a go again – picked a shortish one so it was more manageable, and it turned out it was way more readable than I remembered!

I’ve watched the ITV adaptation several times so I had a good idea of the plot, but didn’t remember it being funny! For example, from the very first page: “Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome.”

This is the story of Catherine Morland, who is taken by family friends to Bath and while there meets both the Tilneys and the Thorpes. The first half of the book focuses on the friendships with these, while the second half takes her to Northanger Abbey as a guest of the Tilneys. Catherine has read a lot of Gothic Horror novels and has something of an overactive imagination, which in that environment gets her in a bit of trouble!

I like how Austen on a few occasions in the book takes a breath and talks to the reader; at one point saying how she isn’t going to do something that most novel writers do, at another referring as to how few pages are left and so obviously we’re near the happy ending, and ending with a question for the reader of: “I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.”

It’s an Austen novel, so you know there’s going to be class, romance, drama, and a happy ending, but it was a good read, I really enjoyed it – the idea of picking up another Austen is less scary now!