De-stress over Recess: escape the parliamentary pressures with our MP and peer book recommendations
From the glories of the British countryside and classic English literature to light relief in West Country tales, five parliamentarians choose their reads to help take the heat out of politics and onto the beach
I spent some of lockdown in the countryside. It was an unusual experience for me, after 30 years living in London with an occasional hop to Cornwall or Yorkshire. I collected berries and tried my hand at jam-making. And I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about the British countryside.
My teachers were hares, larks, hedgehogs, goldfinches and other wonderful neighbours I had; innocent neighbours, who cling on despite the destruction of their natural habitat by intensive agricultural methods and humans’ never-ending desire to “tidy” hedges and verges. Three books have been particularly helpful in opening my eyes: The Private Life of the Hare by John Lewis-Stempel; Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald; and An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong.
They open the door to another world, of the creatures small and big, slow and fast, that live with us, often unnoticed, many severely endangered. They made me remember my father, who loved nature. Whenever we would encounter a snake in our garden in my native Bosnia, he would say: “Remember, you are walking on his land.” These three books rekindled that respect and sense of wonder.
Baroness Helić is a Conservative peer
If, like me, you take a while to wind down, perhaps you might like to start with something serious. Graham Allison’s Destined for War has been around for several summers. As relations between the West and China deteriorate, Harvard’s Professor Allison asks: “Can America and China escape Thucydides’ trap?” That is, can these two states buck a trend towards violence in history, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power? “History never repeats itself”, according to Mark Twain, “but it does often rhyme”.
Immersing yourself in 17th century history offers more of an escape. I can recommend David Chandler’s Sedgemoor 1685: From Monmouth’s Invasion to the Bloody Assizes. I can’t deny that some of my interest relates to the fact that the town of Colyton is in my Devon constituency – and that a number of the Duke of Monmouth’s followers were recruited from “the most rebellious town in Devon”.
For light relief, there is Once Upon a Time in the West Country, by Tony Hawks. The I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue panellist Hawks cycles coast-to-coast from north Devon to Plymouth with a piglet as his companion. His encounters with locals are as off-the-wall as you’d expect.
Richard Foord is Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton
I finally got round to reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
I really enjoyed the first two in the series – The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – which I read a long time ago.
It’s a poignant story of siblings who are separated under tragic circumstances.
Being very close to my own siblings, I found it quite painful to read at times. But I also felt that not reading till the end would be a betrayal to Abdullah and his young sister. And that, for me, is the hallmark of a good story.
Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn
A fascinating prism through which to view the development of art in the Soviet Union, Sounds Beyond: Arvo Pärt and the 1970s Soviet Underground by Kevin C Karnes reveals how the Riga Student Discotheques – a near-forgotten culture of communal experimentation – provided a covert platform for the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, to hone his now famous music.
Brilliantly researched and beautifully told, The Empress and the English Doctor by Lucy Ward tells the fascinating and timely story of Thomas Dimsdale, the Quaker doctor from Essex who pioneered inoculation and was selected by Catherine the Great to travel to Russia in 1768 and, in secret, inoculate her and her son and heir, Grand Duke Paul, against smallpox.
A recent re-read, On Chapel Sands: My mother and other missing persons by Laura Cumming is a delicately textured memoir from the art critic of the Observer that opens with an extraordinary moment from her mother’s life and goes on to unravel family secrets and lies that had persisted down the years. Profoundly evocative of long-gone communities and lives on the Lincolnshire coast.
Baroness Bull is a Crossbench peer
There are times when, after a string of official functions, I long for some gentle comfort food. After this extraordinary, frenetic and often disturbing summer I am going to stick to some comfort reading during August. It is good, when all around is in a bit of a whirligig, to go back to the tried, the trusted and the familiar. My two favourite English novelists are Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope.
My Austen pick for August will be Mansfield Park. It does not enjoy the celebrity status of Pride and Prejudice, nor does it quite measure up to my favourite, Emma. But it is a wonderful read and Fanny Price is perhaps my favourite heroine. As for Trollope, I am tempted to go for The Prime Minister. But I have had enough of politics for the moment and so it will be Barchester Towers, with the ghastly Mrs Proudie, the obsequious Obadiah Slope, the weak bishop, the dominant archdeacon and the very nicest of Trollope’s clergy, Septimus Harding.
As for my third, I want a book that I can pick up and put down at will and I can think of nothing more English or comforting than Very Good, Jeeves, one of the very best selections of P G Wodehouse’s books of short stories about the unflappable Jeeves and the totally flappable Bertram Wooster. Even if the weather breaks, I think I am in for a good summer.
Lord Cormack is a Conservative peer and life president of The House
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