Church Times Readers’ Books of the Year


Andrew Rumsey

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown (Fourth Estate, £ 9.99 (£ 8.99); 978-0-00-834003-2)

DISCOVERING new Beatles stories isn’t easy, given how intensely their cultural groove has been carved out by writers over the years. Craig Brown succeeds by adopting a format that both plays to his own strengths (short, ironic pieces – 150 of them) and suits his subject – the impact and the experience of the group, as it happened.

The result is a fascinating album of snapshots that allows us to see the familiar quartet from new angles – some hilarious, others unsettling, but all compelling. Brown’s writing is overwhelmingly good and continues like a pop song. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, this book is a joy.

The Right Reverend Andrew Rumsey is the Bishop of Ramsbury in the Diocese of Salisbury. His latest book, published this month, is English lands (SCM Press, 2021).

Alain Billings

Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict by Christiane Tietz (OUP, £ 25 (£ 22.50); 978-0-19-885246-9)

WORKING from home allowed me to read books that I wouldn’t normally have time for. I reread Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans (1918), which I last read as an undergraduate fifty years ago. This time, however, I did it alongside Christiane Tietz Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict (Books, May 28). I now realize what I did not know then, that a comment needs to be contextualized as much as an original text.

I also rediscovered – for my grandchildren – that of Florence Parry Heide The shrinking of Treehorn (Holiday House, £ 14.99; 978-0-8234-4703-9) – about a little boy who is shrinking and his parents don’t notice. They will love his irony and dry humor.


The Reverend Dr Alan Billings is the police
and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire.

John barton

A gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Cornerstone, £ 8.99 (£ 8.09); 978-0-09955878-1)

The plot of Amor Towles’ second novel is implausible and can seem likely to feel claustrophobic. After the Russian Revolution, an aristocrat is sentenced to life imprisonment in a luxury hotel in Moscow, on pain of death if he leaves it.

Once the premise is accepted, however, the novel flows in a wonderfully invigorating manner. The hero develops a rich life in the hotel, befriending all the staff; finally, he adopts a child and meets old acquaintances, some of whom have suffered more than he at the hands of the state. The ending must be hidden, but it closes a bright, human and often very entertaining novel.


Amor Towles’ latest novel
Lincoln Highway is examined here.

John Barton is Oriel and Laing Professor Emeritus of Interpretation of the Holy Scriptures at the University of Oxford, Senior Fellow at Campion Hall, Oxford, and Anglican Priest. His most recent book is A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Beliefs (Allen Lane, 2019).

Richard Chartres

Tangled life: how fungi create our worlds, change our minds and shape our future by Merlin Sheldrake (Vintage € 10.99 (£ 9.89); 978-1-78470-827-6)

SOCIAL distancing encouraged me to spend more time in the woods near my home. Merlin sheldrake Tangled life taught me how much I couldn’t see when I walked on the surface. The theme of the book is how mushrooms animate our world and shape the future.

Merlin is a gifted storyteller and musician, as well as a scientific pioneer and guide to the wonders of the world beneath our feet. As well as writing a glorious chapter on truffles, he reveals intricate underground networks that can stretch for miles, connecting plants and trees in what has been described as the “broad web of the wood”.


The Rt Revd Lord Chartres is a former Bishop of London.

Angela Tilby

Equipment Girls by Kathleen Stock (Small, Brown, € 16.99 (£ 15.29); 978-0-349-72660-1)

There has been a huge controversy over the author of this book, who resigned his post as professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex after three years of intimidation and harassment over his alleged transphobic views. .

I expected this to be a difficult read, but I was surprised and delighted by the clarity, strength and accessibility of the argument. Here is the philosophy put at the service of the public, for the defense of reason, science, common sense and women’s rights. And Dr. Stock is not a transphobe.


Reverend Angela Tilby is Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford and Honorary Canon of Portsmouth Cathedral.

Ronald Society

The saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lageröf (Penguin Classics, £ 9.99 (£ 8.99); 978-0-14-310590-9)

IN the multiple layers The saga of Gösta Berling (1892) by Swedish writer Selma Lageröf, we enter a world that is partly real and partly fantastic. The handsome (anti) hero is a defrocked priest who is “saved” by the mistress of the Ekeby Estate, a smithy and home to a rowdy group of veterans of the Napoleonic wars. The saga tells about Gosta’s adventures as a chef and his adventures with the different women in his life.

Lageröf has a vivid imagination and there are many memorable scenes, including a fierce chase through ice, in which Gosta is chased by wolves.

Reverend Ronald Corp, Assistant Priest at St Alban’s, Holborn, London, is a composer and conductor.

Mark Oakley

Chaucer: a European life by Marion Turner (Princeton University Press, £ 20 (£ 18); 978-0-691-21015-5)

This is Chaucer’s first full biography in a generation, and the first written by a woman. Informative, imaginative, clever and fun, Turner’s book is a clever, in-depth look at Chaucer’s life and an enlightening, textured read of his work.

Turner is a brilliant storyteller, and as we follow the life of the son of the winemaker who became the innovative poet, we are deeply immersed in the world, communities and everyday life of 14th century Europe. In Chaucer’s words, it is a book full of “festivities and grace.”


The Reverend Mark Oakley is Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge and Canon Theologian of Wakefield Cathedral.

Rachel Mann

The golden age of murder by Martin Edwards (Harper Collins, £ 10.99 (£ 9.89); 978-0-00-810598-3)

The crime fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, dominated by Christie, Sayers and Anthony Berkeley, rightly deserves the title of “golden age”. Edwards’ book, which explores the author stories behind fiction, is as sparkling, greedy and intoxicating as a good champagne.

Not only does Edwards reveal the true crime influences that shaped the storylines of Christie’s and other’s most beloved novels, but he expands our understanding of writers whose lives have often had more twists and turns than their fiction. The glimpse into the messy and brilliant life of deeply religious Dorothy L. Sayers alone is worth the price.


Canon Rachel Mann is Regional Dean of Bury and Rossendale, Assistant Vicar of St Mary’s, Bury, and Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.

Eve poole

Modern Modes: Instructions for Living Fabulously Well by contributors from The nice woman (Phaïdon, £ 19.95 (£ 17.95); 978-1-83866-356-8)

NOL is toilet books and books that impress in the guest room; so my current favorite is that of the nice woman elegant collection Modern ways. It’s a beautifully crafted treasure chest with short articles on topics ranging from what to do about tips to the merits of portable hangers, with excursions into the perfect message outside the office, the art of giving and the attraction of being a hermit.

The book makes a distinction between etiquette and manners, claiming that etiquette is about rules that trip people up, while manners are about putting others at ease. It’s a delight.


Dr Eve Poole, until recently Third Church Estates Commissioner, is a leadership scholar and author of
Leader Blacksmith (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Jean Perumbulath

Rumi: selected poems, translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin, £ 8.99 (£ 8.09); 978-0-14-044953-2)

THE combination of mystical richness and daring adaptations of poetic forms is key to the continued popularity of this 13th century Persian Sufi poet. Rumi’s wisdom springs from the pages in our hearts and invites us on a journey of tolerance, kindness, charity, conscience through the love and experience of God. It is organized thematically into 27 sections: you can start and read anywhere, without having to go from page 1 to the end.

Rumi emerges as a soul doctor for our time, helping us cultivate heart, passion, and transformation. These poems are sensual, festive and thoughtful.

Dr John Perumblath is the Bishop of Bradwell, in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Jo kelly moore

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press at £ 8.99 (£ 8.09); 978-1-4722-2382-1)

SET in Stratford-upon-Avon and London in the 16th century, and revolves around the life of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway and their families, especially their twin children Hamnet and Judith, Hamnet is a magical, raw exploration of the ends of the human experience – from birth to death, everything in between and what might be beyond (Reading Groups, October 1).

One of those novels you don’t want to let go of is a perfect gift and a holiday read. Highly recommended.


The Ven. Jo Kelly-Moore is due to be installed as Dean of St Albans next week.

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