WHAT BOOK would historian Peter Ackroyd take to a desert island?

WHAT BOOK would historian and novelist Peter Ackroyd take to a desert island?

  • Peter Ackroyd is reading The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People 
  • Historian would take The Imitation Of Christ to a desert island
  • Revealed the William books by Richmal Crompton first gave him the reading bug

…are you reading now?

The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People by the Venerable Bede. I am writing a book on English spirituality, to be titled The English Soul, and Bede will be the subject of the first chapter, to be followed by chapters on John Wycliffe, John Bunyan, John Henry Newman and others. I am also reading W. J. Loftie’s The Colour Of London because I have been asked to write about, well, the colours of London.

…would you take to a desert island?

I would take The Imitation Of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. It had a profound impression on me as an adolescent, but I have not read it since. It would be a pleasure to re-experience my first sensations and perhaps also furnish me with more memories of my past life.

Peter Ackroyd (pictured) is currently reading The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People by the Venerable Bede

…first gave you the reading bug?

It could have been the William books by Richmal Crompton or the collected stories concerning Sherlock Holmes, but my memory is inexact. I only know that I devoured all of them, and that even as a boy I did not relish sci-fi or horror. They always seemed to me to be too fanciful, whereas William and Sherlock Holmes seem to be living human beings.

I do clearly recall, however, that I was powerfully affected by the poetry of Alfred Tennyson when I was young, particularly by the line: ‘And took the reed-tops as it went.’ I can remember the line, and the moment of reading it, to this day.

Peter said the William books by Richmal Crompton first gave him the reading bug

From that day forward I became fascinated by English poetry, and told a school friend that I would read every major poet in the language.

I probably lost sight of that ambition at some point, but it was certainly true that I paid little attention to plays or novels until I was formally introduced to them in the English Literature course at university. It took me some time, in fact, to register the importance and interest of fiction.

…left you cold?

It took me years to read Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. I would get through ten or 15 pages, and then let it drop. I cured myself of this annoying habit one day by persistence, and in the end I actually began to enjoy the novel. In fact, no book really leaves me ‘cold’. There is always some line or passage which is interesting or enlightening. You can find good in almost any book.

Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd is out now in paperback (Canongate Books, £8.99).

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