Let me introduce my shelf: Rebecca Goldsmith

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J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy

I thought I would start with this one and admit my nerdiness straight away. The LOTR trilogy is fantastic and I’d take it over Harry Potter any day (fight me). Tolkien constructs an exciting, though admittedly occasionally difficult to follow, plot, filled with endearing characters. You’ve probably seen the movies already, so I won’t say more on that – but the books really are worth reading, even for the language alone. Some of the poems included are really poignant (I Sit Beside the Fire and Think, for example, is a moving reflection on finitude and temporality), and if you stick with it to the end I guarantee you’ll get attached to the characters enough to cry.

Quentin Skinner’s The Foundation of Modern Political Thought

I’d recommend these two volumes for anyone (but probably mostly historians) interested in tracing some of the most influential thinkers and ideas in early-modern/modern Western political thought. Personally, the first volume especially was an eye-opener for me, as I had never come across intellectual history in practice before – and even if the words ‘intellectual history’ make your skin crawl, Skinner provides an engaging discussion of how works such as Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ were shaped and formulated.

Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman

I am really hoping this one doesn’t come across as hackneyed or the ‘token feminist book’ in the collection (Skinner may not be strong on that point – but I could argue otherwise for Tolkien). I’m also prefacing this book with a disclaimer, as I know that Moran faced criticisms for, amongst other things, a lack of intersectional focus, but I think that can partly be explained and contextualised (though not excused) by the underlying aim of the book: to provide a very personal account of the everyday importance of feminism, as well as its more philosophical significance as a movement. This was the book which kick-started my awareness and self-identification as a feminist. Particularly memorable is Moran’s witty style; her striking, often hilarious, candour, as she ranges across topics from her discovery of female masturbation to more general, and relatable, stories of everyday misogyny.

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist

I’m still awestruck when I come across quotations from this book. Joyce’s language is passionate and visceral, bursting with lyricism, guilt, pain and fervour. I’ve yet to ask an Engling how he does it – he captures the development and intricacies of internal thoughts and imaginings, stretching from childhood to early adulthood, so beautifully, that I think I’m going to have let Joyce speak for himself (and re-read this wonderful book myself):  "He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight. He wanted to sin with another of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult with her in sin."

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

Kingsolver’s novel focuses on the experiences of a missionary family in the Congo during the Cold War – and it’s a rogue one for me. It was recommended to me by an English teacher during A Levels, and, although I wouldn’t have looked at it twice otherwise, it proved a really comforting, moving novel that got me through exam period (relatable content). It’s fairly light to read, and easy to engage with, but all the same I found it had depth, with a genuine message about human relationships and personal responsibility, as well as plenty of endearing characters.


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