05 Feb What is Charles Courtenay Reading?
Today, in our series What Are You Reading, we drop in on Charles Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon, and a passionate reader, to hear about some of his current and enduring favourites.
What are you reading at the moment? Why would our readers enjoy reading it?
I like to read to myself, as well as with my family. To myself, I am reading The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun; to my daughter, the Earthsea Chronicles by Ursula Le Guin; to my son, Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie; and with my wife, I am reading Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I am passionate for storytelling and shared reading, and rejoice in adventuring to these various worlds each week. Keun’s Weimar Germany is surprisingly instructive just now, but no more so than Earthsea, the Magic World, or storm-blown Bodmin Moor.
The most memorable book you read in 2020; and why?
Martin Shaw’s Scatterlings is a brilliant account of oral narrative culture and the myth lines of our ancient Devon landscape. He tirelessly investigates tales such as how Brutus found Britain on the shores of the River Dart, before staining the Devon cliffs red with the blood of giants driven from Plymouth Hoe. Serendipity ensured elements of that same myth reverberated in another 2020 favourite – Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – in which Thomas Cromwell admits to childhood terrors of the giants from Cornwall rampaging towards London and ransacking Putney. Both books remind us of our Peninsula’s powerful place in the English imagination.
A book you return to and reread; and why?
The King James Bible is the only book I regularly re-read; I once studied theology, and sometimes I am fortunate to read the lesson in Powderham church. The book I returned to most this year is the White Goddess by Robert Graves…because I can never finish it. It is so densely packed and encourages so much thought that a few weeks’ reading exhausts me, and I need a rest. Every time I return to it, and to Robert Graves’ ancient alphabets of trees, months and seasons, it is like returning to an old friend.
Your favourite book of all time; and why?
The one I am reading right now is usually my favourite book, although sometimes it is the one I am going to read next.
Charles Peregrine Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon, is an English hereditary peer and barrister. He is a crossbench member of the House of Lords, having been elected at a by-election in 2018. In January 2019 he joined the Exeter firm Michelmores as a partner. He is married to American actress A. J. Langer and they have two children. He and his family now reside at the family’s ancestral home of Powderham Castle.