Looking ahead to a tour of English cathedrals with Canterbury on the list, I assumed the thing to do was to read The Canterbury Tales again. I was only partly right. First of all, the tales were far more “R” rated than I remembered. My sister Beth agreed with me and confessed that she gave up before she finished. We think we’d been given sanitized versions when we were younger, but we were glad we’d reviewed the stories when we went through the three-dimensional interpretation of the tales. Beth’s guidebook said these were a light-hearted introduction for the young or uninitiated. We classified ourselves as the former.
What I should have done was to also read a good account of Thomas Becket since his story turned up in some form at every cathedral, including various memorials and faintly disguised jabs at Henry VIII for destroying the shrines to him. His story was a turning point for the religious and political history of England. I was fairly sure my memory had a touch of color to go with his saintliness as portrayed by the cathedral guides. I wound up wishing I’d read a good biography. However, I can remedy this failure. After my return, a friend recommended a few books that will fill me in on the real Thomas Becket – T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral; Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, and Rebel by Thomas Guy; and Thomas Becket by Frank Barlow.
That wasn’t all I added to my book list. We had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the archives while we were in the Canterbury Cathedral. They let us know this was a rare privilege for a tour group. One of the volunteers who caught on that I loved these old pieces of history, said, “Let me give you the name of some books you can read that are set in this period.”
When she realized my American spelling was not going to get me the author, she said, “Let me write that down for you.” She wrote down Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and Dissolution by C. J. Sansom.
[I’m sure Beth would want me to tell that as she was dragging me out, I said I was going to get me a t-shirt that says “I love archives.” She retorted, “You are an archive.”]
As if I didn’t already have stacks of unread books, a list of “books to read,” and a Kindle stocked and ready! There is no end. “No end” brings me to the words of the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes – and not just because our pastor is currently preaching from the book. “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12 – (from the King James Version in honor of this English journey)
I have two conclusions. (1) Common wisdom says one must be a reader to be a writer so I can claim that I am working as I read all these books. (2) Weariness of the flesh brought on by much study leads to a good night’s rest. Bring on the books!