Given there are over 6,500 books in the library at Highclere you may not be surprised to hear I have not yet read them all! I have, however, read some of them and merely a few chapters of others. It is always with a sense of wonder that I carefully ease out and open one of the larger books from the lower shelves, laying it carefully down before opening it to find either large intricate maps or perhaps engravings of classical temples from ancient worlds. There is such beauty in the books and in what they describe and portray.

They remind me of a poem written by John Keats 200 years ago called “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”. The poem begins “Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen” and is about the joy of exploration, in this case through the books and translations of Homer which gave  Keats such pleasure and insight, although I wonder how many people today know who Homer was?

Obviously, this is not the cartoon patriarch of the Simpson family but a more ancient Homer – a Greek historian living c.800BC. His famous poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad, speak of a previous heroic age, one Homer held up to his peers whose protagonists seemed far stronger and mightier than those who came after them and lived in Homer’s own time. In terms of those who seek to guide us in politics, I would suspect that our own sentiments, wherever we live, might be much the same today.

Keats’ poem expresses the amazing immersion of a good book so that reading it he “felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken.”

Whilst there is undoubtedly a slew of infinitely better-known book prizes in existence already, Highclere Castle is  going to celebrate those who read. Once more we are sponsoring prizes for summer reading in partnership with Viking, who offer curated libraries on board all their ships and boats perhaps, for example, to explore Homer’s Odyssey whilst also sailing in his footsteps.

Anyone can enter, wherever you live or whatever age you are, whether you are at school, just picking up a book on holiday or have taken to serious reading in retirement. There are five categories so I am sure you will find one that suits you. All you need to do is review your chosen book in no more than 500 to 700 words and send it in to: [email protected]

Growing up, I think my parents would undoubtedly have described me as a bit of a bookworm, my head was always in some book.  Every week we would walk round to our local Library where I and my sisters could borrow up to 4 books each whilst the school library was later both a sanctuary and a place to wonder where to begin.

Research by Sussex University records that reading reduces your stress levels by up to 68% and in as little as six minutes of being immersed in a book, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure lowers and your muscles begin to relax – the same applies to audio books. (Ps May I recommend the book I read: The Earl and the Pharaoh!!)

In contrast, we are all too often distracted by pings from social media whose platforms try to condense reading material into tiny bite-sized pieces of, on average, 55 seconds. I try to avoid allowing any alerts, as too many “pings” are worrying and can make me feel overwhelmed. It is my choice to look and when to look.

Books on the other hand are written from what is often years of experience which it is impossible to deliver in just a few minutes of video content. When you read, you begin to imagine the worlds and characters an author describes and, as you visualize what you’re reading, you exercise interconnected areas of your brain. The more you read, the stronger all these complex networks of activity become which can really help when facing challenging times.

have you read this book?

Reading to your children is a cherished bonding time for both of you. You become companions as you follow the stories together and create memories. In turn, the storytelling improves memory as you are constantly engaging your brain.

Keen to read!

As you follow and immerse yourself in the storyline we all pick up new words and new ways of facing a situation all of which can help us in real life. Our ability to communicate clearly depends on words, on empathy and decisions, all of which are underpinned by a broad range of reading material. In fact, being a bookworm is one of the few addictive habits which will improve your lifespan.

Slowing down each day to read makes sure we find spaces for our minds and heads. It is funny how for all our gadgets, and despite living longer than we ever have before, so many of us feel time poor. We spend our days wishing for more time to be with our friends, our families and to do the things we want to do with our lives. That said please do take some time out to read and to send me in a review -I can’t wait to see them. Please do see the information on our website

Thank you so much to Viking for supporting Highclere Castle and for being our partner.  Viking and I will be presenting winners and  runners-up with their cheques at  The Highclere History Festival on Sunday October 6th. I hope you will be there!