Happy New Year! The programme for the May 2010 Bristol Festival of Ideas is already taking shape and will be announced fully in March.

But in the meantime we’re delighted to feature some excellent speakers over the coming few months in sessions on globalisation, the environment, positive thinking and religion. For some speakers it is likely to be their only appearance in Bristol so don’t miss out on the chance to book places. Click here to find outWhat’s On.

We’re also introducing some new elements to the Festival over the next six months, including more detail about speakers and their work. Initially, we will be focussing on two main subjects: animal welfare and rights – to accompany the Peter Singer event on 5th May – and inequality, which is one of the key May themes. The best way to keep informed is to join our mailing list and sign up to our Twitter feed.

I was recently asked to name my three books of the decade. My answers are below (with some additional material). Join the debate and name your three books of the decade for our book reviews page by emailing us at: ideas@gwebusinesswest.co.uk.

Each year the review sections are full of the books of the year. As I read a lot, for work and for pleasure, I’m always surprised at how few of those listed I have read. With over 132,000 books published annually (which is far too many) it’s not surprising that I miss these, and I always feel, personally, a little depressed that so many good books go unread. So it was good to look back, not at the past year, but at the past decade to see what has lasted with me. Of the many hundreds of books I have read, three stand out. These are books that will last for decades to come.

I would mention too the series of letters by T.E. Lawrence that Jeremy and Nicole Wilson at Castle Hill Press are producing. They are defenders of the Lawrence flame, and have already published the definitive and most elegant edition of Lawrence’s classic work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But the letters are different and new. A painfully slow process – given the high standards of research and editorial work demanded – this is turning into one of the finest series ever published, bringing to life a complex and brave man.

And I should honour the (mostly small) publishers of the works of Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Hans Fallada for bringing these authors to me over the past ten years. These are writers that should be read by everyone. My three books are:

Mountains of the Mind by Robert MacFarlane
One of the remarkable stories in British publishing of the last decade has been the growth of natural history writing in the UK. Choosing one book was difficult, as I have read and read again the work of Kathleen Jamie, Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey, Mark Cocker and others over the past few years. But it is Robert MacFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind that stands out. We don’t have an Edward Abbey or Edward Hoagland here, but these writers come close to catching the essence of writing about the natural world, and Mountains of the Mind is remarkable for the poetry of its writing and the sheer bravura of a young man writing as if he has centuries of experience. I look forward to every book he writes and hope for many more to come.

The Klemperer Diaries by Victor Klemperer
Three volumes, the final one published in the last decade, providing the day to day life of the First World war veteran and German academic Victor Klemperer under Nazi rule. Klemperer’s diaries are as important as Anne Frank’s. As a Jew he was lucky to survive the Holocaust but thankfully he did, providing this account of inhumanity and hope. The publication of the diaries – the three volumes are abridged; there is much more – is a tribute too to his publisher George Weidenfeld, one of the finest of the last decades whose books grace my bookshelves.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This is the outstanding novel of the decade and will last as long as books are read. It doesn’t take long to read, but stays in the mind a long time. Whether he is talking about nuclear destruction or climate change – or some other disaster – is not clear, but it’s as accurate a prediction of what is to come unless things change radically, which I doubt they will. There’s lately been much talk about the value of public apology, and in Bristol we’ve been involved in endless debates about whether we should apologise for the slave trade. I find it hard to apologise for past atrocities when I was not even born; but we should apologise for the future, because I fear that collectively we will fail to do enough about it to make a difference.

Further information/

Andrew Kelly is Director of Bristol Festival of Ideas and Bristol Creative Projects (formerly Bristol Cultural Development Partnership). He founded and led At-Bristol, Brief and Animated Encounters Festivals and Digital Arts Development Agency, and is currently Director of the Bristol Great Reading Adventure. He is the author of 12 books and is currently directing BAC 100, a project that will celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1910.