Holiday reading (7)

Our seventh post sees a welcome return of the reading of Dr Hundal, another of our lovely biologists, with two titles, again vastly different from each other!  Dr Hundal has sought, this time, to expand his knowledge of another viewpoint of the all-consuming Brexit issue and challenge his own ideas about it with Daniel Hannan‘s book How we invented freedom and why it matters. (Click for a review of the book.)  Dr Hundal says:

“Daniel Hannan is a prominent Eurosceptic and played a key part in the Vote Leave campaign. As someone who is a firm Remainer, I thought it would be a good idea to try and understand the perspective of a Brexiteer.

The book takes a historical look at freedoms, rights and liberty from a very Anglocentric perspective. At times, I found the historical narrative revealing whilst recognising that the perspective is viewed firmly through the lens of ‘English speaking world’.

Nonetheless, Hannan is passionate over his stance and the writing is quite engaging. However, he failed to convince me that Leave is the best option, perhaps, he may persuade you?!”

Clearly, Dr Hundal is still on the Remain side, but it is always good to understand the alternative perspective, if well-written, as opposed to how the issue is portrayed in the popular press!  He is, I feel, more at home with his second choice of book, Sapiens : a brief history of humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Of this he writes:

“A sweeping historical account of humankind, taking in 100 000 + years in bite-sized, digestible chapters. The science, coupled to the historical narrative, is very good.

I found the concept of how larger populations, which arose as a result of city-living, required a common, shared value system to maintain order fascinating, particularly with regard to the role of myths and religion as the societal glue.

A great read.”

I’m not sure I am quite ready for Daniel Hannan’s book as yet, but at some point I may give it a go.  I think Yuval Noah Harari’s might be quite the thing… What do you think?  it would be good to hear from those who have read either or both of these titles, let’s keep the debate going!

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Holiday reading (6)

Today’s second entry, our sixth in the series, comes from Mrs Green, one of our lovely biologists.  Her book for Christmas was The orchid hunter : a young botanist’s search for happiness by Leif Bersweden.  Mrs Green says:

“I was bought ‘The Orchid Hunter’ by Leif Bersweden for Christmas.

It is the story of a young botanist’s search to find all British species of Orchid within a single season – some science and classification of orchids combined with lovely stories of his hunt to find all 52 species within a very short time period.

It is clearly of interest to people who are interested in plant Biology, but it is also a lovely story of this period in his life.”

Click here for a great review from Isabel Hardman at The Spectator.  Bersweden is indeed a young botanist, having carried out his search for orchids during the gap year between school and university, a year spent in a vastly different manner from those of many students. As a cataloguer of books, I find the idea of a young person classifying  and cataloguing plants, especially ones he has searched for himself, fascinating, but it sounds as though there is much more to this book than that act in itself. Another to add to my ever-increasing to-be-read pile!

orchid hunter

Holiday reading (5)

For our next instalment of our ‘Holiday reading’ series, we are considering two books read by possibly the two most avid readers I know: Ms Wylie (Drama) and  Mr Harrison (English).  They have each enjoyed reading very different novels during the holidays; Ms Wylie’s recommendation being A little life by Hanya Yanagihara and Mr Harrison’s, A pocketful of crows by Joanne Harris.

Ms Wylie describes A little life as “one of the best books I have ever read” and this is echoed in reviews of the book in newspapers and book review sites such as Goodreads… Such reviews have provoked much weighty discussion and forthright views! Here’s a synopsis:

 “When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.” (Picador, accessed 31 January 2018.)

Of his choice, Mr Harrison says:

One of my favourite books over the Christmas holidays was  A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris – an enchanting tale which structurally follows the seasons of the timeless English countryside. The central figure is a ‘wild girl’, one of ‘the travelling folk’, who falls in love with a man of ‘our world’. It is the most graceful evocation of woodland folklore entwined with the agony of heartbreak. The composition is a dark fairy tale based loosely on one of the legendary ‘Child Ballads’. The hypnotising illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins of hares, foxes and stags are as delightful as the prose. If you are someone who finds beauty in nature, wonder in storytelling and mystery in white magic, I recommend this. Best enjoyed by the fireside with a hearty chalice of mulled wine and guitar melodies dreamily serenading you… “

Two intriguing novels, vastly different from each other, but equally arresting – which one to choose first?  Possibly A little life, with A pocketful of crows as a respite to follow? Do tell us what you think.

Holiday reading (4)

Today, as part 4 of our Holiday reading series, we are looking at books read and recommended by Ms Rossington, one of our inspiring English teachers.  She enjoyed Sarah Perry‘s second novel, The Essex serpent,  and Zana Fraillon‘s book which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature 2017The bone sparrow.

Of both novels Ms Rossington says:

“I thought the first was an extraordinary piece of writing and the second made me cry. Quite a lot.”

Ms Rossington has since recommended the latter to girls in their library reading lesson. I have been meaning to read both of these titles for ages, and now feel spurred on to do so.  Here’s a little more information on each:

The Essex serpent

“London, 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge.

On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species.” Serpent’s Tail, publisher, accessed 29 January 2018.

The bone sparrow

“Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, and that the nice Jackets never stay long. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence. She carries a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.” Zana Fraillon, accessed 29 January 2018.

Holiday reading (3)

For our third entry in the Holiday reading series, we are looking at two non-fiction titles of a more worldly nature which were read by our new Economics teacher, Ms Rauh-Wasmund, and our new Head of Sixth Form, Mr Walker.

Firstly, let’s consider Ms Rauh-Wasmund’s choice.  Her book is entitled Traders, guns and money : knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives by Satyajit Das.  Ms Rauh-Wasmund says of her Christmas reading:

“Over the holiday I started to read Traders, guns and money by Satyajit Das.  It focuses on simplifying the complexities of derivative trading.”

Nielsen BookData Online has this to add : “A sensational and compelling insider’s view that lifts the lid on the fast-paced and dazzling world of derivatives… ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ is a wickedly comic exposé of the culture, games and pure deceptions played out every day in trading rooms around the world. And played out with other people’s money. This sensational insider’s view of the business of trading and marketing derivatives, explains the frighteningly central role that derivatives and financial products played in the global financial crisis. This worldwide bestseller reveals the truth about derivatives: those financial tools memorably described by Warren Buffett as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ will introduce you to the players and the practices and reveals how the real money is made and lost.” (Accessed 26 January 2018.) Sounds like a fascinating business, and this book is the one to introduce you to it…

Mr Walker’s book of the holidays is Daniel H Pink’s title Drive : the surprising truth about what motivates usIt seems that we are not essentially motivated by money, but instead are fundamentally wired to search for a deeper satisfaction, the need to direct our lives.  Mr Walker recommend this book for students of Psychology, but perhaps we could all learn from Pink’s assertion, that we have a need to ‘learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’. (Click on the link above for more information.)

Reading anything, we learn so much, and one of the best things about writing these blog entries to discover new reading lists and recommendations for others.  I hope that you will be as interested and find something here to make you think.  Do let me know!

Holiday reading (2)

Welcome to our second blog entry covering our Christmas reads… This time we are featuring books read by Miss Anderson, one of our excellent Drama teachers.  She, too, has been intrigued by history, but her choices are the fictional accounts of two of Henry VIII’s wives by Alison Weir – Katherine of Aragon : the true queen and Anne Boleyn : a King’s obsession.  Miss Anderson says:

“These are the first two in her [Alison Weir’s] ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series, which she is currently writing, and I have been completely hooked! She is a vivid story-teller, bringing the era and the characters to life superbly. A wonderful read for anyone interested in the Tudor era.”

It is said that Alison Weir weaves her well-grounded historical research with her vivid imagination to portray the characters of these first two wives of Henry VIII as full and rich, not only with wealth but also with spirit.  She depicts two young women who are determined, and seek to fight for their rights, and those of their children.  Both destined to be queens, and interesting characters in their own rights, the novels show how they lived, being married to one of the most famous (or infamous?) King in history.

Please send us your thoughts if you have enjoyed Alison Weir’s novels, and leave your recommendations for further reading.

Holiday reading (1)

Happy New Year to all readers everywhere!  We have decided that this is the year to start blogging in earnest again and we have plenty of great books to entertain you!  Apologies for our absence for a while, we have been three people running two busy libraries in a split site school, and now, with an eagerly anticipated new member of staff arriving, we hope to return regularly!

As usual, after the Christmas holidays, we asked our well-read members of staff to provide recommendations for the New Year and so we’ll highlight these over a few posts, and would welcome any comments you may have…

The first reflects the holiday readings of our illustrious Head of Economics, Mr Cowie.  He has suggested both fiction and non-fiction and begins with Peter May’s series of books known as The Lewis Trilogy which comprises The blackhouse, The Lewis man and The chessman.  Of these novels, Mr Cowie says:

“Set on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – three detective novels. Quite dark in terms of the plots and brilliant descriptions of the locality. It always seems to be raining!”

The stories’ central character is Fin Macleod, born and bred on the island, who returns after a time spent working a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, and finds himself caught up in investigating crimes on the island which take him back into his past and then on into his present…

Mr Cowie’s second and third choices reflect his interest in current affairs and history.  The first of these is entitled The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar.  Mr Cowie’s thoughts invite further investigation by new readers:

“Of interest to the few Germanophiles around. Written from and about 9 German cities – of which 3 are no longer in Germany.” 

“Based on a lifetime living in and reporting on Germany and Central Europe, award-winning journalist and author Peter Millar tackles the fascinating and complex story of the people at the heart of our continent. Focusing on nine cities (only six of which are in the Germany of today) he takes us on a zigzag ride back through time via the fall of the Berlin Wall through the horrors of two world wars, the patchwork states of the Middle Ages, to the splendour of Charlemagne and the fall of Rome, with side swipes at everything on the way, from Henry VIII to the Spanish Empire…  Not just a book about Germany but about Europe as a whole and how we got where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

Finally, we encounter Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by John Morrill.  Of this, Mr Cowie says:

“The French are always boasting about their ridiculous revolution but ours came first and was far superior. Why it is not taught in the 6th form I shall never understand.”

“John Morrill has been at the forefront of modern attempts to explain the origins, nature and consequences of the English Revolution. These twenty essays — seven either specially written or reproduced from generally inaccessible sources — illustrate the main scholarly debates to which he has so richly contributed: the tension between national and provincial politics; the idea of the English Revolution as “the last of the European Wars of Religion”; its British dimension; and its political sociology. Taken together, they offer a remarkably coherent account of the period as a whole.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

With such an interesting collection of books for reading during the holidays, I think this takes care of my reading list for next summer!  I believe that I’ll need more than the shorter period we had for these winter days.  If you are a reader of crime novels and interested in well-written history books, here’s a ready-made selection for you.  Do write to us with more suggestions and comments on these, if you have read them as well.

The Staff Book Club enjoys the first meeting of term…

We had our first meeting of the term yesterday and, since we were lucky enough to receive ten copies of The Chilbury ladies’ choir by Jennifer Ryan, together with a bottle of Plymouth gin, angostura bitters, oat butter cookies, and bunting, balloons and messerschmidt aeroplanes from HarperCollins to decorate, we had a party!   We held the party in the Chapel at our King’s Road campus…

Chilbury party

Generally, members of the club enjoyed the book, saying it was a relaxing read: humorous, warm, and a little bit shocking, but then we remembered that Chilbury was right in the firing line from Hitler’s air force, times were desperate and really quite awful, especially when the bomb landed. A couple of members didn’t like the novel and felt it was unrealistic in terms of the events described, and attitudes of the characters.  They believed it to be too saccharine at times and felt that we had lost sight of the choir by the end.  They also felt that the ending was predictable.

This being said, we liked the idea of the story being told in diary, journal and letter entries, and felt that this was an effective way to get across multiple versions of the events, getting a full picture of how each individual saw how the story unfolded.  Telling a story in this way somehow seems to make it feel that we are more intimately involved in it by reading the personal writings of an individual.

We felt that the midwife, Edwina Paltrey, should never be forgiven for her actions, being the cold-hearted, calculating creature that she was.  However harsh her background, and despite the forgiveness she was seeking from her sister by trying to make things right between them, her actions were completely reprehensible!

Elements of the story described rather accurately the class system and attitude towards women which persisted at the time, with particular reference to the Brigadier and his treatment of his daughters and wife.

Some members felt that more could have been made of the choir, and felt that more could have been made of its importance after Hattie and Prim died, but the overwhelming feeling that making the music was a joyous act, unifying all those women, and strengthening their resolve to get through the war in a supportive and caring environment.  One also felt that they had gained in confidence themselves.

Read this novel if you like stories such as Call the midwife…

chilbury

 

 

Train delays, traffic jams and family: reasons to be cheerful

Some excellent reading, we are excited about promoting the shortlisted books in our libraries!

CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway

Jenny Hawke is the CKG judge for YLG South East and is the Library Supervisor at Petts Wood Library, Kent.

Jenny Hawke.jpg

I don’t have a very long commute to work, a short bus ride and then a short train journey. Nonetheless, along with all the other passengers on the train, when we heard the driver telling us we were held up at a red signal, I used to groan and sigh thinking about all I had to do at work and the day I had got planned slowly disappearing as I realised I would be late. However, once I became a Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judge last autumn all this changed. Train delays were a joy as it meant I could read an extra page, or maybe two, and if I was really lucky and the delay was going to be a long one, a whole chapter. When you are faced…

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Lent term newsletter

This term we have been busy, as ever, in our libraries, so for a little extra news about what we’ve been up to, please click on the link below to retrieve our end of term newsletter:

Lent 2017