‘Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone’: Obama Shares Reading

Mr Obama’s thoughts on reading will resonate with many, and for a long time too.

The Reader Online

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As he kicks back to catch up on his reading list, we reflect how former United States President Barack Obama’s love of books influenced his life.

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A Short Introduction to Palaeography

Fascinating stuff. Time to get out your quills and start writing!

University of Southampton Special Collections

As today is National Handwriting Day in the United States, we have decided to provide a short introduction to palaeography – an essential skill for any budding historian or archivist!

What do we mean by palaeography?
Palaeography literally means ‘old writing’ from the Greek words ‘paleos’ = old, and ‘grapho’ = write. The term is now generally used to describe reading old handwriting.

Handwriting of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury Handwriting of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury

How we read

The human mind deos not raed ervery lteter by itself, but the word as a wlohe. The order of the ltteers in the word can be in a toatl mses but you can still raed it wouthit any porbelm.

We expect to recognise words and letter shapes but this doesn’t happen with unfamiliar handwriting. Instead we need to look at the individual letters separately and break the words into their most basic form.

Some tips for…

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Christmas reading (6)

The Christmas reading recommendations are still coming in!  Mrs Kelly, one of our Assistant Librarians, read three books: two in English and a third in her mother tongue of Polish, our second novel from foreign literature discussed in this series.

Mrs Kelly’s first novel is The good liar by Nicholas Searle.  She says:

“Nicholas Searle’s first novel, The Good Liar, is a story principally about Roy (one among his various identities), a conman, who is planning to pull off his final financial scam. He hooks up with a wealthy widow and plans to run away with her life savings.

The structure takes you backwards and forwards, revealing Roy’s life bit by bit, starting in contemporary Britain, and then reverting back to 1938 Berlin.  I must admit, I was considering giving up at the beginning, as I simply couldn’t get into the story, but I am so glad I persevered! Loved it! The story unfolds, culminating in a fabulous ending.”

Sounds like an arresting story (no pun intended)… One I’d very much like to read, and, although my to-be-read list keeps growing, I have already started on one of the previous recommendations (S J Watson’s Before I go to sleep, after comments by Miss Anderson made it so intriguing).  Book number two on Mrs Kelly’s list is Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan:

“It grabbed me straight from the beginning! The story is about Susan, an English University lecturer, who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, requesting an honest opinion. Since Edward’s ambition of becoming a writer was partly to blame for the breaking of their marriage, Susan is anxious about reading it. She does, however, and submerges herself into the novel, titled Nocturnal Animals. The reader then is drawn into yet another novel; very dramatic and gripping, about some tragic events in a life of Tony – a maths professor. Both stories interchange with one another, keeping you on your toes! Excellent read. Nocturnal Animals was actually adapted into the 2016 film, of the same title, by Tom Ford, its director.”

Oh no, the more reviews I read, my list increases in size!  And the third novel is one I’d like to read in translation.  Mrs Kelly says this about Bokserka by Grazyna Plebanek:

“It’s a multi-layered story about women, their desires, and breaking the stereotypes (the protagonist, Lu, fights in the boxing ring, whilst working in an embassy in Brussels, at the same time). The novel also discusses the whole generation of current thirty year-olds – people who are not afraid of many things and know no barriers. It did annoyed me at times, however, as it seems to portray feminism in the way I would not necessarily agree with. Glad I read it though!”

Many thanks, go to Mrs Kelly and all our readers, for their contributions.  It will soon be too late to feature Christmas reading so as and when we read more books and I receive more reviews, I will post them immediately.  In the libraries we are busy with History projects covering World War I and the Elizabethans, we are learning as much as the children from their fantastic teachers.

Further reading:

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle review – a thriller that will trip you up

Tony & Susan by Austin Wright

Grazyna Plebanak

Featured Poem: My love is like a red, red rose by Robert Burns

Such a great love poem! Will be raising a wee dram to you, Rabbie, on the 25th!

The Reader Online

lakeAs Burns Night approaches we thought no better time to start celebrating than with our weekly Featured Poem, My love is like a red, red rose by Robert Burns.

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A Year of Books: Five of the Best from 2016

Thank you, Angela McMillan, for a list of books I didn’t know! These shall be added to my list for 2017!

The Reader Online

20150115183825-books-readingAs Angela McMillan, co-editor of The Reader magazine, turns her attention to her reading list for the year ahead, we ask what she loved in 2016.

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Christmas reading (5)

Welcome to our fifth exploration of the Christmas reading of members of staff from our school.  This post discusses two very different books read by Mrs Ewart, our Library Assistant.  One book is the second novel by Jessie Burton, The muse, and the other is by Richard Venables QPM, A life in death, concerning a vital part of his career in the Police Force in the field of Disaster Victim Identification.  Both sound intriguing and fascinating.  Mrs Ewart says:

The Muse by Jessie Burton: I really enjoyed this novel as much as her first historical novel, The miniaturist. The two books are completely different, although both are historical fiction. The Muse is set in Spain in the 1930s and Britain in the 1960s. The story revolves around a painting and the characters embroiled in its creation and destiny. Great storytelling. If you like Tracy Chevalier, I think you will enjoy Jessie Burton’s books…”

A Life in Death by Richard Venables QPM, a retired Police Detective Inspector. This was a gripping autobiograpy  about disaster victim identification, a part of policing that we rarely – if ever – think about. Venables shows compassion, humanity and respect in dealing with the victims. Yet there are touches of humour too. It has been nominated for the People’s Book prize for non – fiction. I strongly recommend that you read it – and then vote for it!”

Christmas reading (4)

Our reading journey continues with two entries which are attracting my attention, and which are now on my to-be-read pile!  Mrs Redman, Head of House and English teacher recommended Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and teacher of Drama, Miss Anderson’s Christmas reading was Before I go to sleep by S J Watson.  Here is what each had to say:

Mrs Redman on The Essex serpent: “I picked it up in Waterstones because it was so beautiful – all rich blues and embossed gold detail.  The rave reviews on the back heralded it as An Essex village is terrorised by a winged leviathan in a gothic Victorian tale crammed with incident, character and plot and they weren’t wrong.  From the start, she creates a creditable Dickensian marshland setting in which grotesques and caricatures live alongside  London cognoscente.  The notion of superstition and a potential force of evil entering their world challenges their feelings towards religion and science.  It’s a page turner with believable and likeable characters facing a predatory menace; who or what the menace really is, and whether it is real or imagined, is the essence of the book.”

Miss Anderson on Before I go to sleep:  “I read “Before I Go To Sleep” by S.J.Watson and it was a fantastic thriller. A woman suffers a brain injury leading to memory issues. She wakes up every day believing she is in her 20s and realises that she is middle-aged and cannot remember any of her life between then and now. She starts to write a diary to aid her day-to-day life and the recovery of her memory. Yet as the days build up, she realises that there are many things her husband isn’t being honest with her about.  It was a great read that had me absolutely gripped.”

Miss Anderson’s choice has been made into a film starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (more of my favourites!).

Have any of you read these novels?  Please do get in touch, I do like to read others’ thoughts on books which are important to them, especially if featured here.

Sharing poetry (The Reader Organisation)

How lovely to see this today… This shows how a poem can reach people of all ages.

This week we have a wonderful Reader Story from Reader in Residence Laragh behind our Featured Poem, What if you Slept? by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

via Featured Poem: What if you Slept? by Samuel Taylor Coleridge — The Reader Online

Christmas reading (3)

Mrs Grant, our Safety and Environment Manager, was the next person to write to me, telling of the book she read during our Christmas break.  She read the début novel of writer Geoffrey GudgionSaxon’s Bane, and says:

  “I read ‘Saxon’s Bane’, by Geoffrey Gudgion.  He is a local author who came and spoke at our WI, although I sadly missed his visit!  I loved the book. It seemed to have everything: historical interest, village politics, suspense, death, adventure and mystery, with the themes of good vs evil, the Church vs paganism and even a bit of a love story running through it.  I always think the best way to judge a book is whether you actually care about the characters and if you find yourself wondering what they are doing whilst you are not reading the book. Geoffrey Gudgion has achieved this: when I finished Saxon’s Bane I felt I knew them so well I wanted to go and find the fictional village and have a drink and chat with them all.”

I like the way Mrs Grant talks of the way in which she views a book, and then subsequently was able to put her ideas into practice with this one.  A good endorsement, I think.  In a later message, she told me that this wouldn’t usually have fitted with her preferred reading style or genre,which should encourage us all to break out of our comfort zone once in a while, something which we are always advising students to do!

Mr Petty, our Head of Sixth Form, was the next reader to write to me. He had just finished Stephen Graubard’s book The Presidents : the transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama.  This book was published in 2009, when the author was 85.  Mr Petty says this about it:

“Over the holidays I very much enjoyed re-reading ‘The Presidents:  the Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama’ by Stephen Graubard.  I thought it was a good time to remind myself of some of the brilliant, bold, brave, and frankly bonkers people who have occupied the White House, and this is a masterful book with which to do this.  This wonderful survey – there around 40 pages on each featured President – reminds one how there are limits to how far each President can change the USA, but also brought to mind how greatly I had under-appreciated two presidents in particular.  They are not exactly unsung heroes, but Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are simply fascinating figures who knew what they wanted, and were unlikely to be thwarted in their very different ambitions.  I’d heartily recommend this work, even if one simply dips in to it to read about one or two presidents.”

After reading this review, I immediately ordered a copy and sent it to my daughter who is studying American politics as a module of her first degree at Birmingham University.  We have been much more interested in the politics of the USA since our visit to Washington DC last summer, and enjoyed visiting the fantastic museums as well as Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress.  We were fortunate enough to attend a session in the House of Represenatives, which brought everything so much more alive for us.

Christmas reading (2)

Our next readers to feature are Mr Ford and Mr Cruickshanks, who have read books in English and Spanish respectively, representing the Departments of Religion and Philosophy and Modern Foreign Languages.

After reading a recommendation in the Library’s Michaelmas Term newsletter, Mr Ford decided to read David Lagercrantz’s novel The girl in the spider’s web.  This was commissioned by Stieg Larsson‘s estate following his death, as a result of finding notes believed to be the essence and beginnings of a fourth novel in the series following the exploits of Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomquist. Click here to read an article by arts journalist Mark Lawson from August 2015 to read more…  Mr Ford says:

“On the recommendation of the Newsletter I read ‘The girl in the Spider’s Web’ and really enjoyed it – I have placed it in the Castle Common Room for others to read…”

We are all for book sharing here in the libraries, whether it be by passing on recommendations, or physically putting a copy of the printed word in another’s hands… I shall be wandering over to the Common Room shortly to see what else is there!  Mr Ford adds the following about his current read:

 “I am currently reading the first Robert Galbraith novel [‘The cuckoo’s calling’ – winner of the 2013 LA Times Book Prize for Mystery and Thrillers ] and very much enjoying it.”

Mr Cruickshanks, one of our Spanish speakers, read Isabel Allende‘s La casa de los espíritus, he says:

“I finally finished reading a very challenging novel called ‘La Casa de los Espíritus’ (The House of the Spirits) by Isabel Allende, a South American author. It tells the story of the Trueba family throughout the twentieth century, living in an unspecified South American country. The Truebas are land-owners and very affluent, and the novel describes their experiences, from the height of their influence at the start of the century, through the pressures of the arrival of Communism and the demands for workers’ rights and, subsequently, a military coup that overthrows the new Communist government during the second half of the century. I describe it as a ‘challenging’ novel, because (quite apart from the fact that it was in Spanish) the novel is very dense, very descriptive, with incredibly long paragraphs (often stretching over multiple pages) and very little dialogue. I usually prefer more accessible (let’s be honest, more ‘trashy’) novels, but the description of life during the rise of Communism and in the aftermath of the coup was very powerful. It was certainly a novel that made me think!”

Incredibly (because almost everyone I know has), I have not read any of Allende’s novels yet, but this review has made me want to take it home today, and since we don’t have a copy on our shelves, a trip to the public library is in order.  Unfortunately, Spanish is not one of my languages, so I shall be reading it in translation…