Hooray! Burning Eye Books has been shortlisted for the Most Innovative Publisher at the Saboteur Awards! That’s something to smile about! Shortlist voting continues until 27th May and whilst …
Just before our half term holiday, we had our first book club meeting of the year. It’s so hard, sometimes, to arrange a time to meet in a school as busy as ours, and sometimes you just have to make a date, and hope that people come! Well, they did and we had a great catch up with what we had read over the past few weeks and reflected on the wonderful day we had had in London back in November at The Reading Agency when we participated in English PEN’s ‘From one reader to another’ event – more of this later.
Please see details below of our reading, in case you feel inspired to take a look:
|Reasons to stay alive||Matt Haig (great exploration of the author’s own experience of depression and how there is a way through, turn to literature and mindfulness)|
|Sagan, Paris 1954
|Anne Berest (in translation – about the year when 18 year-old Françoise Sagan published her much-acclaimed novel Bonjour tristesse)|
|The shock of the fall||Nathan Filer (great reviews for this debut novel, well-written and observed, about a young man and how his mental health deteriorates, but not all doom and gloom)|
|The light between oceans||M L Stedman (a boat washes up on the shore of an island containing the body of a dead man and a crying baby, the lighthouse keeper and his wife have to decide what to do).|
|The age of miracles||Karen Thompson Walker (the world starts slowing down with days and nights becoming longer: what effect would this phenomenon have on the world?)|
|Disclaimer||Renée Knight (cleverly written thriller, a woman starts reading a book which turns out to be about her, and a secret that only she thought she knew)|
|Fiona Barton (psychological thriller, after a man’s death, his past is dragged up as it is thought that he had abducted a child…)|
|After you||Jojo Moyes (sequel to Moyes’s Me before you, where we follow what happens to Louisa after Will’s death)|
|The memory book||Rowan Coleman (well-written novel by local author about a woman who develops early onset Alzheimers, and how her she and her family deal with it, again not all doom and gloom)|
The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 15th March when we will be discussing Sarah Waters’s novel The paying guests and Blood ties by Julie Shaw. I shall report back with our thoughts on these novels shortly afterwards.
On Saturday 14th November, 2015, we were lucky enough to be chosen to participate in a day of reading group activities based at The Free Word Centre in London, hosted jointly by English PEN and The Free Word Centre. ‘From one reader to another’ offered us the opportunity to read two books in translation:
- Dreams from the endz Faïza Guène
- Compartment no. 6 Rosa Liksom
We discussed each book with a different reading group, one based at English PEN itself and the other from a library reading group based in East London. We had a fascinating discussion and met some interesting people through a mutual love of reading. We listened to Jessie Burton talk about books which had inspired her to read and then to write her wonderful novel, The miniaturist. We were treated to a translation duel of a text from its native Polish into English which was exceedingly enjoyable, and then heard about the work of a reading group coordinator based in a prison. It’s easy to forget how literacy can enable and empower, he was telling us how those who’d participated had found that reading had improved their literacy to such an extent that they felt determined to improve their lives on leaving prison. We had an amazing experience and would like to thank all at English PEN and The Free Word Centre.
Mr Cowie, Head of Economics, is an avid reader and has written to me about three books which he read over the Christmas holidays. I should like to share them with you here. The books cover various periods in British history, and focus on very different subjects. I have also read one of these, the first mentioned below.
It is renowned author and journalist Ben MacIntyre‘s telling of the story of one of the country’s most intriguing spies of World War II, Eddie Chapman. Here’s what Mr Cowie has to say about Agent Zigzag : a true story of Nazi espionage, love and betrayal :
“The tale of a WW2 double-agent called Eddie Chapman. A total cad but not a complete and utter rotter – in fact, something of a hero.”
I would wholeheartedly agree with the second sentence here. Chapman’s story could not have been dreamt up by the most inventive or imaginative of novelists, however, I am sure that it would inspire authors of the spy genre. From his humble beginnings of a petty crook from one of the poorer areas of London, Eddie discovered, as a young man, that he had a talent for learning languages quickly and soon found himself attracting the attention of German soldiers in Jersey at the time of occupation… It’s a great story.
The second volume offered by Mr Cowie is something completely different. Mod : from Bebop to Britpop by Richard Weight shows the story of the Mod, his music, style and mode of transport from his origin right up to his more modern equivalent in the time of Britpop. Mr Cowie says:
“A history of Mod culture – British and working class – from the late 50s, through Swinging London, Northern Soul, the late-70s revival, and Britpop. Short for ‘modernists’ (obv) and interested in black American music, French film, and Italian fashion.”
For those of us who are at a certain stage in our lives, this book will educate about, and remind us of, popular culture prevalent when we were growing up, a great recommendation.
Finally, he recommends John Darwin’s book, Unfinished empire : the global expansion of Britain:
“an intelligent and nuanced study”.
A writer for Nielsen Bookdata Online has this to say about it, and, I must say, it sounds like an important chronicle of the history of the British empire:
” This is a both controversial and comprehensive historical analysis of how the British Empire worked, from Wolfson Prize-winning author and historian John Darwin. The British Empire shaped the world in countless ways: repopulating continents, carving out nations, imposing its own language, technology and values. For perhaps two centuries its expansion and final collapse were the single largest determinant of historical events, and it remains surrounded by myth, misconception and controversy today. John Darwin’s provocative and richly enjoyable book shows how diverse, contradictory and in many ways chaotic the British Empire really was, controlled by interests that were often at loggerheads, and as much driven on by others’ weaknesses as by its own strength.”
We welcome any comments or thoughts you may have about any of the books featured here, so please do contact us and start a discussion.
This, the fourth episode in our Christmas reading journey, sees three more, very different books read by Dr Hundal, Head of a Sixth Form House and biologist, and me. Dr Hundal’s chosen novel is entitled Butcher’s Crossing, and was written by John Williams in 1960. Williams’s book Stoner enjoyed renewed success in 2013, forty eight years after it was written, perhaps Butcher’s Crossing will too, some fifty five years later! Dr Hundal says:
“A terrific read which is set in the 1870s. It is written with a simple but engaging descriptive prose. The story’s central character is a young East Coast man going out West in search of adventure. After teaming up to hunt down one of the largest buffalo herds remaining, he finds he has taken on more than he bargained for. The tension between the main characters is at the heart of the book. I enjoyed the wonderful description of the wide, open and, at times, mountainous wilderness. Well recommended.”
The book was reviewed in The Guardian newspaper on 7th January 2014 by Nicholas Lezard and, he, too, was impressed by the novel. Click here to read more.
The two books which I spent my holidays reading are Jane Austen’s timeless Persuasion and Matt Haig’s current and most recently published Reasons for living. Both were read with different expectations.
Persuasion is my favourite of Austen’s novels, and thinking that I would have the time to do it justice, I began to read. Having read so many modern novels of various genres lately and not reading the great classics for a good few years, I found it took a little time for my brain to settle and focus on the language, manners and expressions. I had thought that I would be able to slip into it again, and the fact that I didn’t, and felt that I had to engage my brain physically to do so, made me think that this could be an excellent brain exercise! I was justly rewarded and reminded of what a great novel it is. I have recently seen an article which considers Persuasion the poorest of Austen’s work but I’m sure I don’t agree. Perhaps I am not viewing it critically and just enjoying the story, the setting and language. That’s good enough for me! It’s a wonderful novel about true friendship, the nature of families, love, and the way life turns out – not so different from many modern novels but also a commentary on its time, where making good marriages did count for some. we learn how a man could establish himself as a naval officer and earn the respect and wealth which goes with hard work, and, interestingly, become rich through being a captain in times of war. Give me a Captain Wentworth any day!
I chose my next book having read a review somewhere (I really must start making notes of where I read such things!), and felt the need to take a look at Matt Haig‘s book to understand exactly what he went through as a young man of 24 who found himself extremely depressed with very little hope about what the future may bring. He tells how he came through his darkest times and discusses how mindfulness has become a key part of his recovery. The more I learn of this idea, the more I like, and can see how beneficial it can be. I had heard of Haig as an author of children’s and young adult fiction, and wanted to know more about him. I truly appreciated this book and learned more from it than I have from other sources, produced by clinicians. It is an honest account of how he has come through and taught me a few things:
“That’s the odd thing about depression and anxiety. It acts like an intense fear of happiness, even as you yourself consciously want that happiness more than anything…”
His list of reasons for staying alive halfway through the book makes so much sense to me, even as a non-sufferer. This book helps those who love people who are.
I’d be interested in reading your thoughts, if you have read any of these books, do let me know!
Part three of the Christmas reading project features a selection from Mrs Kelly, one of my fellow librarians, of novels which she read during the holidays. She read two of these in translation in her native Polish, despite being fluent in English! The first, however, was originally written and read in English. It’s Matthew Thomas’s novel entitled We are not ourselves:
“[This is] a very compelling novel of a family (Irish emigrants in America) dealing with challenging circumstances. A very intimate portrait of a daughter, wife, mother, nurse, alcoholic. Interestingly, written by a man!”
The author appears to have put so much into the consideration of his characters, which is appealing to a reader… One more for my list! The next on Mrs Kelly’s, is Yann Martel‘s first novel, Self. She says:
” [This was] interesting but [I] had some mixed feelings. A fictional auto-biography of a Canadian-born traveller and writer. Initially, rather funny, but I was disappointed with the way the gender issues were portrayed. Definitely an adult content.”
It is always good to have some topical issues to discuss, perhaps this one should be on our reading group list. Her final choice is Rakesh Satyal’s Blue Boy:
“A lovely story about a boy, who certainly is a bit of an outcast amongst his male peers – loves pink, girls’ toys and secretly uses mum’s make up. A novel about searching for an answer to the question: Who am I? And it is all in the colourful Indian world.”
These Christmas posts are manifesting some very different types of stories and show the versatility of a reading mind. I like the fact that they are not all new books, just released as well, showing the enduring nature of reading as a pastime. Contact us with your views…
In part two of our Christmas reading project we have three books offered by our School Archivist, Mrs Koulouris.
The first is a book by the Irish author, Cecelia Ahern, The Marble Collector. Mrs Koulouris says this about the book:
“A family story about a collection of marbles and the story that the daughter unravels about her Father and his past. Not bad.”
Her second novel is Dawn French’s latest offering, According to yes, which she enjoyed very much:
“[I] loved this, primary teacher Rosie Kitto goes to Manhattan to work for a family.”
Mrs Koulouris’s final choice is the reflective and intriguing book, Chance developments, by Alexander McCall Smith; it is a different style of writing from his previous work, and has certainly piqued my interest. Mrs Koulouris had this to say:
“[I] really loved this … He [McCall Smith] produces stories around a random set of photographs, not knowing anything about the people or places in the snaps.”
Mrs Koulouris has subsequently written to me saying that one book she’d like to read soon is Tom Michell’s The penguin lessons:
“A true story by Tom Michell, who was a teacher in Argentina who adopted a penguin as a pet.”
It seems that the penguin is reluctant to return to the sea , having been rescued from an oil slick by the author and cleaned up. Michell takes him back to the boarding school, where he works as a teacher, and the penguin naturally becomes an invaluable member of the school!
I would very much like to read all of these, and they shall all be on my TBR list! if you have read these books, please let me know what you think, it’s always good to hear from other readers.
Welcome to the first Berkhamsted School Library post of 2016! Over the next few posts, we will be looking at books which were read by members of staff at Berkhamsted who were finally able to put aside reports, sporting fixtures, outdoor education and many other activities which take place during the school term, in the Christmas holidays, to enjoy a book. I hope that you find these posts entertaining and that they inspire you to pick up a volume or two!
We will begin with our Vice Principal of Education: Mr Bond’s choice (he was the first off the mark to send in his book!). The book is entitled The bone clocks by David Mitchell. Mr Bond says:
“It’s an intriguing book that weaves a fascinating narrative across a 60 year (from the 1980s to 2040s) period with a supernatural theme interwoven through it as well. It’s main strength (in my opinion) is its depth of characterisation – the individuals are richly portrayed throughout.”
The book certainly received great reviews from the broadsheets and, indeed, Mrs Redman, (Head of a Sixth Form House), whose personal choice follows this, says that she also loved it.
Mrs Redman decided to read My Àntonia by Willa Cather. She says:
“I read My Ántonia, a beautifully-observed account of the fortunes of a young immigrant to Nebraska at the end of the 20th Century as seen through the romantic eyes of a young boy who grows up on the neighbouring farm. Her early life is one of seemingly unending drudgery in a bleak, unforgiving landscape, but Jim only sees how strong, confident and lovely Ántonia becomes as a result. It is a glimpse at a frontier world which shows how identities are shaped not only by the harsh realities of the present and dreams for a better future but, most importantly, by our heritage. Read it for the vivid descriptions of the Nebraskan scenery alone.”
One of a very different nature, I imagine, but as well-written, I am sure.
The final book in this post is a recommendation from Mr Petty, our Head of Sixth Form. As a historian, this book provides not only a deeper insight into his subject but also a keen personal interest. Mr Petty reports:
“One of the books I particularly enjoyed over the break was Robert Dallek’s JFK: An Unfinished Life. This is such an accomplished biography which covers the key moments in American History c.1930-1963 with panache, rigour and insight – the sections on the Cuban Missiles Crisis and Kennedy’s election to the Senate, and then the Presidency, are particularly riveting. Two surprises for me from the book: being made aware of how long-established the Kennedys were as a major force in north-eastern American politics, such that they long preceded JFK’s father, Joseph, who is often assumed to be the man who brought them to fame and fortune; and just how entrenched the Kennedy administration was in the deepening crisis in Vietnam, despite escaping censure from historians for the growing problems there. Dallek is fair-minded, and ranks Kennedy as a potentially great President. Even though the reader knows the ultimately tragic outcome of this astonishing narrative, one is still somehow shocked and enthralled by the unfolding of the assassination. A superb account of a remarkable life.”
Three great books, which I am sure will engender debate and further reading. Have any of you read them? Please do get in touch and share your thoughts, we would love to hear from you.
We haven’t posted for a while, too long actually, and for this I apologise! We have been so busy this term here in the Library at Berkhamsted School so I thought I would post a newsletter which we have put together so that you can read all about it in one go. After Christmas, I aim to post a lot more frequently and will try to bring you much more… In the meantime, I should like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, have a peaceful and relaxing time.
Thank you for reminding us to quote, cite and attribute the work of others. We spend a lot of time in our library emphasising to students the need for accreditation of academic works: books, e-resources, journals and websites; we mustn’t forget social media either. Would you mind if I printed your post and used the points made to reinforce the message, please? Naturally, we would credit our source to you!
A few days ago, I noticed that people were sharing around my blog post “Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds” without including my Twitter username. Not a huge deal – they were linking back to my blog, so I was still getting clicks and page views out of it – but it was a little disconcerting (not bad, just disconcerting) to realise that my work was being shared around by people who didn’t even know me and therefore couldn’t directly credit me as the creator.
People keep telling me this is a consequence of “fame” (I wasn’t even aware that I was famous!) – that people will share your work without letting you know about it. I suppose I can live with that, as long as people aren’t just copy-pasting words of mine without any kind of course or attribution…
…which is exactly what happened to me…
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