Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (5)

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.

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (4)

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!

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (3)

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…

 

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (2)

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 AhernThe 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.

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (1)

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.

Christmas newsletter 2015

michaelmas 2015We 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.

Michaelmas 2015

 

 

 

If my words are worth nothing, why are you stealing them?

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!

days like crazy paving

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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This Star Won’t Go Out (Esther Earl) and The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

I felt that it was about time that, having seen the film, The Fault In Our Stars, this librarian read the book by John Green and delved a little deeper into the story behind the novel.  Many of our readers here at Berkhamsted already knew the book, told us that John was their favourite author and asked us whether we could wait to see the film… So, being one of the slower librarians on the uptake, I have finally read the novel (which I loved), seen the film and looked more closely into the background, which our students may not know too much about.  I quickly found that John was inspired to write the novel after meeting and getting to know Esther Grace Earl at LeakyCon 2009 (now known as GeekyCon, originally a Harry Potter fan-orientated convention based in the USA and Canada, now embracing all kinds of geeky things, music from rock bands ‘Harry and the Potters‘ and ‘The Whomping Willows‘, to name but two, nerdfighters and so much more…).

This Star Won’t Go Out is a book by Esther and her family, and includes pages from her journal and recollections from Esther’s parents, Lori and Wayne Earl, about her diagnosis as a sufferer of thyroid cancer, aged 12, how she coped and managed her illness, and her thoughts about life and how it was, to suffer in this way.  It is a wonderful book, and whilst desperately moving, Esther’s sense of fun, thoughtfulness on her illness as well as for others and how they were affected by it, shines throughout.  She doesn’t say much about what she achieves and how she reaches out to others, but the testament of her parents and friends, both IRL (in real life!) and online, speak volumes about her ability to encourage others to pull through in the face of adversity.  One thing thing which struck me when reading this book was very much the positive aspects of online social media.  The best of support chatrooms, YouTube videos, and blogs is apparent and the help these media can offer to young people who are suffering is immense.  In an age where we are encouraged to be very wary of the worst aspects of social media, it was enlightening to find so many examples of the best.  John Green wrote the introduction to the book, and I was moved to read how she was the inspiration (although not the basis) for Hazel Grace Lancaster, his heroine.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fault In Our Stars tooreading it solidly in between working and family life, in a very short time.  I found it moving, devastating, amusing (the sense of humour exhibited by the young cancer sufferers made me think about things which go wrong in my life and how it is possible to see chinks of humour in almost any situation), and uplifting.  I feel that the author clearly understands how teenagers work and how they think, let alone how they may feel about things that happen to them, and, by the popularity of his writing, teens agree with this.  I also loved that the film’s storyline was so close to the novel, making it resonate for readers, who are so often disappointed by such adaptations.  The acting was superb and a testament to the abilities of the cast, particularly its younger members: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff.

In our libraries we have copies of both books, so now I am going to display them both together, I’m sure that they will fly off the shelves, as The Fault In Our Stars does permanently!

I would like to share the following links with you, in case you’d like to learn more about Esther Earl and John Green:

Esther’s parents have founded a charity of the same name as their book: This Star Won’t Go Out, click on this title to visit their website.  The charity does important work in helping to support the families of young cancer sufferers, as well as the children themselves.

To follow John Green on Facebook: click here, twitter: here, tumblr: here and finally on his own website here.  John also creates videoblogs together with his brother, Hank, and they are well-worth watching, they’re fun and educational: https://www.youtube.com/vlogbrothers

It’s the end of term!

Hear ye, hear ye! Read all about it!

Here at Berkhamsted, we have just half a day left of this term, and so, to finish, we produced a newsletter letting everyone in school know what we’ve been doing in the libraries this term.  We would like to share this with you.  How do you communicate with the rest of your schools and organisations about what you do?  It would be great to hear about what happens in other libraries…

The major event of the term has been the official opening of our School Archive Exhibition Room, which features on pages 4 and 5.  We have developed the Archive extensively over the past two to three years, with one of our librarians obtaining archivist qualifications, meaning that she is now the school’s official archivist, and the assignment of three rooms, fittingly, in the oldest part of the school to house the Exhibition Room, Archive Office and Store.  We hold fascinating material covering the life of the school since its foundation in 1541, from an original building, to seals of appointments of Headmasters, and a prefect book (annotated by Charles Henry Greene, author Graham Greene’s father, with details of old boys who died during the Great War,  he was Headmaster here during that time).  We have samples of uniform which spans the early decades of the twentieth century, for both boys and girls, copies of school magazines and much much more.  If you are an Old Berkhamstedian, perhaps you would like to make arrangements to visit one day.  Please do take a look at our website dedicated to the archive, by clicking here.

We have also housed an exhibition of students’ artwork which was undertaken to reflect what World War I meant to Berkhamsted School.  Give that our library on our Castle Campus is a Memorial Library to the memory of boys and members of all staff who served during the War, it seemed very fitting for us to display this artwork.

We also cover our subscriptions to e-resources and our celebration of World Book Day 2015, which took place on Thursday 5th March.

We hope that you enjoy taking a look!

first page lent 15

Click on the link below to read!

Lent 2015 blog ed.