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One of our super English teachers, Miss Brims, has sent me reviews of two books which she has enjoyed recently.  Miss Brims writes:

The Beauty of Humanity Movement is the next book from award winning Canadian writer Camilla Gibb. Set in a modern Vietnam, the story charts lives of a family torn apart, joined by food and love, not blood,  and an ancient tale of old lost love.

Vietnam has seen many changes in one lifetime, and Old Man Hung has seen them all. His pho is as legendary as it is nourishing, as coveted as it is illegal, and as unifying as it was devisive.  When Maggie returns to the country of her birth, she arrives with all the ideals and modern mentalities in accordance with her upbringing in the USA, but she must keep the best of her present and her past in order to unravel the secrets of her families history.

Tu’ has grown up with Old Man Hung and posivitivity and good nature are inextricably entwined with both Hung, Maggie, and their fight for justice, truth, love and survival.

A beautiful, bitter sweet story which will live in your thoughts for days.

Greame Simpson’s loveable duo of Don and Rosie Tillman return in The Rosie Effect, a heart wrenching tale of a couple in their first year of marriage. Everything is going well for the new couple, the Wife Project has come to a successful conclusion, Rosie and Don have moved to New York and Don is learning to compromise, despite the obvious financial and logistical disadvantages. But when Rosie discovers she is pregnant, Don doesn’t respond as she hopes he will, driving a wedge between the couple which threatens their marriage (though Don is rather blissfully unaware of this). As ever, his intentions are good, and the reader is rooting for this loveable, nearly perfect man throughout his hilarious mis-steps.

If you loved The Rosie Project, you will love this too. Just be prepared to have the tissues ready for both laughter and heart break.”

We loved The Rosie Project as a staff reading group, please see the review here.

Us (David Nicholls)

us

Another January read was David Nicholls‘s superb latest offering, Us.  I loved this novel, and enjoyed it so much more than the author’s previous bestseller, One Day.  

It tells the story, through the eyes of Douglas Petersen, of a marriage: from its unlikely beginnings and the birth and upbringing of a son, through to the moment when Douglas’s wife wakes him during the night to tell him that the marriage is over. He comes across as a stereotypical non-romantic research scientist to begin with, but as we journey with him on this last family holiday upon which he embarks with his wife and their now teenage son, we discover a man who is coming to terms with the loss of a way of life, the family unit as he knew it and the possibility of starting again.  During the course of the novel, he understands where he has made mistakes in his relationships with his wife and son, and has learnt that it isn’t too late to change things at the same time as moving on from a life which he thought was his, familiar and believed to be one whose values his wife had shared.  This is a poignant tale but one peppered with excitement and a lot of fun (the description of the scrapes Douglas gets himself into when searching for his son in Europe positively had me laughing out loud!), and very moving scenes, as well as a positive recognition that times have changed and it is possible to begin again after the ending of an important relationship, and connect with the son he thought he knew, but didn’t understand.

I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly, especially for those who have similarly experienced the ending of a significant relationship.  It is well-written and extremely thought-provoking.

I very much enjoyed reading local author (to Berkhamsted), Rowan Coleman’s latest novel, The Memory Book, recently.  I was lucky enough to have a little time around New Year and so read it in a couple of days!

The novel tells the story of a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in her forties, and how her teenage and toddler daughters, together with her new husband and mother manage the disease and their own feelings as they watch Claire gradually descend into a state when little makes sense to her any more.  To make the most of Claire’s diminishing number of days of lucidity, they decide to start writing in a book of memories, mainly filled by Claire’s own memories of her life and experiences, but also those of her husband, Greg, elder daughter, Caitlin and mother, Ruth.  At times, it seems as though the only person who truly understands Claire is toddler Esther.  The story is eloquently told and, as a reader, one gets  a sense of all the emotions felt by each member of the family and those with whom Claire is in touch outside the home.  Memories are not only recorded, they are are created, and forge new feelings of connection between the main characters.  There are many wonderful, yet poignant, moments, which are often punctuated with a good sense of humour.  The novel ends on an upbeat level with the promise of new beginnings… Read it and enjoy!

memory book

This is such a fascinating book.  Prior to reading it, I had no knowledge of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, of the mammoth task of compiling an authoritative list of all words used in the English language, citing printed examples of the use of each word… And in a time long before the advent of computers!  I loved reading about the history of dictionary-making, including Samuel Johnson’s contributions to the task he set himself a century earlier than James Murray was asked to take on the role by the Philological Society in the late nineteenth century.  The very idea that volunteers were recruited to carry out the enormous task of collecting words, and written evidence of their existence in quotations is simply incredible, when we consider the already vast collection of books printed by the end of the 1800s.

When we learn about the life and work of one of the most important contributors, William Minors, the story of the origin of one of the biggest dictionaries of the English language in the world becomes one of fascination, intrigue and grisly horror!  Minors adds to the work of James Murray and his office staff whilst a patient in Broadmoor, built in 1863 and still a high security psychiatric hospital today.  We read of Minor’s deeply troubled mind, how events in his past affected, and may have contributed to, his mental health, and how his sharp intelligence and well-read brain assisted him in his tireless work on the dictionary. He was actively encouraged in his labours by the hospital staff and governor, until he could no longer work due to illness, and his subsequent release and return to his family in America.  So much is contained in the wonderful slim volume, I would definitely benefit from reading it again at some point.

surgeon

Gayle Forman’s latest publication, I was here, tells the heartbreaking story of a young woman who has to cope with the loss of her best friend to suicide.  The book takes her on a journey of realisation that there was absolutely nothing she could have done to save her friend from her fate.  The author adroitly delves into the mysterious and dangerous territory of internet chat rooms, exploring how they can draw young people in and encourage them to take their conversations offline.  The idea that vulnerable young adults can be influenced and actively encouraged to take their own lives is discussed and brought to the fore.  As Cody progresses along her path to discover why and how Megan makes her decision to commit suicide, devastated as she is, she looks at her own life, thinks about the state of her own mental health and comes to understand that life isn’t like that for everyone, and that people can, with the right support, move on from such a tragedy.  The story is an important one for teens to to read, (although I would recommend this book for the more emotionally resilient), and the subject matter is handled delicately and thoughtfully.  I found that it could possibly help a young person facing these issues, and wish very much that Gayle Forman had written the novel when I was writing my master’s dissertation on how bibliotherapy can help people from this age group.

iwashere

Our Head of Sixth Form here at Berkhamsted, Mr Petty, wrote to me recently about a book which had made an impression on him during our Christmas holidays (I know, we’re still looking at books read whilst we still had time to read…).  His choice this time was Gordon M Goldstein’s non-fiction title, Lessons in disaster : McGeorge Bundy and the path to war in Vietnam.  As a historian and teacher of politics, I can imagine this to be a compelling read for Mr Petty.  He says:

“I read a cracking book over Christmas…  It’s based on interviews and diaries by Bundy, a national security adviser who was very close to decision-making in the Vietnam War, which most would surely regard as a disaster.  It has remarkably candid reflections, as its title implies, and is a brilliant companion to that most moving film  based on Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Fog of War, which is similarly honest in its admission of mistakes.  Seemingly rare nowadays, from policy-makers?”

I’m sure that Mr Petty has recommended this title, and that of the film, to his Year 13 students, and can only imagine that it will support their studies.  We should hope that our young people can learn so much from the honesty of politicians and use the past to reflect more deeply on how to improve decision-making and developing foreign policy in the future.

lessons in disaster the fog of war

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 820 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 14 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Mrs Koulouris, an avid reader and our school Archivist, has sent me reviews of the books which she read over the holidays.  She starts with Takashi Hiraide’s novel The Guest Cat:

“A quirky Japanese tale about a little white cat called ‘Chibi’ and the effect she has on a married couple.”  Nielsen Bookdata Online has the following to add about this story: “A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another. One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again. The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it.”  It sounds enchanting!

We follow this with a review of Mark Mills’s tale, Waiting for Doggo.  Mrs Koulouris writes:

“Clara dumps boyfriend Dan, leaving Doggo, an ‘ugly mutt’ for him to look after. This story tells of the relationship between Dan and Doggo. A good little read, even if you’re not a dog lover.”  Two to contrast and compare, I feel.

Thirdly, we learn how Mrs Koulouris feels about A game with dice by Michael Arnold, which has a personal resonance for her:

“The Nazis are invading Poland and a small boy and his Mother escape through Italy to the safety of an Aunt and Uncle in Baghdad ….. so begins the story of a boy who has a friend in King Faisal II, boards at schools in Cairo and Alexandria,completes his secondary education at Berkhamsted School in the 40s/50s, changes his name and does his National Service with the British Army. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, the boy had the freedom and adventures that seldom exist now. It also had special significance for me, as he started at Berkhamsted School in the same year as my Father and I was reading about people that Dad has talked about on numerous occasions.

(There is a follow up book  – Their Manners Noted).”  A must for all Berkhamstedians…

Finally, Mrs Koulouris tells us of her special Christmas book, The Christmas Miracle by Jonathan Toomey:

“Each Christmas I set out to buy an illustrated Christmas story. This year I bought ‘Snow’ by Walter de la Mare.  One of my favourites though is ‘The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey’ which is beautifully illustrated by P.J.Lynch and I read it again for the umpteenth time at Christmas. Once I’d read that and watched my two favourite films, my Christmas had started.”  Fantastic stuff!

And now to part 3 of our Christmas Reads series…  Mr Cowie, Head of Economics at Berkhamsted, has given me his thoughts on books which he enjoyed over the Christmas break.  He begins by giving an impression of Neil McGregor’s latest book Germany : Memories of a Nation which has been serialised on BBC Radio 4 recently. Please click here for more information about the programmes, most enjoyable!  Mr Cowie says:

“A book of the excellent exhibition at the British Museum. A history of Germany through 70 or so artefacts – a Guttenburg Bible, a ceramic rhino based on a print by Durer, various metal drinking vessels demonstrating a very high quality of craftsmanship, a VW Beetle, a gate from Treblinka, etc. No military artefacts which was a blessing – an attempt to alter our views of the country in Europe with which we have most in common.”  For further news on the exhibition, please click here.

Secondly, Mr Cowie reflects on Matthew Engel’s book, Engel’s England, 39 counties, 1 capital, 1 man : “a trip around England with impressions of each county. And he lit a candle in each cathedral in memory of his son.”  This sounds extremely interesting with more details provided by Neilsen Bookdata Online: “Every county is fascinating, the product of a millennium or more of history: still a unique slice of a nation that has not quite lost its ancient diversity. He finds the well-dressers of Derbyshire and the pyromaniacs of Sussex; the Hindus and huntsmen of Leicestershire; the goddess-worshippers of Somerset. He tracks down the real Lancashire, hedonistic Essex, and the most mysterious house in Middlesex. In Durham he goes straight from choral evensong to the dog track. As he seeks out the essence of each county – from Yorkshire’s broad acres to the microdot of Rutland – Engel always finds the unexpected . Engel’s England is a totally original look at a confused country: a guidebook for people who don’t think they need a guidebook. It is always quirky, sometimes poignant and often extremely funny.”

Finally, he ruminates on The English and their history by Robert Tombs: “One for the history department, some of whom seem to be under the impression that America matters. It does not – England does, and this book explains why. Proper history.”  I agree!  I do feel the need to read more about the history of our land, and the latter two books, are a must.

the english and their history Engel's England Germany memories

Welcome to part two of our Christmas Reads.  I have just heard from one of our wonderful Art Technicians, (a very accomplished artist in her own right), who read an intriguing biography during the Christmas break.  Mrs Murray read Sofka Zinovieff’s book The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and me.  She writes:

“She [Zinovieff] tells the story of Lord Berners as he composes and carouses with her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy, in fashionable upper class society between the wars: dying the doves rainbow colours, and horses drinking tea in the sitting room. Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh all pop by regularly for weekend house parties…  So entertaining, and such a twist at the end… I do love a biography!”

And this one sounds gripping, one that I will definitely look out for in the bookshops or public library.  Rachel Cooke, writing for The Observer on Sunday 19th October 2014 says at the end of her article:

“The result is a book that is unputdownable and – thanks to her publisher – gloriously lavish, something fascinating to gaze at on every page…”  Ms Cooke clearly enjoyed the book as well, to read her thoughts on the book, click on the link to The Observer above.

mad boy, lord berners

 

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