Our book club returns…

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:

Persuasion Jane Austen
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)
The widow                              

 

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.

 

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Berkhamsted School Christmas Reads… (2)

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

 

Mrs Briand’s selection for the spring…

Mrs Briand has been reading her way through our collection of books which were shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards this term and has, so far, read the following from the list:

The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

“He had always been scared of flying. Now, the fear is real. A plane crash. The water is rising over his mouth. In his nostrils. Lungs. As Daniel gasps, he swallows; and punches at his seat-belt. Nancy, the woman he loves, is trapped in her seat. He clambers over her, pushing her face into the headrest. It is a reflex, visceral action made without rational thought…  But Daniel Kennedy did it. And already we have judged him from the comfort of our own lives. Almost a hundred years earlier, Daniel’s great-grandfather goes over the top at Passchendaele. A shell explodes, and he wakes up alone and lost in the hell of no-man’s-land. Where are the others? Has he been left behind? And if he doesn’t find his unit, is he a deserter? Love; cowardice; trust; forgiveness. How will any of us behave when we are pushed to extremes?”   NielsenBookDataOnline

Mrs Briand enjoyed this particular title very much, what do you think?

Whatever you love by Louise Doughty

“Two police officers knock on Laura’s door and her life changes forever. They tell her that her nine-year old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed. When justice is slow to arrive, Laura decides to take her own revenge and begins to track down the man responsible. Laura’s grief also re-opens old wounds and she is thrown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent affair with another woman. Haunted by her past, and driven to breaking point by her desire for retribution, Laura discovers the lengths she is willing to go to for love. “Whatever You Love” is a heart-wrenching novel of revenge, compulsion and desire from acclaimed novelist Louise Doughty”  NielsenBookDataOnline

One for thriller readers, perhaps?

My father’s fortune: a life by Michael Frayn

“‘An unknown place’. This was what Michael Frayn’s children called the shadowy landscape of the past from which their family had emerged. In this book, he sets out to rediscover that lost land before all trace of it finally disappears beyond recall. As he tries to see it through the eyes his parents and the others who shaped his life, he comes to realise how little he ever knew or understood about them. This is above all the story of his father, the quick-witted boy from a poor and struggling family, who overcame so many disadvantages and shouldered so many burdens to make a go of his life; who found happiness, had it snatched away from him in a single instant, and in the end, after many difficulties, perhaps found it again. Father and son were in some odd ways ridiculously alike, in others ridiculously different; and the journey back down the corridors of time is sometimes comic, sometimes painful, as Michael Frayn comes to see how much he has inherited from his father – and makes one or two surprising discoveries about both of them along the way…”  NielsenBookDataOnline

Finally, Mrs Briand has read Kate Atkinson’s latest novel, Started early took my dog, and found that, despite an overcomplicated plot, it was still a good read!

“A day like any other for security chief Tracy Waterhouse, until she makes a shocking impulse purchase. That one moment of madness is all it takes for Tracy’s humdrum world to be turned upside down, the tedium of everyday life replaced by fear and danger at every turn. Witnesses to Tracy’s outrageous exchange in the Merrion Centre in Leeds are Tilly, an elderly actress teetering on the brink of her own disaster, and Jackson Brodie who has returned to his home county in search of someone else’s roots. All three characters learn that the past is never history and that no good deed goes unpunished. Kate Atkinson dovetails and counterpoints her plots with Dickensian brilliance in a tale peopled with unlikely heroes and villains . Started Early, Took My Dog is freighted with wit, wisdom and a fierce moral intelligence. It confirms Kate Atkinson’s position as one of the great writers of our time.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

All four of these books can be 

 

 

Mrs Ashwell’s Christmas reading…

Mrs Ashwell also had a very productive reading time during the Christmas break and thoroughly enjoyed the books she read.  The first is:

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences …Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world. “A fascinating, harrowing, necessary book”. (Hilary Mantel, “Guardian”). “A heartbreaking account of racism and injustice”. (“Metro”). “A fine book…a gripping read…The book has deservedly been a huge bestseller in the US. It should be here, too”. (“Sunday Times”).”  NielsenBookDataOnline

and the second is:

“In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvellously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin…Imprisoned at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp, Daniel feels his humanity slipping away. Treasured memories of the young woman he loved and the prayers that once lingered on his lips become hazier with each passing day. Then a visit from a mysterious stranger changes everything, as Daniel’s former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed to all. The camp’s two most dangerous men use this information to make a cruel wager: If Daniel can build a successful violin within a certain number of days, the Kommandant wins a case of the finest burgundy. If not, the camp doctor, a torturer, gets hold of Daniel. And so, battling exhaustion, Daniel tries to recapture his lost art, knowing all too well the likely cost of failure. Written with lyrical simplicity and haunting beauty and interspersed with chilling, actual Nazi documentation, “The Auschwitz Violin” is more than just a novel: it is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of beauty, art, and hope to triumph over the darkest adversity.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

Two extremely powerful books – they sound absolutely fascinating, I will put them on my reading list.  Mrs Ashwell is currently reading The hare with amber eyes by Edmund de Waal, winner of the Costa Book Awards Prize for Biography.

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer (Tim Jeal)

This is another book read and enjoyed by Mr Maxted.  his synopsis and review follow:

Between 1874 and 1877, Henry Moreton Stanley circumnavigated and produced the first reliable maps of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika and the river system of the Central African watershed. He mapped the course of the Congo and took boiling point readings to establish heights above sea-level and used a theodolite to estimate the height of distant hills. On 24 September 2002 his original map of the Congo sold for £78,000 at Christie’s. In 1876 he stated that he thought that the Kagera river was ‘the true parent of the Victoria Nile’, exactly what was claimed in 2006 by a British and New Zealand expedition, and established Lake Victoria as the primary source of the Nile.  

 Stanley negotiated on behalf of Belgian king, Leopold II but refused to agree to impose treaties on tribal chiefs which ceded sovereignty over their lands. He was accused of brutality and racism but his letters show a man loyal and generous to his friends and sources show that he was not a racist. Right from the beginning of his first African trip he was ‘prepared to admit any black man possessing the attributes of true manhood, or any good qualities, to my friendship, even to a brotherhood with myself’. And he hated it when any black man was called ‘nigger’ by a white. He called the word ugly and derisive.  

Stanley has ironically been compared unfavourably with Livingstone whose saintly image he did much to uphold and yet Livingstone also killed Africans and made some significant navigational miscalculations which Stanley did not. Livingstone’s neglected wife became an alcoholic and his eldest son changed his name and left the country. During his last journey, Livingstone failed to discipline his followers so that their crimes included rape, murder and slave-dealing. As a consequence he was forced to rely on Arab-Swahili slave-traders to protect him.  

In the closing sentence of this extraordinary biography of an almost unbelievable life, Tim Jeal states that “Facts, too, can change reputations, and there are more than enough in the family archive in Brussels to make sure that, one day, Henry Morton Stanley will no longer be a scapegoat for the post-colonial guilt of successive generations”.

Mandela: A Critical Life (Tom Lodge)

Nelson Mandela, the first African politician to acquire a world following, remains in the 21st century an iconic figure. But what are the sources of his almost mythic appeal? And to what extent did Mandela self-consciously create the status of political hero that he now enjoys? This new and highly revealing biography examines these questions in detail for the first time. Drawing on a range of original sources, it presents a host of fresh insights about the shaping of Mandela’s personality and public persona, from his childhood days and early activism, through his long years of imprisonment, to his presidency of the new South Africa. Throughout, Lodge emphasizes the crucial interplay between Mandela’s public career and his personal or private world, showing how his heroic status was a product both of his leading position within the anti-apartheid movement and his own deliberate efforts to supply a form of quasi-messianic leadership for that movement. And as Lodge shows, Mandela’s huge international appeal is a compelling and unusual cocktail. Of the sacred and the secular. Of traditional African values and global media savvy. And of human vulnerability, interwoven with the grand narrative of liberation.’  Nielsen Bookdata Online

Reverend S Golding has recommended this book for the blog and says that it was ‘A good read!’. 

As Mandela celebrates twenty years of freedom this February, it seems fitting to commemorate his release from prison by reading about his life as well as viewing films such as ‘Invictus’.

You may be interested in the review of this book by Rob Skinner at http://w01.ihrcms.wf.ulcc.ac.uk/reviews/paper/skinner.html and the author’s reply at http://w01.ihrcms.wf.ulcc.ac.uk/reviews/paper/skinnerresp.html

Do leave your comments here as a discussion would be extremely interesting.