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.

Berkhamsted School Christmas Reads (3)

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

World Book Day : celebrations in school, part 5

English: The Diary of Samuel Pepys Esquire, F.R.S.
English: The Diary of Samuel Pepys Esquire, F.R.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have three more selections for you from our Drop Everything And Read series of posts on this blog.  Three more recommendations  reflect some older texts for you to consider.

Mr Pett read from Samuel Pepys‘ writings:  “I talked about an abridged version of the Diary of Samuel Pepys, focusing on how 17th century middle classes would enjoy themselves eating, drinking and going to executions.”

Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls
Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Harker chose an equally dark tale:  “I read 3 of my groups a scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the one where Jonathan Harker cuts himself shaving and Dracula goes crazy.  I told them the three things I liked about it were the language (e.g. salutations, from the Latin verb to greet, saluto, the fact that it was an epistolary novel (from the Latin word for a letter, epistula), and that the main character shared my name!  They seemed to enjoy the extract.”

Dracula (Photo credit: Ben Templesmith)
English: Bram Stoker (1847-1912), novelist bor...
English: Bram Stoker (1847-1912), novelist born in Ireland, author of “Dracula” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, Mr Moseley told me how he’d enjoyed a novel of William Golding‘s:  “I spoke to my students about one of the books I am reading at the moment The Spire by William Golding and we had a discussion about the book and how Golding uses symbolism in all his novels.”

Cover of "The Spire"
Cover of The Spire

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of blogposts and would welcome any comments about similar projects which you have undertaken, or about the books, poetry and literature featured here.

The Language of Flowers (Vanessa Diffenbaugh)

We have talked about this book very briefly in two previous posts (here and here), but we have a third reader of the book, our librarian, Miss Guy, who had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the company of Vanessa Diffenbaugh when she came to Chorleywood on a flying visit to England.  Miss Guy has sent me this lovely article about that afternoon…

Afternoon tea with Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  The Language of Flowers

It was a rare treat to be able to attend an afternoon author event and especially one with Vanessa Diffenbaugh  –  the author of The Language of Flowers hosted by Chorleywood Bookshop.

I read the novel some months back and was surprised to find how much I had remembered  –  testament to the wonderful narrative, characters and elegant style of Vanessa’s debut novel.  The story, without giving too much away, focusses on two strong women, both unforgettable in their own right. Victoria Jones now eighteen, after a childhood spent in foster care and now emancipated from the system, (set in America) is, as expected,  disillusioned with life and has lost the ability to trust any other adult or become close to anybody.  In itself this story could be rather depressing and impact negatively on the reader but in this case a lightness and balance is created through the language and symbolism of flowers. The engine of this novel is the exquisite use and reference to flowers which convey the feelings, emotions and add another level to the relationships within the story and yes the story would not be complete if there was not the trials and tribulation of love which manifest in many forms throughout this story.

In the beginning, Victoria believes that there is only one definition and meaning to a flower but as the story progresses the reader and Victoria are introduced to the idea that this is not necessarily the case. The author’s own research has found that there are hundreds of different dictionaries with unique and yes contradictory meanings. You are perhaps asking  –  does this complicate the story? Does it become too complex? My answer, but you will of course need to make your own opinion, is that the multiple definitions complement the characters and open up a wonderful thread which could be explored perhaps  in a book group. I have planted the seed …

White anemones…

As a slight aside and perhaps a slight digression the favourite flower which has been passed through generations in my family from my great grandmother through to my nanna down to my mum and now a favourite of mine,  is the Anenome  . You may already be aware but the language of this flower is, from a mythological angle means ‘forsaken’ .   Greek mythology states that the anemone sprang from Aphrodite‘s tears as she mourned the death of Adonis.

On a lighter note, though, it can also symbolize unfading love, luck, anticipation, and protection against evil. When their heads show in my wedding bouquet I know where my language will be.

The language of flowers is a fascinating area and although perhaps some of the dictionaries have fallen out of fashion, the communication and symbolism through the act of sending flowers is thankfully still there. Perhaps this novel will re-awaken the demand for flower dictionaries!

Back to the event…

Before closing for delicious homemade cake and tea in true afternoon tea style, there was an opportunity to ask a few questions. Many of the questions centred on Vanessa’s background and her experience of the care system and fostering. Although this context should not matter it was wonderful to hear that her own experience of looking after children who were unwanted by their own family when she had just graduated, whilst  at the same time meeting her husband to be, was, (forgive the tea analogy), the icing on the cake. The passion and genuine love she had for these children whilst still being in effect a student was truly wonderful. This question gave her a perfect position to comment on the system in America and to introduce the wonderful campaign work she is doing over in the States, where she hopes to engage Hollywood stars in the cause. The commitment and passion from a young woman with a young family (her husband and her two children had joined her for the three day tour around the UK) was truly inspirational.

The finale if we need one was that she is in the process of writing a second novel –  she is half way through and she did also mention the prospect of a film –  watch this space.

Final thanks to the Chorleywood Bookshop ladies for a wonderful event.