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.

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Mr Rees’s book choice for World Book Day

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.   Mr Rees talked with his classes about four publications that meant a lot to him.  The first is the incredible story of Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon, which has also been made into a moving documentary about their terrifying ordeal:

‘ “Touching the Void” is the heart-stopping account of Joe Simpson’s terrifying adventure in the Peruvian Andes. He and his climbing partner, Simon, reached the summit of the remote Siula Grande in June 1995. A few days later, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that Joe was dead. What happened to Joe, and how the pair dealt with the psychological traumas that resulted when Simon was forced into the appalling decision to cut the rope, makes not only an epic of survival but a compelling testament of friendship.’

Students were very interested in this book – what do you do when your only hope of survival could result in the death of a very close friend?  What a dilemma.

Mr Rees then talked of Old Berkhamstedian Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s latest book, ‘Force of Nature’ which he thoroughly enjoyed (and has his own signed copy!):

‘In January 1969, aboard his home-built wooden boat Suhaili, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person ever to sail solo, non-stop around the world. Twenty-five years later, Sir Robin again completed a record-breaking circumnavigation, co-skippering Enza with Kiwi yachting legend Sir Peter Blake. His place in sailing’s pantheon of greats was assured. Then, after the tragic death of his wife Sue, Sir Robin decided he would try again. In October 2006, at the age of 67 – when most people are settling in to a well-earned retirement – Sir Robin embarked on another gruelling single-handed race around the world. Compared to his rivals he lacked recent experience and a large shore-based support team. There were some who believed that this time he might have bitten off more than he could chew. Then early on, it looked like their worst fears might be realised.Within days of setting off, near-Hurricane-strength storms in the Bay of Biscay capsized his 60′ yacht Saga Insurance. But it wasn’t just Sir Robin who suffered. Three-quarters of the entire fleet had to run for shelter. When they re-emerged, all faced months of hardship and intensity ahead. “Force of Nature” is Sir Robin’s first-hand account his extraordinary return to the ultra-competitive, punishing world of single-handed offshore racing. It turned out to be a very different journey from the one he undertook on Suhaili, yet his experience aboard her remains a touchstone throughout this story. It’s a story of courage, ingenuity and resilience played out against the World’s oceans. But most of all it’s a powerful reminder that age is nothing but a number; no barrier to realizing one’s dreams.’  Truly inspirational.

Thirdly, he recommended Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest biography of Abraham Lincoln:

‘In this monumental multiple biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin studies Abraham Lincoln’s mastery of men. She shows how he saved Civil War-torn America by appointing his fiercest rivals to key cabinet positions, making them help achieve his vision for peace. As well as a thrilling piece of narrative history, it’s an inspiring study of one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. This is a book to bury yourself in.’

Finally, he talked about a publication by the Royal Horticultural Society about creating a vegetable and fruit plot in your garden…  A little light relief, perhaps, from all the fascinating and heart-stopping reading…

All synopses have been taken from Nielsen BookData Online.