Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club, latest meeting notes…

At our last meeting, we discussed three novels, all very different in style and content.  First on our list was the challenge of a male member of the club: ‘Women don’t read John le Carré’, so we read le Carré’s novel A Murder of Quality.  Given that the majority of us are women, we took up the challenge!  On the whole, we enjoyed the novel very much, despite the unattractive group of characters and the dismal time of year when the murder took place.  We felt it was cleverly written, its spare, minimalist prose built up the tension and drama.  It left us wondering whose side is le Carré on…  Smiley is acting in a more detective-like role, but is nonetheless as effective as when he is the spy.

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was a completely different genre.  Some found it bizarrely compelling, with others not liking it at all.  It was well-written but clearly a reflection of Jackson’s turbulent mind, with the symbiotic relationships between the sisters, and other characters.  The tale portrays small town America in an unfavourable light, however the descriptions of the surroundings of the castle are almost poetic.

Our third novel was The Secret Place by Tana French.  Most readers enjoyed it very much, although the supernatural element to the tale appeared superfluous.  The story revolves around the relationships between girls at an independent girls’ boarding school in Dublin and the murder of a boy from the corresponding boys’ school, on the grounds of the former school.  We are told the story both from the girls’ perspective and that of the young male detective, who is striving to make his mark in the murder squad.  Interesting, strange and holds the attention.

We also discussed other books which we had read over the summer and I include these for your reference as books which you may wish to include on your Christmas lists:

 

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand click here for a link to a website dedicated to this book.  Hilary recommended it and Sarah read it during the break.   Discussion of the novel was very interesting with Patrick and Hilary representing opposing views about Rand and her theories, philosophies and ideas on economics and the workings of the world.  Fascinating stuff!
  2. The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurin – (read in translation from the French). Again,  the book has its own website, click on the book title to go there.  This was a great little book about the positive impact that François Mitterand’s hat has on the lives of four different individuals after they have worn it… A light but entertaining read!
  3. We are all completely besides ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – this was another curious summer read for Beth and me, well-written story, although a bit strange. It’s very different from The Jane Austen book club, one of the author’s previous works.
  4. Shadowlands by William Nicholson: Kafka-esque.
  5. Probably nothing : a diary of not-your-average nine months by Matilda Tristram. A graphic novel written by a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer, about her experiences
  6. Novels by the late P D James
  7. Books by Antonia Senior
  8. Books by Philippa Gregory
  9. Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  10. Books by Gerald Seymour
  11. The house we grew up in by Lisa Jewell
  12. Books by Louis Theroux

We won’t be meeting again until after Christmas – so here’s wishing all the greetings of the season and enjoy the holidays!

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Bookbuzz 2014

Bookbuzz logo jpeg

It’s the Bookbuzz time of year here in the libraries at Berkhamsted School!  We have spread the word amongst our Year 7 English classes and talked with the students about how fantastic the selection of books is this year.  They have had to make some difficult decisions about which book to choose to take home to keep, which books to read in the library and which to swap with their friends.  One of the things that I love most about Bookbuzz is the excitement and enthusiasm shown by all students and their teachers as they talk about the book they would like to receive as a Christmas present from us, the librarians!   It’s also heartwarming to see how the students are pleased to be able to choose something for themselves, without the influence of anyone else.  They have all chosen their books, the order has been submitted, but shhhhhh!  Don’t tell them, the books have already arrived!  We will keep them for Christmas…

I can understand how hard a decision to choose a book can be, especially since all of these books look like a fantastic read for our young people. Which would you choose?

 

The Rosie Project (part 2!) (Graeme Simsion)

The_Rosie_Project_jktFollowing on from my last blog post, we have now had a book group meeting where we discussed Graeme Simsion’s novel, The Rosie Project.  We all enjoyed it so much, and could easily identify with the characters, recognising traits of Dr Don Tillman in all of us (some more than others!).  One member of the group even professed to be Don!  Some amongst us had been to meet the author at Chorleywood Library on Thursday 13th February and were treated to a very entertaining evening. Graeme Simsion talked about how he had come to write the book (originally conceived as a screenplay for a film), where he drew his inspiration from and how he has indeed, just turned the novel into a screenplay. He has also completed a sequel.  Both the film and second novel will be eagerly awaited by us!  The novel made us laugh out loud, as we did when we heard him speak.

At the back of the book, there are some cocktail recipes which Don memorises for a reunion of the medics who were contemporaries of Rosie’s mother, which look quite fun to try.  You should also take the test to see whether you are compatible with Don and would make a good wife for this Professor who likes to live his life according to schedules and regimes!  If you are male, you could view this as a test to see whether you are Don!  Why not look at the website for the book and see which character you are most like?  Click here to find out.  Four of us tried the Wife Project quiz and one of us was very nearly a good match…

We also discussed Damian Barr’s book, Maggie and me. This memoir is an account of Damian’s difficult and poverty-stricken upbringing in suburban Glasgow close to the Ravenscraig Steelworks during the era of the Thatcher government.  The views of our reading group were quite varied: ‘I didn’t like the content, but found it compelling and couldn’t put it down’; ‘It was very interesting, if uncomfortable, reading’; ‘I enjoyed it.  It is very different from the books which we usually read.  It was not as dark as it could have been, Damian kept it fairly jovial considering what he was going through’.  Definitely one for the ‘to-read’ shelf…

maggie and me

Two of our members also found the time to read Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson:

Beautiful Alyshia D’Cruz has grown up in London and Mumbai wanting for nothing. But one night she takes the wrong cab home. Charles Boxer, expert in high-stakes kidnap resolution, teams up with his ex-partner, investigative cop Mercy Danquah, who’s battling with their rebellious teenage daughter. Alyshia’s father hires Boxer, who knows all about the tycoon’s colourful career, which has made him plenty of enemies. But despite the vast D’Cruz fortune, the kidnappers don’t want cash, instead favouring a cruel and lethal game…To save Alyshia, Boxer must dodge religious fanatics, Indian mobsters and London’s homegrown crimelords. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT is a journey to the dark side of people and places that lie just out of view, waiting for the moment to tear a life apart.   Neilsen Bookdata Online.

Our members really enjoyed it and found it good to read a book from the crime genre.  One said: ‘I have also finished Capital Punishment which I loved also. Enjoyed reading an English crime novel for a change. Loved that it was based in London so I could actually visualise where they were! Liked the characters’.  The other commented that it was a good thriller and kept him turning the pages.  It’s certainly on my pile to read next.

capital punishmentHappy reading!

 

 

Reading about reading…

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Usually, in a book blog, we write about books which we have read, but today I wanted to write about books that I would like to read and which are already on my to-read pile…

The first of these is a book written by Philip Davis, Professor of Psychological Sciences at Liverpool University.  His book Reading and the Reader discusses how literary reading can influence our emotions and the way we see the world.  I first came across Professor Davis whilst watching a television programme on BBC1 a few years ago, when he was talking about the impact that reading classic literature has on the human brain with particular mention of the words used by William Shakespeare in his plays.  I remember how he was enthusiastic about the use of the word ‘godded’ and how its emphasis was far greater than more common usage of the English language at the time.  I next read his work whilst reading for my master’s dissertation about bibliotherapy and his involvement with The Reader Organisation, established by his wife, Dr Jane Davis, which has inspired me greatly in the years since writing for my MA in 2010.  I am keen to begin reading Professor Davis’s book…

Next on my list is Belinda Jack’s volume, The Woman Reader.  I am intrigued to discover more about the history of women’s reading and whether women’s reading habits really do differ from those attributed to men.  I would like to know how the reading experience differs between genders and whether it actually is different…  Following the reading of this book, it would be interesting to conduct a little research of my own amongst colleagues and students!

Finally, this has also been on my reading list for a little while; Book was there : reading in electronic times by Andrew Piper, a teacher of German and European Literature at McGill University.  In this book, he discusses how the act of reading is changing, and how new reading technologies are altering our relationship with reading.  I actually have in my possession a physical version of this book, so shall report back as soon as I have read it, and tell you exactly how we need to proceed with our reading in the future!

The Ice Cream Girls (Dorothy Koomson) and The Junior Officers’ Reading Club (Patrick Hennessey)

We had a small but very good gathering on Tuesday 30th April in our Common Room.

We discussed two books:  The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson and Patrick Hennessey’s The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars.

Some of us had read both books and the rest of us, just one.  Those who had read The Ice Cream Girls, had, on the whole, enjoyed it and thought of it as a bit of a page-turner.  It was an easy read, despite the difficult subject matter: two girls were accused of killing a young teacher who had coerced them into having sexual relationships with him during a period of a year, when they were fifteen and sixteen years old.  Due to his persuasive nature, they believed that he was truly in love with them and complied with his demands, even when he became violent.  The book begins some seventeen years later when one of the girls has served a prison sentence for his murder and the other has been able to create a new successful life for herself (although the memories of her past and the reappearance of the other girl are destined to bring it all up again).  It’s well-written and moves at a fast pace but we did find the ending somewhat disappointing.  Read it and see if you agree!  You may have seen the recent dramatisation on ITV – read, watch, then compare!   I listened to a very interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday which featured a case of two women in very similar circumstances whereby they explain how they were indeed drawn in in this way by a favourite teacher (click here to learn more), the showing of the ITV drama is very timely.

ice-cream-girls dorothy koomson

 

The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars saw Patrick Hennessey mature from a precocious Berkhamsted schoolboy to a gung-ho army officer through to a reflective young man who has seen war.  It is interesting to read of his schooldays and recognise characters in his book, mostly unnamed, which is probably a good thing!  It follows his time at Sandhurst and then onto war.  Patrick has subsequently written Kandak: Fighting with Afghans about his time in Afghanistan spent forging bonds and friendships with local soldiers.  He has visited our school twice in the last three years to speak to our Year 12 students as part of their tutorial programme and been well-received both times.  He has now left the army and is a writer and Human Rights lawyer based in London.

Poster "The camp library is yours - Read ...
Poster “The camp library is yours – Read to win the war. You will find popular books for fighting men in the recreational buildings and at other points in this camp. Free. No red tape. Open every day. Good reading will help you advance. Library War Service, American Library Association.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

World Book Day 2012

World Book Day 2012.

Here’s a short film that we’ve put together with photographs of pupils and members of staff reading to celebrate World Book Day 2012 using Animoto.  We hope that you enjoy it and recommend that you turn off the music when playing!

Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!

A collection of ten essays, this little book is a fabulous read for those of us who do not merely enjoy reading for our own pleasure but are also fascinated by how it affects us.  The essays explore what reading means to their authors and people they know and come into contact with. The authors also discuss what happens to our brains as we process the contents of our reading.  Writers such as Zadie Smith, Mark Haddon and Jeanette Winterson talk about how reading has had a life-changing impact on them personally, affecting how they view the world and the courses their own lives have taken as a result.  Zadie Smith begins the book by talking about how the influence libraries have had on her reading journey and her subsequent writing career.  Jeanette Winterson tells of how a book on mountaineering takes her outside of her world and her experiences of it.  Blake Morrison expresses twelve thoughts he has about reading, all of which resonate with me.  I love Carmen Callil‘s comment, reflecting on the importance of the physical book: “Books are like gardens, a Kindle or an iPad like a supermarket – it makes life easier, but one doesn’t want to loiter in it.  You can fiddle with books.  Like gardens, they can be wonderful to look at…” Tim Parks shares his ideas about mindful reading and Michael Rosen reflects on his memories of his father reading Great Expectations to him as a child and how he connected people he knew with the characters of that great book.  From Jane Davis, founder of The Reader Organisation, we hear of the influence of classic novels and poetry on people attending Get into Reading groups from varied and different backgrounds, and how attending such groups has made enormous and important differences to their lives such as improving literacy and deepening their understanding of who they are as individuals.  Dr Maryanne Wolf explores the physical impact of reading on the brain and cites Marcel Proust as someone who: “characterised the ‘heart of reading’ as that moment when ‘that which is the end of their [the author’s] wisdom is but the beginning of ours'”.  Nicholas Carr echoes how I feel about reading when he says: “Several studies have shown that reading tends to make us more empathetic, more alert to the inner lives of others.  The reader withdraws in order to connect more deeply.”  Please read this book if you are a passionate reader and tell me your thoughts.