Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club

We held our first meeting of the year this week!   Yes, I know, we’re approaching the end of March already but, here in Berkhamsted, life has simply been too busy for everyone to meet, indeed, this meeting was postponed and rearranged three times!

We had an animated and very enjoyable meeting, nevertheless, despite the fact that we were still a couple of members short.  We discussed Jacqueline Woodson‘s novel Another Brooklyn, published by Oneworld Publications and other books which we have recently enjoyed reading.

We all had differing views about Another Brooklyn, and came to the meeting feeling that we either liked or disliked it.  The discussion was interesting because we shared initial thoughts, then answered the questions which the book’s publisher had sent, and, through discussion, some of us changed the way we had thought about the book and saw it in a new light (or aspects of it at least!).  The story tells of a woman who, at the beginning of the novel, is present at the funeral of her father, and is catching up with her brother and his news, after spending time abroad as part of her job and looking after their father before he died.  After bidding goodbye to her brother, she encounters another woman on the train with whom she, and two others, had shared a particularly close friendship during their adolescence.  This group of four girls gradually disintegrated as the girls grew up and apart, seeking different dreams from each other.  The story is told in the form of a prose poem, and as such, is lyrical in tone, and is set in the mid to late 1970s in the then dangerous world of Brooklyn.  It covers the themes of memory, death, religion and race as well as the concept of close friendship. We ended the meeting less divided in opinion than at the beginning, but remained in one camp or the other, some liked it and others didn’t! I did…

another brooklyn

Recommended reading from the group includes the following books this month:

  • A death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari
  • Catilina’s riddle by Stephen Saylor
  • The last of the great storytellers : tales from the heart of Morocco by Richard Hamilton
  • The breakdown by B A Paris
  • Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain
  • In the unlikely event by Judy Blume
  • My husband next door by Catherine Alliott
  • The return by Victoria Hislop
  • The thread by Victoria Hislop
  • All the bright places by Jennifer Niven
  • The marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
  • The other half of my heart by Stephanie Butland
  • A nun’s story by Sister Agatha
  • Nice cup of tea and a sit down (Nicey and Wifey)
  • Mrs Poe by Lynne Cullen
  • My sweet revenge by Jane Fallon
  • Pushing perfect by Michelle Falkoff
  • A secret garden by Katie Fforde

This list demonstrates a wide and varied selection of reading tastes.  If you have read any of the titles on here, please do get in touch and let me know what you think.

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Christmas reading (1)

We asked all members of staff at school what they read during the Christmas holidays,  We had a good long break and so felt that there were no excuses, everybody reads, so let’s share the reading vibe…

Dr Hundal was the first to reply. His choice was The sense of an ending by Julian Barnes, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2011.  Dr Hundal says:

 “[I] enjoyed the story a lot despite the tragedy at the heart of the novel.  I thought the author captured the thoughts and reflections of the central character really well, although I did have my doubts as to why this character had an overwhelming desire to revisit and understand a failed relationship from his distant past.”

I, too, enjoyed this novel shortly after it was the prizewinning entry.  I generally read quite a lot of stories about relationships, mainly by women, so it is refreshing to me to read a literary text on the subject by a man.  I have just discovered that the book has been adapted and made into a film which is due to be released in March 2017, with some of my favourite actors in key roles, Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer and Harriet Walter to name a few…

Mrs Ferguson, Head of Art, wrote to me about two books which she had enjoyed reading during our time away from school.  Her first choice is Gould’s book of fish by Richard Flanagan.  Mrs Ferguson’s thoughts are:

“Very dark, powerful writing not for the faint hearted.  This is an edited review from The Observer, written by Robert MacFarlane on 26th May 2002:

‘Prison islands are notoriously wordless places. The authoritarian fear that language might get out of control has led to inmates being denied writing materials or even confined to silence. Yet so often this repression of language has resulted eventually in its outpouring. William Buelow Gould, the narrator of Richard Flanagan’s remarkable third novel, stands in this tradition of eloquent internees. The real Gould was a forger and petty thief who, in 1825, was condemned to serve 49 years on Sarah Island, a penal colony off the coast of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). While imprisoned there, he made 26 paintings of different fish. These were gathered into a book which, unlike Gould, escaped Sarah Island and is kept in the State Library of Tasmania.

In Gould’s Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan, a Tasmanian, has given Gould a voice. The book purports to be Gould’s autobiography – what he calls ‘the story of my compost heap of a heart’ – written as he waits for death in a seaside cell. By ventriloquising a historical figure in this way, Flanagan is able to approach issues such as the British genocide of Tasmanian aboriginals (most recently dealt with by Matthew Kneale in his novel English Passengers), the murderous rationalist legacy of the Enlightenment and, above all, the abominations of the British Empire’s penal system.’

Richard Flanagan is another Man Booker Prize winner, not for this novel, but for The narrow road to the deep north in 2014.

Mrs Ferguson’s second offering is Jonathan Coe‘s novel Number 11.  She sent me the following:

‘Number 11’ by Jonathan Coe Very funny, biting social satire. Again, an edited Guardian review by Alex Clark, dated 11 November 2015:

The title of Jonathan Coe’s 11th novel is, of course, the official home of the chancellor of the exchequer. It is also a bus route that makes a complete journey around Birmingham’s outer circle, providing a haven for those who might not want to go home because, for example, they can’t afford to put the heating on. On top of this, it’s the putative lowest level in an obscenely extravagant multi-storey basement planned by a super-rich Chelsea family. “What is the lady of the house going to put there?” asks Rachel, recently appointed tutor to the Gunns’ twin daughters. “Nothing,” replies the harassed project manager, thinking of the palm trees he has to transport to a subterranean swimming pool. “She can’t think of anything she wants it for.”

‘Number 11’ is also a sequel, of sorts, to Coe’s 1994 novel, What a Carve Up!, the monstrously funny satire-cum-farce about the monstrously terrible Winshaw family, whose lust for power took them into virtually every aspect of British life: the media, the arms trade, agriculture and food production, the health service, the art world. Many of them were savagely disposed of at the close of What a Carve Up!, but the dynasty proves to be hydra-headed, its remnants demonstrating here that they are every bit as rapacious and brutal as their predecessors. Their depredations are smoothly updated to reflect a contemporary setting: reality television, the profitable mopping-up after overseas conflict, highly efficient tax avoidance, the exploitation of migrant workers.

Very different works, clearly, show how diverse our reading tastes can be.  I find it so interesting to discover what people like to read, and why they like the books mentioned.  There are more  reading choices to follow…  Please do comment and add your views, they will all be read.