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!

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Shakespearean actor comes to School and makes us think…

On Monday 4th February, 2013, we welcomed Shakespearean actor and author, Ben Crystal, on his return to Berkhamsted.  Ben has visited us twice before and his talk to our Year 9 pupils never fails to disappoint.  This year, we arranged for him to speak with our girls first and then our boys, which was fascinating as both audiences reacted quite differently to what they heard.

Ben began by simply reading Hamlet‘s speech where he meets his father’s ghost without much expression and then, suddenly, he demonstrated the power of acting out Shakespeare’s words as compared with reading them straight out of the book.  He challenged his audience to think, for example, about the simple meaning of the word ‘Oh’!  We found that by differing expressions of this word through the use of various contexts and emotions, such a simple exclamation can have so much significance in so many ways.  This warmed up the audience and got them engaged!

Ben then asked his audience what they knew of William Shakespeare:  the man, his life, the period in which he lived and his theatre.  We established that the playwright was very much a man of his time, his writing was political and this was reflected in his plays, as well as his taking inspiration from his own experiences of life.  We also understood that there is a quality about Shakespeare’s writing that transcends his own age and how we could relate to his work today.  We thought about the typical theatre of his day, and considered how the Globe Theatre as it stands on the left bank of the river Thames today might be compared with the original.  Ben explained who would have sat where in the theatre and what they would have seen of the play, where was the best place to be seen if you wanted to be, and were able to pay the top ticket price, and the fact that the actors would have walked about in the yard, the place in front of the stage where those with the cheapest tickets would stand.  He also explained how the audience would have interacted directly with the actors, each performance would then by slightly different from the previous one.  Each member of the audience would have a different relationship with the character on-stage and audiences were more emotionally engaged than perhaps they are today.

Ben then went on to talk with our students about Macbeth, the play they are studying this year.  They quickly established the essence of the play:  the Scottish Warrior returns from battle, meets three witches who tell him he will kill the King and he must tell his wife, they will become King and Queen, they go mad and then die!   Again, we reflected how this was a play very much of its time – 80% of the audience would have been illiterate, many believed in witchcraft and the new King James I was a leader in the campaign to stop the European Witch Craze.  He felt too many were dying (60,000-120,000 died from being accused of being a witch).  This play was seen as a scary play with the three witches appearing in the first scene!  It was topical and nightmarish.  Ben reminded us that the subject, the killing of the King, was also a subject which filled the citizens with horror at the time, with the gunpowder plot against King James, political uncertainty led to much fear and confusion.

Finally we considered Shakespeare’s language.  We thought about the fact that he made up more than 1,000 words, words that we still use and understand today, as well as how these words were used to convey their meaning.  The children were able to discuss how his use of iambic pentameter reflects the pattern and rhythm of human speech.  Ben explained that this set Shakespeare apart from other poets and writers of the time.  By using very human-sounding poetry, Shakespeare explored what it is to be human.  He asks us the question:  What would we do in this situation/circumstance?

Ben concluded by telling us all about Original Pronunciation and about how the actors in Shakespeare’s times would have delivered their lines with a mixture of dialects and accents from all over the English-speaking world.  He demonstrated this wonderfully by reciting one speech twice: firstly as we are more accustomed to hear it today using our modern Received Pronunciation and secondly using Original Pronunciation.  Our students felt encouraged to compare the two and discuss how they felt about each.

All in all, we had a superb morning and I believe that all students thoroughly enjoyed themselves and left the halls feeling they now had a new perspective on an author they had previously thought of as tedious and difficult!  We should like to express our thanks to Ben, a superb actor!

Ben Crystal 1 Ben Crystal 2

World Book Night 2012, Shakespeare’s birthday (and date of death) and St George’s Day: 23rd April

Today, we in the library are celebrating  (and remembering) all of these events!

World Book Night was established last year by Jamie Byng, the owner of Canongate Books, to spread the love of reading as far as possible in the United Kingdom and this year is set to spread even further around the globe, with bookgiving events in the United States, Ireland and Germany as well as the UK.  Please click here to find out more…

Following on from the success of last year’s book giveaway on Saturday 5th March 2011, when we distributed copies of Ben Macintyre‘s book Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: The Most Notorious Double Agent of World War II to coaches, parents and students participating in that day’s football fixtures against Haileybury School, this year we have decided to give copies of Audrey Niffenegger‘s novel The Time Traveller’s Wife.  Miss Guy explains why:

 “I feel many readers of fiction will overlook this as it will be thrown into the romance genre and perhaps be glossed over thus I wished to resurrect a highly original novel which is very much more than a romantic liaison. The story revolves around Clare and Henry, a perfect couple except for that Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time. His disappearances can happen at any given time. We see and hear the impact of this time travel from both perspectives and through this we feel the heartache, the separation, the anger, the frustrations and the fears thus creating an exceptionally intense and moving piece of literature. Go on give it a try!”

Copies of the book are being distributed in Castle Library today.

Every one of this year’s books, as seen above, has a sonnet by William Shakespeare printed on the inside cover at the back which has been selected especially due to its significance and relevance to the story in each novel.  This wonderful idea has been inspired by the date of this year’s World Book Night, 23rd April being the date of birth of one of the world’s most famous playwrights (and, coincidentally, the date of his death some 52 years later in 1616).  The sonnets were chosen by poet, writer and musician, Don Paterson and must have been a mammoth task!  You can read more about this here.  He has, I believe chosen well for our featured novel:

Sonnet 44

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,

Injurious distance should not stop my way:

For then despite of space I would be brought,

From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.

No matter then although my foot did stand

Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;

For nimble thought can jump both sea and land

As soon as think the place where he would be.

But ah! Thought kills me that I am not thought,

To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,

But that, so much of earth and water wrought,

I must attend time’s leisure with my moan,

   Receiving nought by elements so slow

   But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

Shakespeare famously refers to Saint George thus:

“Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!”  Henry V, Act III

Saint George was not English and, indeed, is celebrated as a patron saint in other countries such as Georgia, Lithuania, Portugal and Greece, although his personage is identified with the English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry.  Very little is actually known about him, so anything we do know is considered the stuff of legend.  He was believed to have been born in Cappadocia, now part of Turkey, in the 3rd Century AD.  Born of Christian parents, he became a Roman Soldier whilst retaining his Christian beliefs and protested against Rome’s persecution of Christians.  He was tortured and imprisoned but remained true to his faith and on 1222, 23rd April was established as his Saint’s Day.  (Source of information: BBC Religions website accessed 23 April 2012)