Category Archives: Education

Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge

Her head hurt. There was a sound grating against her mind, a music-less rasp like the rustling of paper. Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball and stuffed her skull with it. Seven days, it laughed. Seven days. 

  I’ve never read Hardinge – although a quick Wikipedia search shows she was born in the same year and county as me! But there is something gorgeous in her use of figurative language: the crumpled crackly laugh above vanish “like breath from glass” as two warm hands close around hers “as if they were a nest for it” and recalling her name, Triss, “seemed a bit more natural” than her full name, Theresa, “like a book falling open on a much-viewed page”.

I do like each of these similes and metaphors… But I wonder if they all needed to be included in page 1 before Triss has even opened her eyes. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as purple prose… but maybe a hint of lilac is creeping in…

School’s Out…

SCHOOLS OUT FOR SUMMER!!

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It’s been such a long time coming this year…!

So, my plans for the summer?

Possibly flying in the face of the anarchy of Alice Cooper, I fully intend to spend this holiday ensconced in the fold of my family. There have been days in the last year when I left before my daughter woke and returned after she went to bed. Six weeks of daddy-daughter time sounds blissful.

As does six weeks of Mr P and Mrs P time. We’ve found a couple of days which we can have together and it’s been blissful so far. Mooching around. No schedules. No timetable. No teenager. Never has doing nothing been so pleasant!

And there are a few books left to read on my TBR list. See my post here to comment. Of course I had to go into work yesterday. Of all the things I might have left behind… my ereader. Really? Probably the only thing I’d have made the effort to go back in and collect in the first day of the holidays!

Read This If You Liked…

So a new thread, a new category for my blog to inaugurate the new year: Read This If You Liked…

I have been marking students fiction writing this past term and, you know how it is, good Assessment For Learning practice dictates that your comments should focus on small improvements like “use a greater range of vocabulary” or “control sentence endings”. Well, my comments tend to be along the lines of “This reminds me of book X. Have you read it?” and “If you write in this style, try reading book Y”. I do the other useful stuff too, I hasten to add! But I do think broadening horizons is important! And showing that even our teenage writings for part of a continuum!

Blog posts in this category will look at linking books together: books of a similar theme, a similar style, a similar narrative voice. And just books that, I think, wholly subjectively, match each other!

2013 in Books

2013 drags itself damply and limply to an end this week. Unlike Dr Who, whose Matt Smith incarnation went out on Christmas Day with a bang, the final days of 2013 remind me of the lines from Eliot

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Anyway, I thought that I would bring the year to a close with a review of 2013 in books. And, to preface, this is books read by me in 2013 rather than written in 2013. There are still some 2013 books I’ve not got round to reading yet: The Luminaries and Jim Crace’s Harvest among them.

So. Here goes.

Top of my list is the Man Booker shortlisted A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

20131228-074227.jpg Utterly compelling and intriguing narrative voices, engaging characters, thoughtful, thought provoking and haunting. It is a book about reading and the relationship between reader and writer and genuinely made me think. And as my family and students will tell you, I try to avoid that if necessary! My somewhat gushing review is here as is a link to what happens when you gush too much about your book, here.

Second place on this wholly subjective list would go to Neil Gaiman whose beautiful Ocean At The End Of The Lane was powerful, touching, mythic and domestic all at the same time.

20131228-074349.jpg And a rollicking good read! Again, my review of it is here.

And at number three, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

20131228-075235.jpg Unexpected, tender, utterly humane. Simply a genuinely lovely book about an ordinary man and his ability to simple journey to say goodbye to an old friend who is dying. There were so many ways this could have become cloying or sentimental or just go wrong… but Rachel Joyce judged everything perfectly! Another link to my review.

Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet certainly needs a mention. As I do this I question whether ranking them has value… Maybe just my top ten. I also realised that February was a great month for my reading!

20131228-080537.jpg I loved this book: again it was remarkably tender and quiet and personal and with a remarkable sensitivity to light. The descriptions were gorgeous – especially of the glass feet themselves. Yes it is that literal a title! My review of this modern fairy tale is here.

I think The Woman in Black by Susan Hill needs a mention too. A great book with a cracking plot and so consciously crafted by Hill’s own apparent delight in the gothic. It has been an ideal book to teach simply because of that conscious crafting of language. And also genuinely chilling and creepy. Some notes on it can be found here and here.

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The film adaptation of The Woman In Black was, however, a massive disappointment… which leads me onto another of my books of 2013 which also had a really bad film: World War Z by Max Brooks.

20131228-085920.jpg The book is your standard zombie-fare: for unknown reasons, the dead rise and kill and convert much of humanity before the human race makes a stand. What I enjoyed about it – and what was taken out of the film – was the multitude of voices and stories which took an unmanageably large global narrative and reduced it down to domestic individual stories. My original blog, follow the link.

And 2013 was a good year for the undead for me: Justin Cronin’s first two books of The Passage trilogy were a powerfully and occasionally lyrical post-apocalyptic vampiric vision with one massively evocative protagonist, Amy Harper Bellafonte. The US military discover a virus capable of imbuing great strength and healing and predictably attempt to create a super soldier serum which in fact creates vampires who – somewhat inevitably – take over the world. My review of The Passage is here and the slightly less satisfying The Twelve is here.

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To continue I do want to include the Man Booker shortlisted Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín.

20131228-093945.jpg. This is a hauntingly sad novel of the gospel story of Christ from the point of view of his mother trying to deal with the crushing fact of his death. I just wish I’d read this without having seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian! My review is here.

Finally, I’ll mention Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett just because it is by Terry Pratchett and therefore a ways going to be a great big fun read! My review of this is here.

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And what will be my first books of 2014?

Well, I’ve just bought The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

20131228-100005.jpg The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

20131228-100058.jpg and The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

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Too Embarrassed To Read?

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The BBC ran this story on 4th October: reading is on the decrease, despite the lauded rise of the e-book; and one in five of our children would be embarrassed to be caught with a book. “Caught with”? You are caught with cigarettes by your parents; caught with stolen goods by the police; caught with drugs by customs.

You are not caught with books. They should be a staple part of everyone’s equipment along with their house keys, mobile and a pen. And I’m not just talking about school children.

Everyone.

Apparently, according to the article, since 2005, the percentage of children reading outside school fell from 33% to 25% in 2013; and, even more worryingly,

“About the same number said they did not think their parents cared if they read.”

So what can be done?

The National Literacy Trust is seeking literacy heroes to champion a love of reading and books.

Literacy heroes?

Who would be your literacy hero? Who turned you on to reading? For me, perhaps, my mum who was always reading (although, looking back, with very different set of books); maybe a succession of English teachers, especially Mr Moore – Hubert Moore – of Cranbrook School who allowed me to do my A-level English Literature on T. S. Eliot when the rest of the class wanted to do Sylvia Plath!

Turn to your own children, parents of Britain! Be your child’s own literacy and reading hero! Take them, hand in hand, along the lines and lanes, words and woods you loved at their age! Read in front of them. Read to them. Read with them. Listen to them read! Whether they are pre-readers, novice readers or recalcitrant teenagers show them that there are things to broaden their minds and world view beyond the television screen.

#fridayreads on twitter and pages like Coffee And A Good Book on Facebook do help promote reading – as, in some small way, might my own Book Readers’ Sanctuary blog; teachers who model and are seen reading will help – especially male teachers – but it’s often too late by then!

Parents have to inculcate the habit and give time for reading at home and take kids to the library