Tag Archives: Patrick Ness

My Year In Books: Best Reads of 2014

It’s that time of year again: the last day before New Year. As with last year, it’s time to look back and consider the books I’ve read.

This post will deal with my favourite reads this year. Worst reads (of which there weren’t that many!) will come later – follow this link to see them! So this is, I suppose, like the Booker Prize… Except that there’s no money on offer… And that these are books read in rather than published in the last year.

So not very much like the Man Booker at all really! Although there will be some overlapping books.

Right let’s aim for a top five.

#5 The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker was actually my first read of the year! Beautiful depictions of immigrant cultures to New York and compelling on many levels: sociological, fantastical, personal and a rollicking good plot!

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#4 Room by Emma Donoghue. A powerful and poignant story of a mother and child brought up in the most appalling situation as captives. Donoghue said she wanted to create that story at a distance from the horror and terror of the kidnapping when rituals had been established and tedium set in. And the most beautifully realised child’s voice I’ve read.

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#3 Harvest by Jim Crace which was a Man Booker nominee in 2013 – as Room was in 2010. An absolutely astounding evocation of a moment in time and a wonderfully breathy summery feel to it which makes it wonderful to recall in this grey weather.

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#2 The History Of The Rain by Niall Williams.

I really did love this book, a Man Booker longlist nominee. I loved the poetry of the language, the literariness of it, the humour and humanity.

Just absolutely wonderful.

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#1 The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton.

I only came upon this book and Catton because of her Booker-winning The Luminaries which was also wonderful. But for me The Rehearsal was sublime. It was coruscating and complex and writhed like a snake under the reader’s eyes. Exquisitely discomforting.

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Ahhh… But now I’m already worrying about this list. Am I happy with the order? Should The Luminaries have been included? What of all the other books that were great but I’ve not included.

So a handful of honourable mentions, perhaps?

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Good Omens by Messrs Pratchett and Gaiman

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Free Chaos Walking Short Stories

I am shocked. Genuinely shocked.

And then dismayed at the world form being so self-centred that a small act of generosity can shock me.

Patrick Ness is a multiple Carnegie award winning author – and I’m sure winner and nominee in numerous other awards too. I’m not going to say that he’s a Young Adult author: he is just an author. For us all. His novels range from science fiction to mythic magic realism to genuine emotion. His A Monster Calls still gets me: lump in throat, eyes prickling kind of getting.

Anyways… Patrick Ness’ trilogy Chaos Walking is brilliant: a wonderfully realised universe; fully rounded and engaging characters; a fabulous balance between action and emotion. And in addition to the three books of the trilogy, there are three short stories filling in some of the gaps in this fantastic world.

Available for free.

Download them from HERE.

Three original shirt stories from a truly exceptional writer.

For free.

Why did I not know of this before?

Go.

Download.

Stop reading this; read them!

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Inspiration

Let me admit here my bias from the outset.

I love books.

Not altogether surprising in an English teacher. Or in light of previous blog content. Or in light of the name of my blogs!

But I do.

The Hobbit by Tolkien was the first book that gripped me. And writing in general has never let me free of its grips. Books kept me sane through the long interminable holidays I was forced to go on with my parents – canal boating – cramped up in a 65 foot space with brother, parents, occasional other family members with no space to escape except into the books I had brought with me. Books gave me an escape from worries about money. Books have taught me and nourished me and protected me.

As a teacher, the biggest horror I face is that population (sadly ever growing) of kids who can read but who choose not to. For whom reading is just “too much effort,” “too long,” too hard, “too boring”. There are no graphics! It takes perhaps weeks for them reach a moment of high tension in a book whereas their Calls of Duty and Modern Warfares can give them the same thrill every seven minutes in handy fun-sized pieces.

So it was that I surveyed my Year 9 group. A bottom set. I surveyed them all with a sinking feeling: I knew these kids; I had taught some of them in one capacity or another for both their previous years in the school. I quickly surveyed them at the start of the year anyway:

How many had books at home? 3

How many had ever read a book for pleasure? 2

How many had never read a book at all out of class or parents making them read? 18

How many had never read a book from beginning to end at all, even in school? 1 – who I hasten to add had not been in our school for a year having entered half way through Year 8.

And so it was that we embarked on reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I won’t regurgitate my previous praise for this book which can be found here but I found it fabulous! I have sung its praises at school and among friends and family for months! I even bought in a class set of them for reading at school. And it was these which were distributed amongst a very definite class of mostly male non-readers.

Many of the fears and threats that books pose to non-readers were absent from the book. Written from the point of view of a teenage boy, its language is mostly simple, almost monosyllabic and robustly Anglo-Saxon; it is puntuated by the most wonderful and muscular illustrations by Jim Kay such as these

And it alternates between three worlds: the familiar world of school where Conor negotiates bullies and teachers with varying degrees of success; the emotionally traumatic and horrifying world of home where Conor’s mother is struggling in her fight against cancer; and a mythic world in which a monster, some ancient personification of all that is wild and untamed appears.

We finished the book this week. As all teachers do, we alternated between reading and working on it but this week we got to the climax: Conor was finally forced to tell the truth of his own nightmare and the mother’s battle with cancer comes to a head.

I read these final pages to the class.

They were silent.

Absolutely transfixed by it.

At least two students were openly (although very discretely) crying.

The emotion that a lot of them felt was not covered up with showing off or playing up as might have been expected.

They sat. They listened. They felt.

And they started yesterday to ask about books. One of them had brought in a book from home to show me. His first one ever. Another asked me to recommend him a book similar to A Monster Calls – plumbing the Carnegie Medal 2012 I went with Annabel Pitcher‘s My Sister Lives On the Mantlepiece.

For the first time in most of their lives, they felt that they could read; that they were able to get books; that books were good.

It really is moments like this that remind us what it is like to be a teacher.

So, to Patrick Ness, I salute and thank you for this wonderful inspirational gift of a book.

And now I turn to the pile of National Curriculum levelling, reporting, planning I have to do and sigh…..

 

 

Carnegie Winner, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A MASSIVE congratulations to Patrick Ness for the historic achievement of winning the Carnegie two years running AND winning both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Prizes simultaneously.

A Monster Calls is a truly exceptional book and a mighty winner! It is one of those books that EVERYONE should read! The story is moving, evocative, primal, mythic and personal; the language is beautiful and elegant and so economical; the illustrations are breath taking. Truly, genuinely inspiring!20120615-061732.jpg

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Sympathy

Only a very über short thought.

It is so strange and amazing that a book, describing entirely fictional characters, set in a world which has never existed, experiencing events that are outside of our own experiences can cause sympathy.

Sympathy, true sympathy, is the creation in us of a genuine real emotion in response to what we read. And what we read is not real.

It is, for me, one of the most bizarre, mind-blowing and awesome features of literature. I am moved by Heathcliff howling into the night for Cathy; I am moved to tears by Conor’s grief for his mother in A Monster Calls; my heart is fit to break with King Lear‘s.

And non-fiction does not affect me the same way. I can empathise with real people, I can recognise and rationalise historical events and emotions in non-fiction writing but I must confess I neither truly feel nor care in the same way.

Strange.

Perhaps this says more about my mental state than anything else!