Thursday, 22 September 2016

Back to School

There must be a huge amount of books which take place at a school where the school is the central focus. Interestingly, I struggled to think of them. Here are all the books I can think of where school was a big part of the story! For this reason several on the list take place at boarding schools.

Malory Towers - Enid Byton

The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling

Star Girl - Jerry Spinelli

The Worst Witch - Jill Murphy

Matilda - Roald Dhal

The Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wonder - RJ Palacio

What other books remind you of school/take place at school?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Thank You

I have often wondered where my love of reading and books comes from. My family all have very different reading habits, although everyone reads in some capacity and I'm sure my parents encouraged me to read, and there were always books around the house.

I also distinctly remember learning to read and the thrill I had progressing through different levels of reading books (colour coded and gradually more difficult I loved going up a level). I then got to thinking about the teachers along the way that have influenced or encouraged my love of reading.

This is going to be a big thank you post to all of those people. I'm going to start with my parents for sure, I know my mother bought thicker and bigger books to try and keep me busy, and I used to devour every book she brought home for me. I am so lucky that she encouraged me to spend my time reading, and now, as books and reading and writing have become such a huge part of my life and career, I appreciate it all the more. My dad definitely expanded my reading, recommending books that I would never usually pick up. And as I have learnt more recently is exceedingly well read.

My sister also deserves recognition here. It seems that since my infancy she has envisioned me as a writer and jumped on any example that I am taking a step in that direction as a positive and exciting process. She has been a key part in making sure that the dreams I had as a small child remain my focus today. I'm forever grateful for her continued advice, support and wisdom.

Okay, so lets get on to the actual teachers. It's September and kids are going back to school, some of the teachers they will meet will be huge influences in their lives and perhaps 20 years from now, some of those students will be writing their own blog posts on the subject. I won't name names for the sake of privacy/I can't hunt them all down to ask for permission, but hopefully if you read this, you know who you are.

I've already mentioned learning to read. In my kindergarten classroom, the energy and joy that my teacher put into my reading progress definitely made me work hard to learn. Without this first rung of the ladder, who knows what I would have gone on to do.

Next, the librarian that came in early before lessons started to open up the library. I was dropped off early at school and would curl up on some cushions and she suggested books for me. This is how I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. It was the first time someone was impressed by my reading, I was proud to be reading books that the 7th graders were reading! I was reading way above my level and not even trying. I remember very little about her, but the time spent in that library (which actually was in one of those portacabin classrooms) is something I won't forget in a hurry.

I had a strange English teacher in my first year of high school. Apparently on the last day of term he would play the guitar for you and was particularly famous for this, although I never saw him play. It was the first study of poetry I had ever done in a classroom and I loved it!  At this particular school they obsessed over the fact that I didn't do the homework and predicted very poor results in all of my subjects I was punished mercilessly for not doing homework. BUT I never skipped a lesson, it didn't even occur to me to bunk off. I still went to the lessons and learnt everything. Imagine their surprise when my English exam came in the top percentile for Literature and top of the year for English Language. I did well in every other subject. My mythical guitar playing teacher was forced to award me a detention after I failed to complete some homework. My essay subject: The Importance of Homework. After he read it, with me standing silently in front of him, he said I would make a good teacher, and that I obviously understand and respect the need for work outside of the classroom. Why hadn't I done the assignment? I think I replied something to the effect that I was reading. I remember his smile, I think he may have been the only teacher that understood me there.

After moving to a much more effective school for me, I met the most brilliant set of teachers in all subjects. But in particular I was luck enough to have the two best of department, one at GCSEs and the other at A level. Both deserve a multi layered thank you, for introducing me to some of my favourite authors and subjects. They also both received a dedication in my dissertation at University for giving me my love of Literature.

Lastly, my tutors at Uni. Some of the most well read and impressive people I have ever met, I am glad to still be in contact with some of them. I respect them even more now that I know them as friends and have a much more rounded view of them, their tastes and their interests. A fabulous bunch. I was so lucky to be assigned my dissertation tutor, he was hired in the gap between my applying and getting assigned someone and luckily he was PERFECT. I absolutely struck gold, his office was filled with resources that almost seemed tailored to me and he was friends with the man who wrote the most recent biography of one of the authors I was focused on. BONUS.

That's the lot. I hope that the teachers and tutors and friends that those in education meet this year will be as important and interesting as mine have been.

Happy new school year everyone!

Tell me stories of your favourite teachers/inspiring people

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Man Booker ShortList

If you'd like to see my wishlist for this year take a look here. 

I was hoping that Serious Sweet, The School Days of Jesus and Work Like Any Other would make it but sadly they did not. The top three are now in my TBR list and I am particularly interested in David Szalay's. Here is the Man Booker Shortlist for 2016.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Madeline Thien

His Bloody Project
Graeme Macrae Burnet

All That Man Is

David Szalay

The Sellout
Paul Beatty

Ottessa Moshfegh

Hot Milk 
Deborah Levy

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and good luck in the next stage!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

August Reviews

The Man in the High Castle
Philip K. Dick
Penguin 01/01/1962 Kindle

To quote the rest of the bookclub: "The Man In The High Castle can take a flying leap". Worst book ever was also bandied about. It was a total disaster of a book. I am amazed that Philip K Dick is described as an unsung genius of his time in the introduction. Nope. Let's actually get into the reasons I would not recommend this book.
It's an alternative history, what if Hitler had won the war? Great idea, and very interesting, interesting enough to be adopted by the TV series. The book is short, which earns it it's single star, but it was difficult to read and difficult to follow in terms of writing style and story arch. Even Dick himself admitted to the unsatisfying ending that he wrote and spent the rest of his life trying to write a closing chapter that would explain. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. This is the Edwin Drood of SciFi except that he actually handed in this unfinished piece of fiction to publishers who, schmucks that they are bowed and went on to publish it.
In cases like these I can only imagine that the editor couldn't get through it themselves. I spent much of the book feeling lost and not knowing whose side I was meant to be on. I know it's all shades of gray, but things needed to be clearer I was lost. I don't know what the significance was of any of the characters. Apparently everyone was connected, but I was so confused the whole time.

Eat Pray Love
Elizabeth Gilbert
Bloomsbury 16/11/2009 Kindle

I am sorry to say that all of the negatives that people feel about this book, the trope of a sad woman going off to find herself, the exploitation of secular spiritualism, the cookie cutter love story. I have to say, they're all wrong.
My personal approach to this story was probably like most of the depressed women who reach out for a tiny piece of inspiration. I am incredibly sad, and I still am, the book didn't save me, it didn't save my life, but much of the thought processes appealed to me. Liz Gilbert is not saccharine, she's incredibly down to earth and empathetic. I was worried that that namaste approach was going to make me hate it but I didn't, and that's because she struggles with her life as much as I do. She get's distracted and is incredibly human.
The story is set out very beautifully and the love story is beautiful, real and touching. I say real because it's not perfect, just like every love story there's some potholes. The only struggle is that I inevitably was reading with a Julia Roberts voice over, which isn't the worst thing in the world... but it is a bit distracting.
I will admit that I think I read this at a very appropriate time for me. But nevertheless it is a well written and interesting exploration of food, language, relationships, freedom, travel and so much more. It's great. I'd even read it again. Maybe I'll read it when I'm happy again and get a new perspective.

Leaving Atocha Station
Ben Lerner
Granta 02/02/2012 Kindle
Holiday Read

If you were anywhere near me when I started reading this you know the noise I made when thinking about, talking about and reading this little gem. 100 pages took me a shameful 15 days. I should be able to read that it in an afternoon. That's just an indication of why I struggled.
It wasn't until someone pointed out that it is meant to be funny. You're meant to recognise the absurd nature of the character's thought processes that I managed to get through it. I was so close to giving up, but I felt like I needed to finish it because failing to read such a tiny slip of a book would be a new level of being a terrible reader.
I'm frustrated that I needed to be told that it was okay to hate the character, but I just had no sense of humour for the pretentiousness of the thinking even at a ridiculous level. It was also very dense to read because of the subject matter. Talking about art and writing in a deliberately pretentious way is pretty difficult to get through and even though it's meant to be ridiculous, that level of density was too much. I will say that eventually I did find myself chuckling at it, which earns it a 3 star rating.