Don’t judge a book by its cover…

I spent a lovely afternoon giving away copies of Guards! Guards! to people visiting the Brunswick Festival in Hove. It was great to have so many lovely conversations about books and reading.

City Reads is essentially a city-wide book group, with the tag-line “One book, a thousand conversations.” So people (individually as well as part of already existing book groups) are encouraged to read the chosen book throughout the festival and, well, talk about it! There are also a series of events themed around the book, which you can read more about on their website:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

The festival has been going for a few years now – the philosophy stays the same, the book changes. It was amazing some of the reactions of people coming to the stall – one of the most common being to the cover of the book.

Josh Kirby’s artwork is synonymous with the Discworld books – the ensemble of characters rushing to greet you as you pick up each edition telling you something of what will happen in the story, without ever giving too much of the game away. Some people hate it. It would appear that the book(s) have very much been judged by their covers and having the plain black edition available certainly did seem to encourage some people to pick up the book and have a read, who genuinely didn’t seem interested otherwise!

I like both covers – one for familiarity, the other as it just seems a bit more sophisticated – and I really do think that people don’t credit Sir Terry with enough sophistication. His books may include magic and dragons and dwarfs and a world which exists on the back of four giant elephants, astride a giant turtle that swims through space, but they are also a form of social commentary. The characters are fantastic and they’re silly, but there is something really REAL about them.

I’m about half way through Guards! Guards! And I will post a review when I’ve finished – have you read it yet?!

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Constantly re-determine!

So, here I am again. A whole 10 months since my last post, which was MEANT to be a re-start. Well, let’s see what happens this time – I’m not going to give up on myself as being ‘a blogger’ and I feel my writing skills are improving. Practice makes perfect!

A lot has happened since my last post and not enough of it reading.

I gave up teaching – that’s quite significant, and a little bit sad, although altogether right for my life. I guess there never was enough time to talk about books. Or just to talk in general to be honest. So I’ve turned over a new leaf.

Reading and writing are now much higher on my agenda. I’m doing some work with local businesses with social media and have a lot more time to sit and read, which is bloody marvellous! I’ve recently read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant. Both very serious in their own way, both incredibly well written and I’m not sure if I can say I loved either of them. Individual reviews to follow (famous last words?!)

What I’m really excited about in new ‘post teaching’ mode is being involved with City Reads this year…not least because they have asked me to blog about their event, which has encouraged me to actually log in for the first time in so long!

So now I ‘HAVE’ to blog more. And read some more. This is making me smile.

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Re-starting the book blog!

I’m really excited to have started at a new school this term, with new students and new recommendations.

I certainly haven’t stopped reading since my last post, although I have found it very difficult to find time to write about the books that I have read!

A few things that I’ve read since my last post, that are worth a look are:

  • War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (SO much better than the film! Good if you have an interest in history and or animals. Thank you to Ella for recommending this & insisting that I read EVERYTHING by MM – I’ll get there eventually!)
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Recommended by just about everyone I spoke to about books last school year and I loved it! Great for all year groups.)
  • The Declaration by Gemma Malley (A dystopian future – interesting if you’ve read and liked The Hunger Games)

So, on to the next set of recommendations! I wrote down the books, but not the students who suggested them, but you know who you are!

  • The ‘Gone’ Series by Michael Grant (recommended by students in three different classes last week, can’t wait to have a look.)
  • Quantum Chronicles by Anthony Fucilla (just checked this out on-line – looks like a really interesting set of Sci-fi short stories)
  • Empty Quarter by Julia Golding (Part of what looks like a series involving a character called Darcie Lock – can anyone tell me which one comes first?)

I hope to post my reviews here soon. Please feel free to make more suggestions or short reviews of these books by commenting on this post!

Happy reading!

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Well, even though I’m unlikely to finish reading Anna Karenina this year, I’ve managed to fulfill my quota of ‘a classic a year’ by reading this.

Every time I pick up a ‘classic’ I’m slightly apprehensive.  ‘Classic’ suggests that many learned people have picked this book before and rated it worthy of this broad, but slightly vague accolade.  Great Expectations for instance.  Many reading friends I know and trust Love this book, rave about its remarkable characterisation and insist that I will surely adore it too.  No such luck.  I got half way through this Dickens classic three times and was not too surprised to realize recently that I’d discarded of my copy in a previous scour of my bookshelves! (Perhaps my expectations were too great?!)

So, when I had to do a university presentation in English, based on a ‘subject knowledge gap’, I clocked that the ‘Victorian Novel’ was probably a good place to start.  I considered Dickens; bought Bleak House.  Realised it is a tome and I only had a week to read it.  Discarded Bleak House.  Started reading a Dickens biography, found it interesting, but realised at this point that I was procrastinating and part of the presentation had to be connected to a novel.

The guy I was partnered with had recently read ‘Jane Eyre’, so I decided that it was probably a topic worth grappling with together…at least I could text him in despair, I thought, when the rambling prose got too much.  But no!  To my surprise and delight, I loved Jane Eyre! I had had a rather narrow vision of what ‘Victorian Literature’ was.  I don’t like Dickens, so assumed that I would have an equal dislike for anything written in the era.

I particularly enjoyed how three-dimensional Jane seemed.  First person narration can be limiting in this respect, however I trusted this voice.  It is self aware and although necessarily one sided, reliable as much as it can be.

The scenery is vivid.  The houses, schools and countrysides are compared and contrasted with ease and provide a splendid back-drop for Jane’s adventure, while also giving a real richness to the story.

We are given a great spread of characters for Jane to interact with, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality.  And Rochester!  The ‘hero’ of the novel, famous way beyond the pages of the book.  Your classic flawed, romantic Byronic Hero: mad, bad and dangerous to know and oh, so attractive because of it!

A book I know I will read again and lend to friends who are yet to have the pleasure.



(I’ve not included The Count of Monte Cristo here published in 1844 as European literature has a different feel altogether!)

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

One good thing with being off work sick, is the chance to catch up with some reading.  Not as much as I’d like (too much sleeping, too easily distracted by facebook) but the chance to finish one book and start another.

I originally (and perhaps ridiculously) discovered Neil Gaiman through Facebook and one of those daft ‘personalitiy tests’ that tell you what kind of author you are most like/should read.  Well, it seems to have hit the nail on the head in my case.  Everything I’ve read by Neil Gaiman so far I’ve throughly enjoyed, and although The Graveyard Book is aimed at children, it was no exception.

This book is essentially a series of short episodes in the life of Bod – a little boy, who through a series of wonderfully magical events, ends up living and growing up in a graveyard, cared for and taught by the ghostly residents.

“Fortinbras Bartleby, ten years old when he had died (of consumption, he had told Bod, who had mistakenly believed for several years that Fortinbras had been eaten by lions or bears, and was extremely disappointed to learn it was merely a disease)…”

The humour throughout is gentle but not so subtle as to go over the heads of younger readers.  The characters are well formed and have little traits and backstories that stop them being two dimentional, as sometimes happens in childrens books.

The book won the Newbery Medal in 2009 (voted for by children’s librarians), so I guess it will be in your local library – go and have a read!!

I would say this is a great book for adults and children to read together.

(Apologies for the rather blurry post…a reflection of the state of my head I think!)

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Animal Farm: A Fairy Story by George Orwell

I just finished reading Animal Farm for the second time.

I had a very different experience reading it this time than the first time I read it (last summer) for a number or reasons:

Firstly, I was re-reading the book because I’m going to be teaching it to a group of year 9 students (aged 13 and 14), so I wasn’t simply reading the book for pleasure (although it WAS still pleasurable) but looking closely at the various levels of meaning and thinking about how I can set up activities for the class, so they can access the different meanings and enjoy reading the book!

Secondly, I’ve always known that Animal Farm is an allegory for The Russian Revolution, but the first time I read it I was encouraged to read it simply as a story about animals, which I did and I found it a very enjoyable read.

However, this time I read the introduction too.  It reminded and informed me of the context in which the book was written:  The end of the Second World War, the tensions as the Cold War started to rear its ugly head and Orwell’s passionate and very active defence of freedom of speech and humanity.   This passion is clear with even a simple reading of the novel.  The animals are clearly subject to maltreatment and  taken advantage of  by the humans and the more intelligent members of the farm.

This time however, I brushed up on my Russian history.  I read about Tsar Nicolas and Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin.  I found out a bit about the forced labour camps and the propaganda and realised just how clever Orwell’s “Fairy Story” is.  In one of his introductions, Orwell clarifies that he has changed the chronological order of the events and actually, in today’s world (in my sphere of experience [ignorance?]) where Stalin and Trotsky are little more than names in a text-book, the exact details are maybe not important.

Animal Farm is a story about what happens when the majority are ruled over my a minority who are not held to account.  It is, perhaps, a story about the importance of education and the empowerment of the people – reflecting Orwell’s Socialist, anti-Imperialistic beliefs.

The novel is short: less than 100 pages.  Orwell’s writing is plain and simple and hugely provocative (the manuscript was rejected by various publishers before finally going to print in 1945) and because of this not inconsiderable skill, the novel is hugely valuable on many levels.

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A different kind of reading…

I’ve just started back at university to do my teacher training.

I’ve been lamenting to myself for a couple of days that I’m not going to have so much time for reading now (Anna Karenina has temporarily been returned to the Library having been requested by some History students), and then just caught myself on the phone to a friend saying “I’ve just got SO much reading to do!”

It really is amazing how we split our reading in to such seperate categories.  I have spent a lot of today reading – it may be academic reading, but it is reading none the less!  I’ve read about Behaviour Managment and Academic Awards.  Most interestingly, I’m in the middle of reading about inspiring children to write and use ‘writing as a way of thinking’.

Opening the chapter called “Writing: Finding a Voice” – is a quote – attributed to Voltaire: “Find me a pen, I need to think.”  I’m sure I’ve heard this before.  I love it!  It appeals to the philosophy student in me and makes me excited about studying the academic side of teaching English.  The top of page 5 (of 23…I really do have a lot of reading to do this evening) cites some research by Graves:

‘Writing is extolled, worried over, cited as a national priority, but seldom practised. The problem with writing is not poor spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting. The problem with writing is no writing.’ (Graves, 1978).

I suppose that is partly why I started blogging.  How can I stand at the front of an English class and insist my students write, if I don’t do it myself!

So now, I’m writing about reading about writing.  I think I’d better get back to the reading…

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