The amount of reading I actually do (rather than think I’ll probably do) during the year fluctuates quite a lot, but the summer holidays are definitely the time when I churn my way through a fair few books and this year was no different. A couple of them I’ve been waiting to read in paperback both because I don’t see the point in forking out for a hardback if I can wait and it makes sense to take lighter books on a plane. I’ve tried reading ebooks on both a proper, non-backlit eReader and on a tablet. I prefer to take books. I’m well into my thirties now so I reckon I can get away with picking and choosing the technology I want to engage with.
Dave at work says I should blog about books I’m reading throughout the year too (probably because he leant me a very good Doctor Who related one) and I probably should. Until I get round to that, here’s this summer’s lot.
Book 1: Blacklight Blue by Peter May
Peter May is a fairly steady presence in my reading lists now. This is the third in the Enzo Macleod series set in France and continues to follow Enzo as he uses his forensic expertise to do what the police have failed to do and try to solve another cold case.The premise of this series works around a bet he has made to solve seven prominent murders that feature in a book by his friend Roger Raffin and the series looks set to focus on one case per book.
The book starts with the abduction of a young boy on holiday 40 years ago and jumps to a murder in 1992. In the present day, when Enzo finds himself framed for murder, and his daughter is nearly killed, he reasons that it has only been a matter of time before the perpetrators of the remaining cold cases start to try to take him out before they get caught. Investigating ensues. Assisted by the now familiar characters of his second daughter and her boyfriend, his assistant Nicole and Raffin, his first daughter has more of a role in this one and we start to get a bit more of the characters’ back story. There’s the obligatory scrapes with death, bottles of good French wine and beautiful women.
I find May’s style easy to read and there’s a good balance of continuing threads and fresh storylines. I like the implied end to the series with the seven murders which stops a feeling of things dragging along that can happen with other detective series, and there’s enough of a question mark at the end to make me eager for the next one.
Book 2: The Tent, The Bucket, and Me by Emma Kennedy
Surely no family has had the amount of disaster befall them on their summer holidays as the Kennedy family have. Emma Kennedy’s hilarious memoir following her family’s ‘disastrous attempts to go camping in the 70s’, hurtles you through storms, down French toilets and gangrenous wounds. The determination of one family to have a successful holiday is something to behold. Full of cultural references that paint a picture of 70s Britain (which isn’t too far from my memories of 80s Britain), this is a book that will have you in fits of laughter, cringing, wincing with pain and championing our heroes to get through to face another summer.
I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to take it on holiday or not. One of the flight attendants on our plane spotted it and said how much she’d enjoyed it (which vindicated my stifled giggling for a 4 hour flight) but there’s something about reading about disastrous holidays whilst your on one that seems to be tempting fate! Luckily we didn’t fall down anything nasty and survived to recommend this.
If you can’t be bothered to read it (which you should) the BBC have gone and done a whole TV series of the book. ‘The Kennedys’ should be on in the autumn I think.
Book 3: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
This is one of the Richard and Judy summer reads and I happened to see them plugging it on the One Show. Quite liking their description I thought I’d give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure what to say about this one. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it but I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to say too much really. I had more information before I read it and spent the whole time waiting for that to happen.
So who would like it. Well online and on-book comments suggest that if you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ you’ll enjoy this. I read ‘Gone Girl’ last year and it irritated the hell out of me for the first half, got better in the second and had a disappointing ending. This book is far better and much more worth reading. It’s a psychological thriller that kept me gripped and eager to get back to. I invested thoroughly in the characters through the well crafted narrative and raw detail throughout. There aren’t any gun-wielding space aliens or Russian naval spies so I don’t think it’s quite Howard’s thing, but that might help you decide.
Book 4: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
I have invested heavily in Cormoran Strike, Private Investigator, since reading the first novel. Every time I have a pint of Doom Bar I think of him. I got this book for either Christmas or birthday and I’ve been saving it for the summer (might as well take a book we’re both going to read on holiday).
As predicted, the first outing ‘The Cookoo’s Calling’ was a solid introduction to the characters and all the key people were in place for this investigation. Strike’s still struggling with his leg (send him to a doctor please Mr Galbraith), Robin’s still his right-hand woman, and there’s still some murdering to solve. There are some classic detective story elements but it reads as a fresh set of characters and if you enjoy the genre then it shouldn’t seem like you’ve heard it all before.
This one focuses on the world of publishing with a swathe of colorful characters from authors to agents. There is a good balance between the case and development of Strike and his work so I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m being cagey again I know. I’d rather tell everyone to just read it without giving anything away, it’s kinder. Just know that if you liked the first one you should like this one, and if you’ve not read the first one. Read it.
Book 5: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Right where to start with this one. Well, this was the second of my ‘wait for paperback’ books after I heard the review on Radio 2 and thought it sounded really interesting. The book follows the character of Holly Sykes throughout different decades of her life with each decade told from the perspective of a different character; some of which interact with her more than others. It’s a long book and in many ways each chapter/decade is a book of its own.
There’s a bit of a Neil Gaiman style fantasy element feel to the story although I spent a long time not quite sure how it was panning out and this frustrated me a bit. I found the book easier to read for some characters than others which reflected in my pace of reading; it was a lot of work to remember characters as they re-appeared and it took me a while to get through some parts. Having said that, once the story started to reveal itself I really enjoyed piecing it together.
The book starts in the 1970s and works through to the 2040s. As the chapters entered the ‘future’ there was lots of subtle references that I appreciated (like a passing comment on Justin Beiber’s 5th divorce) and it didn’t seem like there were over the top attempts to predict what’s ahead. It allowed for the story to take centre stage as it reached a climax. Having had the climax, the final chapter was a proper slog. Set in a dystopian future there was an unecessary amount of explaining the changes to the world and the collapse of civilisation, I found it all very strained and fairly detached from the story-so-far.
It sounds a bit like I hated it. I didn’t. The premise of where everything leads to is a brilliant idea and as it got going and more was revealed I really enjoyed finding out new perspectives from different characters. I think the ending has jaded my view a bit. You know how a generic hour-long TV murder has the classic solve at 45 minutes and it’s all wrapped up in the last 15? Well this felt a bit like we had the resolution at 45 and there was another hour to wrap it up. I think I’ll be thinking about this one for a while to digest it properly. I’ll recommend it because a lot of people have enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it by any means. It’s a long one though and I prefer Gaiman.
Links to books are The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.
Last night Channel 4 broadcast the latest edu-documentary, ‘Sex in Class’. Goedele Liekens, a Belgian sexologist delivered her programme of sex education at the Hollins Technology College in Lancashire. Armed with her vagina cushion and plasticine, she had 2 weeks to work with 13 students. She explored how pornography influences the pupils, both their behaviour and the expectations they have; she discussed masturbation and anatomy; and looked at relationships within families and with partners. It was brilliant. Her direct approach and understanding of what the pupils have experienced gained the respect of the pupils. Her shock at what the pupils didn’t know and hadn’t been taught was evident.
Something really needs to happen with sex education in our schools. Of course it’s a matter for our whole society, but schools are a significant part of that. It’s clear that adults in this country have no idea what our children are watching. The statistics on the programme show that 83% of children have watched porn online by the time they’re 13, and more than half view it regularly. Let me be clear. This porn isn’t the free 10 minutes at midnight stuff they put on satellite TV; this is hard-core, explicit, in-your-face stuff, and our children are normalised to this. They don’t have to look at the underwear pages of a catalogue to get their kicks, they have more than they want of the proper stuff online.
I’ve tweeted this in the past – Russell T Davies has written about this beautifully in ‘Screwdriver’ an online spin off from Cucumber on Channel 4. I would have every parent and every teacher watch this. It’s 15 minutes and the message is perfectly clear. Go on. Watch it. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/cucumber/videos/all/screwdriver?cntsrc=4od (The irony of parental guidance notices)
I was aware of ‘Sex in Class’ because I had seen Goedele on This Morning talking about the project and taking part in their phone in. I was impressed by what she was saying but equally I was disappointed at the reaction of presenter Eamonn Holmes. I know that presenters are there in part to play the role of devil’s advocate and there’s nothing wrong with challenging what she’s trying to do, but the way he attacked her point of view came from a much more personal place. He’s not the only one to have these views of course, and the predictability of the professionally outraged in the media will be a reason for commissioning the programme. What I find frustrating is the assumption that people will find what Goedele is doing shocking. What I find most shocking is the naivety of the public as to what is happening.
Goedele wants to use her work to develop a GCSE in sex education and at the end of her course the pupils sat an exam. We saw her meet with Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the government’s Select Committee on Sex Education to discuss the content of sex education in schools. She set him straight on a few facts and stressed the importance of age appropriateness and pupils learning about sexual pleasure. He was so far out of his comfort zone that we witnessed the ridiculous situation where she’s talking to the chairman the Sex Education Select committee and he’s unable to talk about sex. He bumbled through a question about where the clitoris is and by the end of their meeting was declared as an Advocate for Sexual Pleasure.
The solution to all this is not to get rid of porn. We can’t. What we need to do is educate. We need to get over this uncomfortable, British attitude from government down. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. 10 year olds no longer cuss each other by calling each other a wally, they tell each other to ‘suck their mum out’. Obviously it’s not all of them, but it’s real and we need to do our part to educate. As Goedele so frequently stated; we can’t stop them from accessing online porn so we need to act to counterbalance this with facts and information across every aspect of sex and relationships education. I really hope the right people were watching.
Inspired by several people, especially Ffion Eaton, I decided to start a Learning and Development Bulletin at school.
I went with using ‘learning’ and ‘development’ rather than including ‘teaching’ or ‘research’ because I wanted to make sure it was accessable to all members of staff. I’m concious that ‘teacher’ gets used as a blanket term but for those of us that aren’t one there’s always a bit of doubt as to whether we’re included. The name Relay was the result of a frustrating afternoon with a thesaurus. I settled on it as it’s symbolic of the main purpose for the bulletin, to share and pass on information between members of staff. I want to encourage everyone to contribute to Relay – whether that’s writing an article or review, or simply prompting discussions in the staff room. I’m aiming for half-termly publication and so far I’ve managed this (with a bumper summer edition). At the moment it’s mostly stuff I’ve encountered at researchED or via Twitter but I’ve tried to go for a spread of topics and opinions, avoiding too much bias!
Printable PDF versions of issues so far are here: