Contents In this issue we continue the focus on diversity and offer you lots of recommendations and different ways of finding new books. We hope you try out some of the suggestions on offer especially our Summer Reading Challenge!
The Carnegie winner
Summer Reading Challenge
Finger on the pulse (?)
How good are YOU at accepting people’s recommendations?
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled. I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. – Mohandas K. Ghandi “Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged” ― Rumi “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.” ― Albert Einstein "If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place." ― Margaret Mead “I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina "I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people." Eduardo Galeano
“We have the ability to achieve, if we master the necessary goodwill, a common global society blessed with a shared culture of peace that is nourished by the ethnic, national and local diversities that enrich our lives.” ― Mahnaz Afkhami
And the winner of this year’s Carnegie Medal is …..One by Sarah Crossan. Here I’ve stolen Mia’s review off the Shadowing website: (I apologise if this review has turned into a love letter to a certain deceased actor. It is just sometimes quite hard to check myself.) Grace and Tippi may have been named after the stars of two of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films, but I doubt even an unexpected appearance from Cary Grant could improve this book. [That’s saying a lot coming from me, by the way!] Not that I’m sure that Cary Grant would have found himself quite at home between this novel’s covers. Equally haunting, heart-warming and soul-crushing in turns, One by Sarah Crossan is one of those rare occasions where a jaunty, talented twentieth-century actor with plenty of charisma just would not have fitted in. One is a book that is entirely perfect exactly as it is. It’s the sort of book that makes me feel like I am entirely unworthy as a human being, now that I have seen what some people are really capable of. It’s the sort of book that I would wish I’d written if that wouldn’t deprive me of the pleasure of reading it for the first time. After reading three Sarah Crossan books, I have become convinced that her free verse is where her true genius lies. While she writes lovely prose, it doesn’t quite capture atmosphere or mood quite as well as One did. She’d impressed me before, but I had no idea when I started this novel that the tale of Grace and Tippi, conjoined twins and teenage girls, would almost make me cry. (I have actually cried at approximately five books in my entire reading career.) This book is so very, very beautiful. Here are words that are so flawless they seem to flow out of our narrator Grace in a stream of unadulterated perfection. If there are novels in existence that can capture the scope of human existence through the eyes of a girl who has only seen a small part of the world, then this book is one.
All over the country primary school children will be taking part in a Summer Reading Challenge - this year it’s called The Big Friendly Challenge - to tie in with the release of Steven Spielberg's movie of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Clever marketing methinks. Elsewhere, all over the web you can find groups of people and individuals setting themselves targets for their reading. At the start of the year I spotted The Classics Club where people select a list of 50 books that they commit to reading over a period of 5 years and blog about. The only rule? The books have to be over 25 years old. Or one of my favourite authors Nina Allan who set herself the task of Reading Weird in 2016.
So Swanshurst, here’s the deal. You have six weeks off. Students and staff will read many books over those weeks - hundreds and hundreds. The challenge is this: to read 6 books that are written by women or by people of colour. It’s not that I have anything against white men. I am one after all and I’m AMAZING. Some of my favourite books are by white blokes AND we recommend some in this magazine! But white men dominate the publishing industry and more than ever the world needs us to see with different eyes. So please have a go! There are plenty of suggestions in the pages that follow and remember to use your local library during the summer if you need any more books!
There are loads of brilliant initiatives to celebrate diversity in writing this year. A great list on Juno Dawson website. Lots of lists, recommendations and information at We Need Diverse Books Fantastic lists on Goodreads Great suggestions at the Amelia Bloomer project. Nice little list here at Bustle There’s a good blog here with lots of info and recommendations. Interesting discussion about diversity in SF and Fantasy over at Tor. Love this woman and her comic book store. Great articles here and here
Perhaps my favourite of the reading invitations is this list of 20 challenges: #BustleReads Challenge 2016 Encourages You To Read Women And Writers Of Colour. [Yes, readers it seems someone came up with the idea before I did—no surprises there!] It challenges you to read a book by an African author, a translated book, a feminist SF novel, a book about a refugee and so on. In trying to follow its generous spirit I will add one more possible suggestion. Read a book connected to the Holocaust. I know, I overflow with happiness don’t I? But many of these books are packed with wisdom, slices of beauty and incredible inspiration. Of course they’ll be upsetting parts but if we don’t try to understand our history and learn from it we may well be doomed to repeat it. And we can’t allow that to happen. So what could you read? Many of you will have read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Once and The Book Thief, but an equally good children’s novel is Lois Lowry’s Number The Stars. It’s very short but it only takes a couple of pages to know you’re in the hands of a great storyteller. It’s set in Nazi occupied Denmark in 1943 and is about two young girls who face up to the horror and confusion with courage and grace. An excellent novel from this year is The Earth is Singing by Vanessa Curtis. It was on the Peters Book of the Year 2016 shortlist and was very popular amongst the girls at our reading groups. There are ‘adult’ novels too of course, so many that I can only mention a few personal favourites: Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, W.G. Sebald’s profound novel about memory, Austerlitz, Thomas Keneally’s Schindler's Ark and, more a novel of life in Berlin during the war, Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone.
There are astonishing books to read by authors that the Nazi’s murdered. I’d recommend Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, written in the first years of France’s occupation, because it allows you to see the cowardice and profiteering sensibility of the French ruling class. I’d also recommend Bruno Schulz’s short stories. He is one of the great unsung authors of the 20th century who has inspired authors as diverse as China Mieville and Rabih Alameddine: his stories really are a doorway into a different way of thinking. Overleaf Mia reviews Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles. I urge you to read what she writes and read Schulz for yourself. This is why we produce The Bookworm. Try a book of history too. These can seem large and daunting but the summer is the perfect time. You can make it last, you can dip in and out. I’ve been doing that with Sarah Helm’s history If This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women all year, stopping when I needed a rest or when I wanted (or needed) to read something else. You could do this too with Nikolaus Wachsmann’s KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps just out in paperback and almost universally acclaimed. Beyond that there are loads of books to try, including, if you’ve never read it, Anne Frank’s Diary. Another category of books to take a look at are the memoirs of Holocaust survivors. Here you’ll find an incredible array of books. Khadija read and reviewed Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table in the last Bookworm. Equally as important is If Not Now, when? Also try Elie Wiesel’s account of his time in a concentration camp, Night. Viktor Frankl was a Viennese psychiatrist before the war and was able to bring his unique insights to his time in Auschwitz. His book Man’s Search for Meaning is a fantastically hopeful book about trying to find meaning and purpose in life. There are lots of others to try, a quick Google search will sort you out. Just one more that I can recommend wholeheartedly is Rena’s promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz.
Semi-autobiographical in a way that makes both me and my life’s work so far seem feeble; lush in a way that makes me feel intoxicated. Damn. I can’t say it’s a particularly pleasant experience to read a book and have it bring home exactly how frail you really are in the face of all the brilliance contained within it, but it is eye-opening. The Street of Crocodiles is one such book. To my intense discomfort, it makes me feel too young, too obtuse, too...naïve. I feel too humble in my words and experiences to review this book. Hell, I feel too young and inexperienced to even try to understand it. It toes the edge of my comprehension—mixing worldly views of things and places I have yet to witness with dark fantastical elements that I can hardly imagine. The language—the language is like a rare vintage of wine; heady and disorienting and far too rich for the monotony of the everyday mundanity we live in. His words sing. His style reminds me of Angela Carter, but if she is my adolescent venture into the world of dark wonderings, then Bruno Schulz writes for adults. Schulz was born in 1892, into a world that would drag him through the horrors of two world wars as well as several invasions of his hometown Drohobych and a mass persecution of his people (he was a Jew), culminating in his being shot to death in the street by a Gestapo officer at the age of fifty. But despite his rather convoluted life story, he writes not of war and persecution but of the strange twisted streets he grew up in. Semiautobiographical indeed; Schulz writes himself into these pages with such overwhelmingly eloquent panache that the words just become irresistible.
Bruno Schulz is an author who inspired China Miéville—and, let’s face it, even at the best of times Miéville hardly qualifies as a light or easy read. Much like the authors that he himself influenced, his style is strange in that timeless way that so attracts us mortal beings. He worked on a translation of Kafka’s The Trial in his lifetime, and you can certainly see that haunted atmosphere reflected in these stories (incidentally, Kafka also excelled in the short story medium—and, may I also point out, short stories dealing with cockroaches). But Schulz also sets himself apart completely through his way of using words to bring to life newer, different, far stranger aspects of his town and life than would be commonly expected. One day, when I am older and wiser and infinitely more worldweary, I shall pull out a copy of this book and simply fall into it—devour it, love it. I shall wonder how I ever lived without it. This is a book I feel certain I will one day use as my lens to see my world through. But for now I feel rather as though I am standing on the edge of a huge abyss inhabited by a wonderful world of beetles and city streets and funny little old men and wondering if I should throw myself in.
The Bone Sparrow tells the story of Subhi, a child born in an Australian refugee detention centre who has never been outside of the fence and his encounters with a girl from outside the camp, Jimmie. The developing friendship is captured beautifully and there is an element of magical realism to their meetings. For all that though, Zana Fraillon’s tale is firmly grounded in one of the terrible realities of our time: the global issue of displaced people and refugees. In a year of brilliant YA fiction, this book still manages to stand out. A heartbreaking, beautifully written, important work. The Fair Fight is a tale of female boxers in late 18th century England. It is written from three standpoints: Ruth, who has been a boxer from childhood, Lady Charlotte, a gentlewoman who lives a lonely life in the shadow of her brother and George, a spectacularly idle and immature character. Each of these characters is wonderfully realised and the way their paths intertwine is intriguing. Don’t be put off if you dislike boxing. Ultimately the main fight in Anna Freeman’s book is not what happens in the ring, but the struggles that people face around poverty, social class, race, gender and sexuality. Do read if you are a fan of the rich historical fiction of Sarah Waters. Yes, I am comparing this to the mighty Sarah Waters! A brilliant debut. What I’ll be reading in the Summer Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Mei Fong and Xin Ran, a long-time chronicler of Chinese life, have explored the effect of China’s single-child policy as the first generation raised under this rule reaches adulthood. The sociological impact has obviously been immense, but some of the consequences are unanticipated and truly shocking. Having been fortunate enough to have been at a talk by these amazing women earlier this year, I am very much looking forward to exploring One Child and Buy Me the Sky. Maggie O’Farrell is a brilliant writer who captures human relationships so well and her latest book This Must be the Place is set in beautiful Donegal. Jessie Burton’s debut The Miniaturist was a wonderful book and I’m hoping her new one, The Muse will be just as good. She gave an amazingly brave interview to the Observer about The Muse last month. Finally because Mr B promised me this is a perfect summer’s day read I’ve been holding off until the holidays, so here goes with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. [Ms Yates]
How have I never recommended Alexia Casale’s The Bone Dragon in any edition of the Bookworm so far? What is it about a good children’s book? What defines it? You can have a think about that one over the summer but for me I prefer children’s books to be a bit old-fashioned. I like the joy of descriptive writing, similes and metaphors to die for and tales that are larger than life. That’s why I love Frances Hardinge and Philip Reeve so much, and older authors like Alan Garner and Dianna Wynne Jones. The Bone Dragon is rare in that it looks back with relish to some of the classics of children’s fiction, especially those that have magical night time journeys like Tom’s Midnight Garden and Moondial giving me all of these pleasures but is incredibly up to date and relevant too, as its narrator Evie has suffered the most horrendous childhood trauma and abuse. Sometimes Bookwormers I go overboard with words like brilliant and amazing, I’ll admit it, but Casale’s skill at conveying emotions is almost overwhelming in its subtlety and craft, sensitive to the diverse array of body language, gestures and people’s tone that says so much about us. Some of you might find offence in the novel’s ending or feel that Casale pushes her readers too far. But what a book it is that dares to ask us to understand so much. A novella I have been giving to everyone this year is The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley. A confident young schoolgirl is in love with her teacher, a soldier injured in WW1, but when she learns more about him she has to grow up and face all manner of decisions. Truly weird, profound and unique, beautifully written, this is one my books of the year. Please read it. What I’ll be reading in the Summer I’ll be reading Alexia Casale’s second novel House of Windows over the summer. My fantasy reading is a little sporadic but I will finally read The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson which has been getting amazing reviews wherever you look. I loved Han Kang’s The Vegetarian so I will be reading her latest translated work Human Acts. Finally Ali Smith’s new novel Autumn is out in August. Whoop! Can’t wait. And I shall finally get round to reading Zadie Smith’s VW as her new novel is out in November.
We’ll be honest - the Swanshurst Library hive mind is NOT perfect. Yes, I know, it IS hard to believe! We are, most assuredly, an awesome mixture of cultural snobs, music lovers, terrifying cave-dwelling gingers, working class intellectuals and dissident supermodels (short ones admittedly) - this is still all true. BUT sometimes we miss the odd great book. This is often because we can’t afford to buy hardbacks and have to wait months or a year for the paperback to come out. And sometimes we rely too much on the books being pushed by publishers or those by established authors or those that we see on prize shortlists. So certain books - crossover novels, first novels, novels too weird, or radical or singular for prize judges to identify don’t get bought or read. But we catch up fast. End of year lists on genre blogs and websites are a good way to identify stuff: places like The Book Smugglers and Strange Horizons for example. So here are four great novels that we missed in 2015. Sarah Pinborough is a successful horror and thriller writer but has written YA fantasy under a pen name. The narrator of The Death House is Toby. He has been snatched away from his home and taken to a house on an island with other children. It seems they all have some kind of defective gene that will cause a monstrous illness before they reach 18. They have come to this house to die. And of course most of them don’t know how to cope except by shutting down their emotions, stifling hope, closing themselves off from others. Thankfully a newcomer gets sent to the house and helps the others, and especially Toby, to question the way they are behaving. The Death House is like a Shakespearian tragedy. I haven’t blubbed so much since reading A Monster Calls. It really is a fantastic book.
Archivist Wasp - weird title huh? This one is for fantasy fans perhaps. The story begins dramatically - each year Wasp is challenged by three acolytes who have been trained to replace her. She fights them and just about manages to defeat them but is badly injured. Archivist Wasp is set in a desolate and ritualistic land of poverty and despair where Wasp must hunt ghosts. She has to trap them and learn from them before she disposes of their essence for good. As her body begins to heal she must force herself out into the world to do her job, without showing the slightest weakness. Soon however she comes across a ghost that will change her life, her expectations and her understanding. The reader is introduced to a past where society began to fragment as corporations tried to create super soldiers to win their wars. The novel is well written, surreal and thought provoking. Claire North came to the Birmingham Waterstones a couple of months back to plug her excellent new novel The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Incredibly she published her first book when she was 16 and now knows another young woman who has achieved the same feat. She recommended Helena Coggan’s The Catalyst. It’s a tale set in a future with a society divided by those who can do magic and those that can’t. In other hands this could have been the same old mix of fantasy and dystopia but Coggan makes it complex, thrilling and very satisfying. And last but not least Shadowboxer. Tricia Sullivan is a fabulous writer who has previously won the Clarke Award. Here she produces a thrilling YA adventure about Jade, a feisty and troubled mixed martial artist who travels to Thailand and finds much more than she bargained for. Loads of action and Jade’s hard-edged, cheeky, vulnerable, courageous voice is brilliantly achieved by Sullivan. Loved it!
I give book and film recommendations out all the time. I’m lucky, it’s part of my job. BUT...I am the worst person in the world for accepting recommendations off others. If someone is plugging a favourite book or film I nod politely and feign interest but walk away, secretly trying to hide my cultural snobbishness, knowing full well that I probably wont read it or watch it. “Oh the new Adam Sandler comedy is good...ummmm, I’ll bear that in mind at the weekend” “Oooooh, Jodi Picoult, yeah, never read one, I must give her a go” And so on. Yes I know - I’m a horrible person! You didn't know this? (In my defence I am slightly better at taking on board music recommendations as past Swanshurst students will testify to) Luckily most of my friends know how I am and leave well alone. So how do I choose the books I read? Well I DO take notice of recommendations and reviews by authors, academics and critics I admire on blogs, Twitter, etc; I follow prize shortlists; I watch out for reviews at the Guardian, Strange Horizons etc. But I do take notice of recommendations still every now and then and I was certainly more open to them when I was younger, less informed and less grumpy. And I realise - thankfully - that I am probably in the minority. That most people are influenced by their friends and family, teachers, book groups and sometimes there’s a good story that goes along with it too. So, when I first came to Birmingham I lived and worked in Stechford as a volunteer. I was there to help a man who had had a diving accident aged 19, and was now paralysed, to live independently. I had a brilliant time, going on Disability Rights demonstrations, going on holiday, meeting loads of brilliant people and becoming friends with lots of volunteers who had helped out in previous years. One of them was Keith, a maths genius who had studied at Oxford and who was then doing his PHD in Germany. He introduced me to Edwardo Galeano the great Uruguayan novelist, journalist and activist and his Memory of Fire trilogy. Not only
are they great novels but they introduced me to the history and culture of South America in all its complexity. I recommend them, and all his work, wholeheartedly. Who else? Well I owe one of my English lecturers a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the short stories of Herman Melville and Katherine Anne Porter; a geezer called Jason, I seem to remember, who I met at Uni and encouraged me to watch ALL Werner Herzog films and old friends Esme and Lynne for introducing me to the writings of Malcolm X, Angela Davies and many more inspirational political activists. And recently? Our very own Ms Rosenbaum suggested I read Brothers by Booker winner Bernice Rubens. It’s a story about four generations of a Jewish family, beginning in Russia in 1825 and seeing members of the family settle in Germany Wales, Israel and as some return to Russia. It’s quite an old-fashioned realist novel in some respects but you learn a huge amount about the lives of Jewish people over the last two centuries and its incredibly compelling. I’ve just finished it and I enjoyed it immensely. You see, I’m not SUCH a bad person after all!
HUGE THANKS to Ms Yates who took to Twitter with a vengeance and we made the usual appeal to Swanshurst staff. Thanks to everyone who replied for giving us some great stories and some fabulous recommendations.
liya Whiteley, author of The Arrival of Missives: A friend recommended Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats. It made me think about how to put a message into a story. Great book.
arah McIntyre, illustrator and author: Aged 12 my Dad bought me Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Seemed a v grown-up book; I felt that meant he was taking me
lexia Casale, author of The Bone Dragon.
When I was 16, my mum gave me Anne Tyler's Celestial Navigation. Changed my life: did Psych. at Uni instead of English Lit so I could learn the types of things necessary to aspire to write that sort of book one day. Set me on v. diff. path. Also my mother's friend gave me Diana Wynne Jones Witch Week & Magicans of Caprona age 9/10 just as I started to read (I'm v. dyslexic) & started lifelong love of her work: helps remind me that imagination is as important as knowledge.
M Lockwood, author of The Selkies of
Scoresby Nab: Aged 13, new to an intimidatingly posh school, I was given Frankenstein Unbound (Aldiss) by an older girl. A challenge but having such a book filled with ideas stopped me feeling so 'little fish in a big pool'. r Black: The book recommended to me, by a friend in the year above me at school, that had the most profound effect is without doubt Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965. It’s basically a mix of The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, just set in space in the far distant future. That’s really simplifying it, I suppose, because it’s amazingly vast & complex, creating a whole galactic ecosystem of people and planets and laws, alongside ideas about technology, humanity and in no small part, ecology. It’s a very environmental story about a desert planet with a precious resource, the spice, which lots of corrupt people & politicians & corporations want to get their hands on, at the expense of natives trying to protect its secrets. It’s mystical, spiritual (without necessarily being religious as such), and diverse. It’s a very forwardthinking book about how different cultures must work together, come together, for a better humanity. What it did for me, as a young boy, was spark my imagination and cement my love of science-fiction and mythology. It made me want to be a writer, which I am in my spare time, and it’s still today my single favourite novel. Definitely worth reading!
. Colleen Jones, author of Dandelion Dan:
Madeleine L'Engle books starting with A Wrinkle in Time. I loved all the hard science and astronomy woven into the fiction. Hmm, I think I got it from the library when I was a kid. Not sure anyone recommended it to me. though Too long ago to remember!
arah Jasmon, author of The
Summer of Secrets: my grandma was the only family member other than me who loved reading. Although she died when I was quite young she left me with a love of Dickens (and a complete set!). Plus I remember being given Rumer Godden's The Diddakoi for my birthday, & her saying that Godden was a good writer. The Greengage Summer is still one of my favourite reads!
B Taylor, author of Where’s My Moon:
The Doomspell Trilogy by Cliff McNish I read them many years ago and just recommended them to my 9yo who is devouring them!
s Whittaker: One by Sarah Crossan:
Recommended by Ms Yates, this made an impression on me from the very start – not only because it was unusual to read a story written in free verse but also due to the serious, thought-provoking issues tackled from page one. As well as dealing with teen issues – who her latest crush is, annoying parents – Grace and her sister are about to start their first school. I was instantly engaged by Grace’s honest and emotive narrative; her courage and resilience caused me to question whether I would be able to be so happy if I were born into her situation – being a conjoined twin. I laughed, I cried, I was taken back to my teenage years and remembered fondly the emotions and challenges, mostly, I was in awe of this amazing character and her sister who lived as normally as possible in extraordinary circumstances. This book made me appreciate more than ever my healthy baby girl who will grow up to face these issues and hopefully be as courageous and resilient as Grace and Tippi.
laire North, author of The First Fifteen
Lives of Harry August: When I was 15, a friend lent me her copy of the complete Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. Taught me that it was a) ok to read graphic novels... ... and that b) stories could follow paths and pull twists of character, place and meaning that I'd never imagined.
athryn Evans, author of More of Me :
When I was around nine I picked up my first novel. It was on my dads book shelf and it had a picture of a rabbit on the front. I was curious because my dad is a big rugby playing bloke - why was he reading books about rabbits? He said, 'just read it.' So I did and it amazed me. It was about rabbits but it wasn't, it was about love and friendship and fear and war and life and every thing that mattered. That book was Watership Down and it was the first time I realised words on paper could reach into your heart and squeeze it dry. It truly stunned me.
F Said, author of Phoenix. My mum
recommended Watership Down to me when I was 8. That book changed my life. I wouldn't be a writer today without it! I wrote more about my experience of Watership Down here hope it's helpful!
obin Talley, author of Lies We Tell
Ourselves: A friend recommended This Side of Home by Renee Watson. It blew me away with its rich characters - they felt like people. I really knew, in a setting that was so vivid it might as well have been just down the street. Amazing writing achievement.
ames Smythe, author of The
Machine and Way Down Dark. I had MORT by Terry Pratchett recommended by a librarian. First of his I read. Sat in the library, did in one sitting!
ulie Mayhew, author of The Big Lie:
Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I took a twisty route to becoming a novelist and playwright. When I was a teenager I thought the only way you could earn a living as a writer was to work for a newspaper – so I decided to do a journalism degree. I quickly realised it wasn't quite the right path for me. While I was trying to write big, magical, emotional stories about everyday people, my lecturer was pushing me to write staid, practical, nuts-and-bolts articles about the new Bournemouth bypass. I had no way of explaining what I wanted to do. So when my husband gave me a Joan Didion collection of journalism called Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I had the hugest urge to hunt down my old university lecturer, if only to yell, "This! This is who I wanted to be!" As it was I found my own way to tell big, magical, emotional stories – through books and plays. But to any young person wanting to be a journalist, I would say read Joan's books. They show you what wonderful things you can achieve on the page when writing about the nuts-and-bolts of the real world.
assandra Clare, author of The Mortal
Instruments: I was recommended The Sorcerer and the Crown by Zen Cho because it was a witty historical with romance and the occasional kick in the teeth.
age Blackwood, author of Jinx: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, rec'd by a friend. Filled in many missing pieces I'd sensed in school.
isa Williamson, author of The Art of being
Normal: My year 7 English teacher reccommended Boy by Roald Dahl. I loved its dark humour & imagery. It made me want to tell stories.
s Merrick: A friend recommended
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones “because you're a teacher”. I wasn't expecting to like it but the story sets the horrors of war against a beautiful island and the innocence and creativity of children and I was incredibly moved. I was about six months pregnant at the time and on holiday in Barbados - being emotional, thinking of my unborn son and being on a beautiful island made the horrors of the book even more tragic and I remember being in tears at one point which is VERY unlike me.
s Wheeler: The summer after I did my
GCSEs I decided to read 2 of the others books that were recommended on the English Literature spec. One was Pride and Prejudice the other was All’s Quiet on the Western Front. I cannot say that I enjoyed reading it but it was very interesting and educational to read a novel from the German perspective. They say that history is written by the victors and I think this is very true. The German soldiers in WW1 were no different than ours and their experiences just as horrific.
al McDermid, living legend
and multiple prize-winning crime author. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, recommended by my English teacher Wilf Allsop opened my eyes to the glories of US crime fiction.
aureen Kincaid Speller, critic, editor
and writer: I was a very shy teenager who somehow found herself working on an archaeological dig one summer. Because I was very shy and everyone was older and more worldly than me, I didn’t say much and mostly sat in a corner and read my way through tea breaks and lunches. Which was fine as there was never enough reading time and I liked being around people even if I didn’t talk to them. I had discovered Lord of the Rings by this time, and was working my way through lots of fantasy and the Penguin Celtic myths, the Mabinogion, that kind of thing. Someone had evidently noticed, as one tea break, one of the archaeologists said to me “have you ever read Mervyn Peake? Titus Groan? Gormenghast? I think you’d like it” So I carefully wrote down the names and took myself off to the bookshop. I was, I remember, a little taken aback, as Titus Groan, I quickly realised, was the antithesis of all those epic fantasies id been working my way through. This took my a little while to digest - actually a lot of time - but in the end I realised something very important, that while I still loved LotR there were also other ways of dealing with the fantastic and that I was rather more drawn to them. Also, I’d found that I wasn't the only person who read this kind of thing, which was a revelation in itself!
R G M
obin Stevenson, author of The World Without Us: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, rec'd by my dad. Made me think about dangers of extremism and costs of
emma Malley, author of The
Declaration: My librarian recommended The Little Prince by Antoine de SaintExupéry. I loved it then and I love it now. It’s moving, thoughtful and matures with you.
s Haywood: Although it may seem
clichéd, my uncle recommended The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger when I was doing my A Levels. Whist the protagonist is male and suffers many of the identity crises often associated with the struggles young males go through, I found that the realistic and truly confused tone of the whole novel very reflective of my experiences of growing up and finding my place in the world. I found that ‘growing up’ is a real human problem faced by everyone (regardless of their background). I found solace in reading it in the knowledge that I was not alone. The inexplicable honesty of the novel is both humorous and aweinspiring.
r Stock My English teacher
recommended Something Happened by Joseph Heller to me, citing it ‘changed his life, probably for the worse.’ Indeed it is a dizzyingly depressing novel of realism in a family, but its sadness is surely also its success.
Resident film critic Khadija has now left Swanshurst. We wish her well in her new career as personal assistant to Colin Firth. Alas that means you’ll have to put up with me for this issue - luckily I’m slightly less grumpy AND I have better taste. It’s a win/win. So what are the best films of 2016 so far? The Witch, a brilliant feminist horror flick; Son of Saul, one of the greatest films about the Holocaust ever made; The Assassin, a martial arts classic from Taiwan; and Mustang, a beautiful, tender movie about sisters growing up in rural Turkey.
Theyâ€™ll all be in my Top 10 come the end of the year. Honourable mentions too for some of the Oscar bait that began the year - Room, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and Spotlight; for the coming of age comedy musical Sing Street; for two films by Italian directors I admire greatly even though they were not at their best: A Bigger Splash and Trust; for Tom Hiddleston in High Rise and, for all you western fans (looooool), try the weird, wonderful and VERY violent Bone Tomahawk.
It’s the summer kids - that time of year when you don’t get to see any interesting foreign or indie films because there are twenty million showings of the latest blockbuster. And what rubbish they are throwing at us this year as the summer has carried on where the spring finished more terrible, unappealing, mindless twaddle: Warcraft, Independence Day, The Legend of Tarzan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so on. Don’t waste your money girls—just say no!
Luckily Ghostbusters is funny and entertaining and I have high(ish) hopes for Suicide Squad and the new Bourne and Star Trek films too. If you’re lucky you might catch a showing of the new Pedro Almodovar movie Julieta or the Japanese hit Sweet Bean. Elsewhere Lights Out looks scary, Nine Lives might be funny and Morgan looks intriguing. Keep your fingers crossed and hope for some movie magic.
Swanshurst School's culture magazine featuring book and film reviews. For KS4 students, 6th formers, parents and staff
Published on Jul 22, 2016
Swanshurst School's culture magazine featuring book and film reviews. For KS4 students, 6th formers, parents and staff