Monthly Archives: April 2011

Day 19 – Your “comfort” book

A dirty secret here, but when I’m feeling tired and grumpy I eat junk food and read junk. Not junk as in trashy fiction books, that’s generally not a dirty secret for me, if the story is enjoyable I don’t mind what I read to much, so junk reading isn’t a book.

My junk reading usually takes the form of fashion magazines like Elle or Instyle (no Cosmpolitan in my house, the neologisms like sexpert make me angry).

What do you comfort read?

Day 18 – Favourite beginning scene in a book

I’ve already said that I think the best scene ever is the opening of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so I will give you my favourite opening line. Another Eugenides book, this time Middlesex.

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974

A fantastic book and definitely one to read if you haven’t already done so. I can’t wait for his next novel which I’ve heard is coming soon.

Day 17 – Favourite story or collection of stories

Tasty, yet versatile

My favourite short story is Lamb to The Slaughter by Roald Dahl. Mary Maloney is a devoted wife, expecting her first child when her husband, a policeman, blindsides her with the news that he is leaving her. She goes to prepare his dinner, but instead ends up bludgeoning him to death with a frozen leg of lamb before busying herself with notifying the authorities while concealing her role in the murder.

I love how quickly the story switches from Mary being the dutiful little housewife to a very effective murderess. The murder weapon she chooses completely subverts the role that society has cast her in as the woman who waits at home to make a home for her husband with no life outside of his influence. A very clever short story and great fun to read with students in school- they are always shocked and disgusted by how the murder is concealed.

Illustrating that it’s not just icicles which make easily disposable murder weapons, Lamb to The Slaughter makes me wonder if you could get away with this in our times of forensic science (if the lamb was packaged in plastic?). I may have to experiment the next time my boyfriend tells me his mother would have fed him by now 😉

Day 16 – Favorite poem or collection of poetry

Near impossible to choose again, but my favourite collection of poetry is probably Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. I like the slant she’s taken on traditionally male focused stories and imagined the stories of the women behind the men. Look out for Mrs Darwin, the shortest and quite probably the funniest.

My favourite poem in the collection is Anne Hathaway, which I taught my students at GCSE.What I especially like is that Duffy has taken the fact that Shakespeare left his second best bed to his wife, a statement which many historians have interpreted as meaning that Shakespeare didn’t love his wife, into a romantic gesture so that the bed becomes a symbol of their marriage and the passionate love affair which may have inspired his work.

I think that this is a collection of poems that even those who are quite wary of poetry can enjoy.

Top Five Eggs in Fiction

1) Humpty Dumpty Alice Through the Looking Glass

 “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

Possibly the most famous egg in fiction, Humpty’s contradictory nature is an endless source of amusement to me- I’m sure we’ve all met someone like him. As is the way Alice acquired him in the old sheep shop.

2) Hagrid ‘s Monster Eggs Harry Potter Series

As someone who is constantly getting in trouble for bringing unwanted animals home to look after, I do have some sympathy with Hagrid and his fetish for monster eggs which is an ongoing source of complication in the Harry Potter novels. From Aragog to Norbert, you’d think he’d learn!

3)12 Eggs City of Thieves

If I told you I’d kill you if you didn’t bring me a dozen eggs, you’d probably just pop to the supermarket. Even on Easter Sunday when the shops are closed (yeah, I forgot about that today…) you’d probably be able to get hold of some quite easily at a corner shop or similar. Not so easy for Jewish Lev and eccentric Kolya in David Benioff’s City of Thieves who are tasked with finding 12 eggs for the Colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake during the siege of Leningrad, forcing them into the path of Nazis, cannibals and intriguing female sharp shooters.

4) Billina’s Eggs Ozma of Oz

There are times when you’d imagine that a talking chicken might be a source of irritation, but not for Dorothy and her friends who are being turned into ornaments by the evil gnome king when trying to rescue the Royal family of Oz. Fortunate then that the one thing that gnomes fear most are hen’s eggs…

5) Green Eggs and Ham

I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I am.

Ah, but we all did. And so have countless children and adults all over the world.

Day 15 –Favourite book cover

A collection of short stories from the amazing Susannah Clarke

The picture of this book cover doesn’t really do it justice. Textured fabric book covers became popular around the time that this was released, but this was the first that I saw and bought and I thought it was amazing.

It’s a great collection of short stories from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. If you like clever takes on fairy tales and a witty writing style then these are books for you.

Dr Who on Libraries

You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have – arm yourselves!

I’m home for Easter and spent a pleasant day reading in the sun (without burning, whooo hoo, not easy with my colouring) before coming inside to settle down to a new series of Dr Who. Call me a geek (my boyfriend does on a daily basis) but I can’t help but love the Dr with his love of knowledge and adventure. Plus I love the quote about libraries from the David Tennant era.

Day 14 – Favourite character in a book

I’m going to pick two. The first, more serious, is Villanelle in The Passion. She’s a very spirited character and it seems that Venice in the novel is an extension of her character, the setting blurs so well with her back story. It’s interesting then that she continues to engage as a character away from this environment in later parts of the novel and I think the deepest exploration of sexual passion comes from her character, where as Henri’s character focuses on religious or devotional passion. It’s interesting to see how conflict in the novel around them mounts when these two types of passion unite.

My other favourite (and LOTR devotees may hate this) is Kreacher in the Harry Potter series. Yes I know he’s a bit of a Smeagol rip off, but I really do find him hilarious and cry laughing when I read about him. He’s the funniest part of the books for me, because I think that tragic characters can be funny.

Here’s a favourite episode in the book for me. I love the Weasley twins too but they can take it.

“Hello, Kreacher,” said Fred very loudly, closing the door with a snap.

The house-elf froze in his tracks, stopped muttering, and then gave a very pronounced and very unconvincing start of surprise.

“Kreacher did not see Young Master,” he said, turning around and bowing to Fred. Still facing the carpet, he added, perfectly audibly, “Nasty little brat of a blood traitor it is.”

“Sorry?” said George. “Didn’t catch that last bit.”

“Kreacher said nothing,” said the elf, with a second bow to George, adding in a clear undertone, “and there’s its twin, unnatural little beasts they are.”

Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or not.

I laughed. I cried laughing.

Day 13 – Favourite childhood book

My favourite books when I was about eleven were The Forbidden Game trilogy. My older sister read a lot of teen fiction and I would pretty much just pick up and read whatever I could find around the house if I couldn’t be bothered to walk to the library, so I ended up getting quite hooked on Point Horror books.

I remember my father picking up the first Forbidden Game book The Hunter at a scout fete bric a brac stall for me. What stood out where the eyes gazing out from the cover, as you can see in this cover art. In the books they are described as the blue at the centre of a flame, the blue when you press your fingers over your eyes when washing your face in the shower or electric blue. It was the first time I ever thought about the colour of electricity.

Jenny is walking in the rough part of town one day when she notices two men following her. She ducks into a shop to avoid them, and while there is sold a board game by an attractive young man with white hair and captivating blue eyes. She plays the game with her friends at a party, and they find themselves trapped inside a house, at the mercy of the young man from the shop- a Shadow Man who is in love with Jenny and wants to win her. The Hunt begins. In order to survive they must act out their worst nightmares and escape, but not everyone can make it out.

In The Chase, Julian the Shadow Man is back with a new game, Lambs and Monsters. One by one Jenny’s friends start disappearing until only Jenny is left to save them. She manages to track them down to the school canteen where they are being held, but in order to get out they have to walk through a wall of fire. Most manage it, but Jenny’s cousin and boyfriend are taken away to the shadow land.

The third book in the series The Kill sees Jenny and her friends break into The Shadow Land hoping to find their stolen friends. But they soon learn that Julian is kind and caring by the standards of the shadow men and there are more sinister forces at play in this game. Who will make it out alive? I remember buying the last two books in the series when I was in my last year of primary school and I had won £20 in a poetry competition. Reading the ending of the third book is the first time I can remember crying at a book, which shocked me at the time, that you could connect with a story that much.

I googled L. J. Smith to see if she had written anything since these books (I’d forgotten who wrote them if I’m honest) and found out what you probably all know, that she’s gone on to even greater success with The Vampire Diaries which I haven’t read. They seem to have rereleased the series for the new generation but the cover art sucks in comparison (pouty blonde devoid of any personality anyone?) Rumour has it that she’s going to write a sequel to The Forbidden Game. I’m not sure how she’d manage it but I’d love to read it if she does.

Day 12 – A book you’ve read more than five times

Like Nick Horby says, perfect.

The book that I have probably read more times than any other- countless times- is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck which I studied for my GCSE English Literature exam. If you haven’t read it then you absolutely must. It’s such a brief novel but is absolutely perfectly constructed. There is so much in such a brief novels and I think it speaks volumes about humanity.

From the opening of the novel to the very end, there is no lapse in the quality of the writing. The text is deceptively simple, you can read and appreciate the surface meaning and it’s still a fantastic book, but it has an incredibly rich subtext which makes it ideal to begin teaching about in depth literary analysis.

When I came to teach the GCSE Literature scheme of work to my own students I chose this novel as the set exam text. I think they loved it as much as I did. It breaks my heart every time.