Monthly Archives: May 2014

Michael Gove- The Little Grey Man of Literature

Michael Gove- the little grey man of literature Image by new3dom3000 under creative commons

I tweeted a few days ago that Michael Gove’s reforms to the English GCSE curriculum reminded me of Putin’s Literary Canon pronouncements a few years back– nationalistic, narrow-minded and reductive. For anyone who hasn’t heard, the head of OCR’s head of GCSE and A-level reform claims that Michael Gove has personally intervened to ensure that where novels like Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird would have originally been studied, students will now be examined on a work of fiction or drama originating from the British Isles since 1914.

I am deeply concerned that the education secretary has been allowed to interfere in the English Literature curriculum without consultation with teachers and universities about this. There is no university department which teaches an English Literature degree without reference to writers from outside the UK, for the simple reason that literature is not something which is restricted by geographical borders- it is designed to challenge and breakdown barriers, not to reinforce them in such an arbitrary and mindless way.

And, to steal David Cameron’s favourite phrase, let us be perfectly clear, while there are plenty of students who could and would engage with the works of Jane Austen and Dickens, there are plenty of students who would find the language and volume of reading a struggle. Lower ability students will be penalised as they will require extra support to access the lexis, syntax and context of these novels in the limited contact time that they have with their teachers. So this latest reform will do to the novel what his plans to have primary school children learning and reciting poetry by rote will do- turn more and more students off Literature.

Students used to ask me why I chose to study English Lit at university- and I would tell them it was because I couldn’t decide what subject to study. When studied properly, literature allows you to study history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, politics, religion… it broadens the mind. That’s what worries me about this latest announcement, it’s so incredibly reductive it makes me wonder if Gove isn’t one of those little grey men from Michael Ende’s Momo, ripping the colour and fun out of education for every child in the country because they are at odds with his personal values.

Whatever he is, he’s a very dangerous man.

Lavender and Honey Candles

Lavender and honey candles

I’d really been enjoying the sunshine, being out in the garden with the smell of blossom and the buzzing of the bees as the days got warmer… and then the summer disappeared leaving me with rain and gloom. Since Jon is in Cambridge this weekend and the rain had me stuck in the house, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try making some tea cup candles and bring the feeling of summer indoors using beeswax and lavender essential oil for that summery feel.

These were really easy and turned out really well- all you need is beeswax, essential oil, wicks, tea cups and an old saucepan. The wicks, oil and wax pellets were relatively cheap online and the tea cups were a steal in local charity shops. The blue cup and saucer came to 40p earlier today and the pink tea cup and saucer were £1.50. I even got a new saucepan for £1.95 to melt my wax so that my pans didn’t get damaged.

 

tea cup candles step by step

 

 

1)      Measure out your wax, I found that to fill a tea cup I needed about two cups full of pellets.

2)      Set up a double boiler so that the wax doesn’t burn and allow your beeswax to melt slowly.

3)      Dip your wicks in the melted wax to coat them along the length, I used pennies to weight mine and ensure they were straight.

4)      When your wick is securely in place, take your wax off the heat (I added my lavender oil at this stage) give it a stir and pour into the cups.

5)      If your candle has dipped or cracked, add a little more melted wax to level it off before trimming your wick to a safe length.

6)      Hey presto, your candle is ready for lighting.

 

 

 

I am more than a little smug about these. I’ve really been enjoying lying on the sofa as they flicker in the corner. They’d be great presents or decorations at a tea party.

Hilarious quotes from book reviews

Following on from my old post about the best book Tumblr pages, I have come across this gem which takes funny(and often stupid) quotes from one star reviews around the internet and shares them along with the cover of the book in question. Some of my favourites include:

“This book reads like a series of Twitter posts by an arrogant alcoholic hanging around with his irresponsible alcoholic friends.” Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

“Where was Egor?” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

“This book not only ruined a week at the beach but also damaged my self-esteem.” James Joyce’s Ulysses

and

“Mr. Beowulf should be required to repeat his nighttime writer’s class at the learning annex.” Beowulf

Quote me on that… how the witch became wicked

how the witch became wicked gregory maguire

Adapted from original by MetaSarah

When I was little I never wanted to be a princess. I wanted to be a witch. I collected books about witches and wrote my own spell book. I have a really vivid memory from when I was about three of drawing a picture of a witch and feeling upset because my great-grandfather complimented me on drawing a beautiful princess… she was meant to be queen of the witches.

Maybe it’s as a result of this that I love the quotation from Wicked. Witches and villains are people too y’all, and who doesn’t love a complex fictional character?

A New York Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

a new york winters tale colin farrell jessica brown findlayIf you’d told me that I would consider not buying a book because it had Colin Farrell on the cover when I was thirteen, I would have told you that you were mad. Ballykissangel, Falling for a Dancer… I was young, leave me alone.

Anyway, it did nearly put me off buying a copy of A New York Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin which had been released with the poster from the new film, starring the aforementioned Colin Farrell (I’m over it) and Jessica Brown Findlay, but I was intrigued by the blurb which promised:

 

One night in New York, a city under siege by snow, Peter Lake attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks it is empty, the daughter of the house is home . . . Thus begins the affair between this Irish burglar and Beverly Penn, a young girl dying of consumption. It is a love so powerful that Peter will be driven to stop time and bring back the dead; A New York Winter’s Tale is the story of that extraordinary journey.

Who doesn’t like a love that defies death? But despite the blurb, that’s not really what you get. It’s more than that, and less than that. It builds to the point where you’re invested in the lovers, then spits them aside and moves on with the story. A bit like life I suppose.

Helprin is a fantastic writer and has created a vast and imaginative magic realist epic. The book is original, the writing nuanced and many of the minor character are more clearly realised than the main characters in the majority of the bestsellers you will find in bookshops. The problem for me that it slipped around between genres in a way that didn’t add to the story but detracted from it. Audrey Niffenegger showed us that you could have a masterful time-travelling love story, I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t have a time-travelling love story which leads to a quest, but for a reader to engage with a quest story they need to understand what the characters involved are hoping for, what they want or need to achieve. I loved the first three-quarters of this book, but it lost me towards the end as the characters began to run around in a desperate attempt to do something fuelled by a secret knowledge that the reader just didn’t share.

It’s a magical read for the most part, but the plotting towards the end was more than a little lacklustre.

 

Top 5 Castles in Fiction

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle

I’ve always wanted to live in a castle. It might be a by-product of reading too many books set in castles during my formative years, but I’ve always thought they were a more fitting setting for adventures. Especially if they have secret passageways. On the last bank holiday weekend, my boyfriend and I visited Raglan castle which got me thinking about my top 5 favourite castles in literature:

1) Godsend Castle- Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle

“I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic – two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud. I must admit that our home is an unreasonable place to live in. Yet I love it. The house itself was built in the time of Charles II, but it was damaged by Cromwell. The whole of our east wall was part of the castle; there are two round towers in it. The gatehouse is intact and a stretch of the old walls at their full height joins it to the house. And Belmotte Tower, all that remains of an even older castle, still stands on its mound close by. But I won’t attempt to describe our peculiar home fully until I can see more time ahead of me than I do now.”

2) Castle Dracula- Bram Stoker’s Dracula

“I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light,and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky. I must have been asleep, for certainly if I had been fully awake I must have noticed the approach of such a remarkable place. In the gloom the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches, it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is. I have not yet been able to see it by daylight.”

3) Hogwarts Castle- JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

“He missed Hogwarts so much it was like having a constant stomachache. He missed the castle, with its secret passageways and ghosts, his classes, … the mail arriving by owl, eating banquets in the Great Hall, sleeping in his four-poster bed in the tower dormitory, visiting the gamekeeper, Hagrid, in his cabin next to the Forbidden Forest in the grounds, and especially, Quidditch, the most popular sport in the wizarding world”

4) Cair Paravel- C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia

“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?”

5) Prince Humperdinck’s Castle- William Goldman’s The Princess Bride

Admittedly, not an obvious choice, but how many castles do you know that have a Zoo of Death filled with the most deadly animals on the planet? “The other thing about the Zoo was that it was underground. The Prince picked the spot himself, in the quietest, remotest corner of the castle grounds. And he decreed there were to be five levels, all with the proper needs for his individual enemies. On the first level, he put enemies of speed: wild dogs, cheetahs, hummingbirds. On the second level belonged the enemies of strength: anacondas and rhinos and crocodiles of over twenty feet. The third level was for poisoners: spitting cobras, jumping spiders, death bats galore. The fourth level was the kingdom of the most dangerous, the enemies of fear: the shrieking tarantula (the only spider capable of sound), the blood eagle (the only bird that thrived on human flesh), plus, in its own black pool, the sucking squid. Even the albino shivered during feeding time on the fourth level.”