And so, another six week summer holiday has come to an end, one in which I’ve consumed some really engaging, challenging and thought-provoking books. I’ve added lots of non-fiction into my diet, as well as making a conscious effort to read beyond the middle-class white men (some dead, some very much alive) that tend to monopolise my bookshelves. Both of which have been really positive; so here’s what I’ve managed to read since the end of July, in chronological order:
Simon Armitage, Walking Home – I’m a huge fan of Armitage’s poetry (some of which I teach in class; he’s also a poet worth seeing live), and his prose is pretty good as well. This travel book describes Armitage walking the Pennine Way backwards, ending his journey in Yorkshire close to where he grew up. I bought this to take on holiday, dipping in and out of it all week, and it didn’t disappoint. Charming, sad and funny.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse – Interesting. Whilst I don’t think Woolf and I will ever be best friends, I enjoyed To The Lighthouse, in particular its structure and Woolf’s use of multiple viewpoints – which is commonplace now but must originally have felt revolutionary. Someone on Twitter also recommended her essay A Room of One’s Own, and as I’m a sucker for books about writing I’ll be sure to stick that on my reading list.
Naomi Alderman, The Power – how would the world be different if women suddenly developed a lethal power? This is the question Alderman attempts to answer in The Power, a globe trotting thrill-ride that has some witty and vital things to say about gender. Full review here.
Akala, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire – A massively thought-provoking study of the links between racial and class discrimination in the UK. Too much to squeeze into a review, the most powerful sections described Akala’s own schooling, and its links to contemporary educational inequalities. My copy came from the library, but I’ll be buying one when it comes out in paperback – and I can’t think of any higher recommendation than that.
Ed McBain, The Heckler – book 12 in McBain’s epic 87th Precinct series, and one of the best so far. It felt great to be back in the company of a writer who has meant so much to me during my reading life. You can read my full review here; with the next five books in the series now bought, I’m looking forward to returning to McBain very soon.
Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep – probably one of the best popular science books I’ve ever read, and on a subject very close to my heart. Walker’s writing is engaging, even when he is talking about complex neuroscience, and he’s certainly made me reconsider my relationship with sleep. Full review here.
Anthony McGowan, The Knife that Killed Me – I read this for school as I’ll shortly be teaching it to Year 9. I think they’ll enjoy it, a story of violence, love and friendship set in and around a secondary school. I’m looking forward to seeing how my class react to some of the issues McGowan raises, and how I tackle them in my teaching.
Stav Sherez, The Intrusions – This book won the CWA Crime Novel of the Year award, and I’m not surprised. It’s a wholly modern police procedural, one which opened my eyes to the dangers that exist both on- and off-line. Highly recommended. Full review here.
Georges Simenon, The Accomplices – one of Simenon’s non-Maigret romans durs, or ‘hard’ novels, and a compelling, uncomfortable study of guilt and sexual obsession set in small-town France. Full review to follow.
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex – are men and women really so different? In a witty, expertly researched book, Fine goes after the myth that ‘boys will be boys’, and that testosterone is solely responsible for how men behave. I could feel my brain expanding whilst reading this, which is always a good sign; and there was lots of food for though for my own practice as a teacher. Full review to follow.
Darren McGarvey, Poverty Safari – not the sort of book to lift one’s heart a week before going back to school, but important reading nevertheless. McGarvey uses his own impoverished and violent upbringing to try and shed light on poverty, and why it is allowed to persist – partly, in McGarvey’s view, it is down to the ‘poverty industry’. Grim, but worth persisting with for the passion and optimism that finally filters through.
That’s what I’ve been doing with much of my spare time over the last six weeks. What have you been enjoying recently?