As St. Swinthuns’ Day approaches and the weather remains unsettled, my dreams of lazing on Southsea beach with a selection of books looks ever-unlikely. Maybe, instead, a coffee shop will have to provide my summer reading venue, in the absence of blazing sunshine.
First on my list in a book by modern feminist activist Laura Bates, Girl Up! I have to confess that I have actually almost finished this book, but thought it was worth a mention. Girl Up! is intended as a sort of manual or handbook to life as a young female in the 21st Century, offering a mixture of anecdotes, statistics and practical advice to surviving sexist pitfalls online, at work, at school, in the media, and just walking down the street. The title is a take on the language that dominates our culture in presenting masculinity as dominant and femininity as submissive: “grow a pair”, “alpha male” and, of course, “man up.” This would be a great book for those from Year 9 upwards, girls and boys, who care about challenging gender inequality in society and believe that gender stereotyping has the potential to hurt and limit everyone.
My next book on the list is Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig; this is one off the staff summer reading list, and deals with one man’s personal battle with mental health issues. Another book that made the staff summer reading list is Will Storr’s Heretics. My wonderful PRS colleague Jo Morgan dumped a copy of this on my desk just before she went on Sabbatical, with the instruction “Read this! I can’t stop thinking about it and I need someone to talk about it with!” I may have been a little slack in reading it, but I will get around to it over the summer.
This list is very non-fiction heavy, so I might also choose some fiction to read from the list of suggestions by my colleagues here. My final two selections continue in that vein, and are both books that my Year 13 A Level class bought me as parting gifts following our two years together. Bad jokes and puns being a speciality of mine, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… , a philosophical joke book, seemed like an obvious choice to keep me supplied with enough ammunition (I’m hoping) for the remainder of my career. I’m also very excited to get my hands on Paola Tingli’s Women in Italian Renaissance Art, which has a dedicated chapter to the depiction of female Saints. Thanks a lot, Year 13! You clearly know me very well by now!
I’m currently reading Mary Beard’s SPQR for the wholly unoriginal reason that I enjoyed her TV series and I have enjoyed the Robert Harris novels about Cicero. I thought that I ought to know a little more Roman history.
With regard to novels, I’ve just started The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It was quite well reviewed in The Tablet and it’s set in the late nineteenth century, my favourite period. When I’ve finished this, I intend reading Joseph O’Connor’s “Ghostlight” and Elena Ferrante’s “Story of The Lost Child.” Again, there’s no great depth of thought behind my choices other than O’Connor being an Irish writer I admire,, Ferrante an Italian, and my two most recent trips have been to Dublin and Naples.
I’ll also be reading Patrick Joyce’s “State of Freedom” and Ciaran O’Neill’s “ Catholics of Consequence” to see what they have to say about the part played by public schools in the formation of British elites.
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I have thoroughly enjoyed everything of his which I have read. In fact, he has written what are probably my two favourite books. This novel was recommended by a former pupil but I haven’t got around to reading it yet.
Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning – Brown, Roediger & McDaniel. I have just started reading this. It is a fascinating book combining the psychology research behind how we learn and linking this research to clear examples from different professions and areas of life of what leads to effective learning and how this differs from what most students (and some teachers believe).
Stalin's Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess – Andrew Lownie. A biography of Guy Burgess, I don't want to pre-judge him too much, but by all accounts a flawed character whose actions lead to untold damage to British Intelligence and to many vulnerable individuals through the height of the Cold War.