During the past year many of us have turned to reading as part of our strategies to remain positive and constructive throughout the lockdowns, Reading has become as synonymous with lockdown as banana bread and 5k runs. So, for World Book Day this year we have focused on what the staff and pupils have been reading.
The School has always recognised the importance of adults sharing their own love of reading with pupils - demonstrating that reading is a lifelong habit and not confined to school days in the classroom. You may have noticed that staff often include what they are currently reading on their taglines in emails - I’ve found that this can lead to ‘instant’ recommendations throughout my working day and demonstrates to our pupils that reading is part of our lives. I am sure that many of us have been overwhelmed by the number of books that our Headmaster reads in parallel with his many other duties.
We have been sharing our ‘outstanding’ lockdown reads on Twitter over the last fortnight. You can read our lockdown book recommendations here. Our prefects have also been sharing their recommended reads on Instagram with books ranging from Stephen King to Jane Austen.
‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens.
Nominated by Mrs Howorth, Felsted Librarian
I will set the ball rolling with the most talked about during lockdown. Owen’s background as a wildlife scientist shines through in this murder/ mystery/ romance/ coming-of-age novel which seemed to resonate with so many of us during lockdown.
‘The Boy on the Shed’ by Paul Ferris
Nominated by Headmaster, Mr Townsend
Paul was the youngest ever goal scorer for Newcastle United, when he was brought over from Northern Ireland as a 16 year old, but due to repeated injuries, he never scored again for the club, and ended up forced out of the game before his 21st birthday. His childhood, brought up a catholic in a protestant area during the troubles in Northern Ireland is fascinating, and his journey from football protege, to down and out, to lawyer and physiotherapist is absolutely captivating. The best sports book I have read for a long time, and you don't have to be interested in football or sport to enjoy this.
‘21 lessons for the 21st Century’ by Yuval Noah Harari
Recommended by Mrs Smith, Head of Psychology
I think this is perfect at this time as it focuses on the future and unpicks aspects of life that we easily ignore. A good book to really make you think!
‘Bonheoffer’ by Eric Metaxas
Nominated by Mr McIlvenna, HM Gepp’s
A fantastic, historical account of Dietrich Bs life, portraying the internal struggle in Germany between the Nazi party and those opposed to it and trying to gather support to overthrow it. As present, is the struggle of a man's integrity and moral fibre between his faith and his decision to be involved with the assassination plot on Hitler.
Mr Mcllvenna also recommends, ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams
A wildly creative tale with no boundaries or norms. Marvellously non conforming to laws of grammar, physics or common sense. A real delight.
'Little Princes' by Conor Grennan
Recommended by Sophy Walker, Director of Marketing
This lockdown book took me to the streets and mountains of Nepal, where I learnt about the extremely challenging child trafficking situation and those doing all they can to care for and reunite families with their children. An inspiring and touching read.
Mr Thear (Music) recommends the following titles:
'The Overstory' by Richard Powers - One of the first books I finished in 2020 but the one I kept thinking back to, it left me with a new found view on trees and a broadened perspective on the way narrative can unfold.
Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace - Wallace's use of language and ability to draw interest out of the mundane fascinates me. These short stories contrast nicely to the behemoth that is Infinite Jest.
'The Starless Sea' by Erin Morgenstern - I just like the way she writes!
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver - These are about nature and wildlife on the northeast coast of the USA. The closest I've come to some much-needed travel and exploration over lockdown.
'Sweet Sorrow' by David Nicholls
Recommended by Mrs Johnson, SFL
This is a beautifully written book that shows a real understanding of the frustrations of being a teenager, finding unexpected friendships and falling in love for the first time. The characters are written so well that I felt an instant connection to them.
I loved this book from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone - especially teachers as they will find out what teenagers think when Shakespeare is set to rap music!
'Rebecca' by Daphne Du Maurier
Recommended by Ms Rose, Geography
I could not put it down! Absolutely perfect for the snowy days, It is such a good story and she is able to recreate places and a different time so well. It was sheer escapism.
It also reminded me that a good book is much better than the film !!
'A Promised Land' by Barack Obama
Recommended by Mr Crossley, English
How to choose just one of the 30-odd books I have read in the past 12 months? Here goes:
The book I STILL have not read is 'The Portrait of a Lady' by Henry James. I tried - for a third time - but even in lockdown, I could not wade past about p100 of this slowest of slow novels. The 700-page book I DID love was 'A Promised Land' by Barack Obama: an illuminating deep-dive into what happens in the White House. For those with more than a passing interest in politics, this is a great read. Warning: he has an irritating habit of describing everyone with a cheesy pen-portrait - "Tall, freckled and intelligent, with a moody stare, Marcia often picked me up on agricultural policy matters." And you need a few gym sessions to be able to hold the hardback version as you read.
'Underland' by Robert Macfarlane is an incredibly clever idea. He must have spent years researching this, given the sheer number of caves, mines and other subterranean places he takes you to. Macfarlane sweeps through the whole of human history and 10,000 years into the future as he visits many of the globe's most fascinating underground sites. Warning: at times, this book becomes so claustrophobic that I had to stop reading, remember to take another breath and gird myself, before continuing onwards and downwards with the writer.
'Step by Step: The Life in my Journeys' by Simon Reeve
Recommended by Mrs Stringer, Geography
A must read for anyone with a wanderlust, an interest in places (their warts and all) and most importantly a desire to learn about how far resilience, determination, passion and perseverance can take you. Many of us will know Simon Reeve for his amazing travel programmes and I thought I was his biggest fan but before reading this book I was not aware of his troubled childhood, his subsequent awe inspiring work ethic, his self taught expertise (sought out by world leaders post 9/11) on Al Qaeda, his meetings with world leaders nor his brushes with tropical diseases and bullets. Most of all his empathy with the people and places he comes into contact with is exceptional and is communicated with tenderness, is non judgmental but leaves us in awe of everyone he meets. After Simon Reeve’s careful handling of life in some of the most remote corners of the planet, I was left feeling like a very small cog of this enormous world but nonetheless knowing that we all mean something.
Hannibal Series by Ben Kane (Enemy of Rome, Fields of Blood and Clouds of War)
Recommended by Toby S, Yr 10
These historical fictional retellings of classical figures in ancient history are my favourite books at the moment. This is the second series of them I have read (Spartacus, also by Ben Kane was the first). This series is all about revenge (for the humiliation Hannibal suffered when beaten by Rome). It starts by giving the back stories to Hanno and Suni who will play major roles in the new war versus Rome in later books. Hanno and Suni as boys are captured by pirates, transported to an Italian slave market, one of the boys is sold as a gladiator, the other as a field slave. Their struggles to survive and become men shape them for the future battle to come. As Gladiator is one of my favourite films I really enjoyed the overlap in the historical retellings of these books and the film.
‘On the Beach’ by Nevil Shute
Recommended by Luke S, Yr 12
This book is about a post-apocalyptic world after a nuclear bomb. It is set in Melbourne, Australia and as it was written in the 1950’s (before the cold war between the USA and Russia that caused all of the nuclear concern) it was ahead of its time. Nuclear fallout is making its way to Australia from the wars and conflicts in Europe and the subsequent NATO attack on Russia. The book details how the people prepare for it including taking government hand outs of suicide pills. This book was interesting because it shows how concerned the world was even in the 1950s about the prospect of a 3rd world war with multilateral nuclear destruction. It also did not try and venture down a path of anyone saving the world or managing to rectify the situation. The sad truth depicted in the book is that full blown nuclear attacks would largely destroy the world.
‘How to Raise an Elephant’ by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended by Mr Stringer, Head of Courtauld House
As always I really enjoyed reading the latest installment of Mma Ramotswe's No 1 Ladies Detective Agency where, as normal, not a lot happened very slowly in a wonderfully reassuring manner. A perfect antidote to the pressures of online working! With Botswana life moving slowly as usual, probably but not totally down to the great heat, family matters, bickering neighbours and a baby elephant are all conundrums in this book. Using these events, McCall Smith once again manages to commentate on all aspects of human behaviour dishing up the usual good sense. In the end, Precious Raomotswe is reminded of the need to view a picture from every angle, to accept the imperfections in people and situations, and then find a solution - preferably over a delicious slice of her friend Mma Potokwani's fruit cake. There is no better advice than that! I must admit I also enjoy the Scotland Street Series by the same author which follows a similar pattern!
‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
Recommended by Amy Williams, Marketing
A book I read before lockdown, but would make a perfect lockdown read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where I’ve championed the title character more. It gives a really powerful insight into loneliness at a stage of life where this is not commonly considered an issue and despite some dark and difficult themes, there’s a real warmth to the story. It really shows the importance of kindness and reaching out to those around you.
‘The Air You Breathe’ by Frances Pontes Peebles
Recommended by Mrs Predebon, Head of English and Media Studies
If you’re looking to escape to more exotic climates, this book has everything: following the lives of Graça and Dores as they grow, it takes you from the sugar plantations of rural Brazil in the 1930s, to the harsh streets of Lapa and then on to the sparkling Los Angeles where they reach adulthood and their friendship is put to the test. The description of Samba is truly evocative and the tragedy is gut-wrenching. I switched between the Audible and Kindle versions of this - I definitely recommend the audiobook to give an authentic feel to the Brazilian names. Miss Stuchfield and Mrs Sloman read this at the same time and we enjoyed debriefing over a virtual cuppa afterwards.