Books of the Months – June and July 2012
Once again I’ve managed to lose a month in my chronicle of books read. So no further blathering, on with the post.
A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court and The Minority Council by Kate Griffin
This is a series, or sequence, of four urban fantasy novels set in London. They focus on formerly-dead sorcerer Matthew Swift, who has returned both more and less than human and seems to keep getting caught up in battles where the fate of London may be at stake. These are not nice books. Very few of the characters are particularly pleasant, and nasty things happen to lots of people. But the plots and ideas are intriguing, the allegiances of the various parties are never 100% predictable and although you rarely warm to any of the characters, you soon find yourself wanting to read more about them. I enjoyed the first two books a great deal, and the later two not quite so much, but I definitely thought they were worth reading and I’d certainly return to the world of Matthew Swift again, if only to read more about Kelly, a wonderful character introduced late in the series. I’m also intrigued to investigate the books written under the author’s real name, Catherine Webb.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
A darkly comic novel about a writer/professor who is pretty much washed up in all aspects of his life. It somehow manages to weave together a bizarre collection of characters and objects – a tuba, a boa constrictor, a dead dog and more – into a nightmarish weekend in which things go from awful to so much worse at a rapid pace. It has been filmed, but I don’t think I could bear to watch it – I’d need a cushion to hide behind to stop excessive cringing as the main character makes stupid mistake after stupid mistake.
A Man of Parts by David Lodge
June’s book group book and a bit of a disappointment. A novel about the fascinating H.G. Wells sounds like an excellent idea, and I had previously enjoyed Lodge’s novels about the fictional (but worryingly realistic) University of Rummidge. However, after a promising start, I soon went off this novel. There is far too much emphasis on Wells’ sex life for my liking and far too often the glimpses onto his political life and writing habits were cut short in order to focus on his bedroom. I’m sure this is fascinating for many people, but not for me. It did remind me that I’ve only ever read Wells’ ‘scientific romances’, though, so I’ll be tracking down some of his other works.
Active Learning Techniques for Librarians: Practical Examples by Andrew Walsh and Padma Inala
I have been wanted to develop the teaching sessions which I run in various ways, and one of these is that I want to vary the ways I involve the students in their learning. I already try to get them doing the things I’m trying to teach them as much as possible, but was looking for some ways to vary this. The book is, as the title implies, full of practical ideas for activities and lessons which involve much more than the students listening to or watching the librarian. Some involve web 2.0 tools, some involve the use of mobile technology and others are extremely low tech. I found the book really useful, bot just for the specific ideas it contains, but also to spur me on to think about other ways I can make information literacy learning more active.
The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett
July’s book group book, and this one was an absolute joy. Written in 1908, it is the story of two sisters who live very different lives, following them from childhood through to death. It is not a rip-roaring page-turner, but it is utterly absorbing, drawing you in to the two women’s lives and painting them as absolutely real people. They are simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, as are the events around them. The world changes, but in many ways they do not, and their stubborn pride is both exasperating and admirable. I wanted to savour every page and I am so glad it was suggested for the group. This is a remarkable book, and Arnold Bennett has now been added to the list of authors I need to read more of. A list which seems to get longer every month!
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This was a re-read, as I am about to start rehearsals for a new musical based on the story, playing Utterson, and wanted to remind myself of the original. It still holds up well, even if there is no longer any suspense at all about the ending. The morality of the tale is far from black and white. Indeed, it is rather unsettling to consider the concept of good versus evil in the context of this ‘case’. Is Jekyll really as ‘good’ as he would believe? I suspect this short book will continue to inspire film, theatre and television writers for many decades to come.
A bit of a mixture there, as ever, including two very different book group books. Without any shadow of a doubt, The Old Wives’ Tale is my pick of the month(s). It’s not an exciting read, it’s not a quick read, but it is the most rewarding novel I’ve read in quite some time.