Archive for the ‘ Books & Comics ’ Category

New things


It’s a season of new things in the life of the Singing Librarian. Of course, January is often a season of the new for many people, but there is no deliberate New Year impetus here.

The first area of new things is in terms of reading (having accidentally abandoned my month-by-month review of what I’d been reading, regular readers may be reassured to know I haven’t given up on books!). I seem to be alternating my general diet of fiction with a little more fact, including books on librarianship, philosophy and language. I have always read such books, but I’m picking them up a little more frequently these days. My fiction diet has widened as well – during January, I have already read work by W. Somerset Maugham, Armistead Maupin and China Miéville for the first time. I really enjoyed all three, and have already begun raiding the library shelves for more by the last two.

The other area for newness is the area of education (which, I admit, does rather overlap with reading!). I am trying out some new things in the information literacy sessions I teach and I am expanding my own horizons in terms of professional development. I have signed up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from the University of Edinburgh entitled E-learning and Digital Cultures. This is a 5-week on-line course which starts next week, exploring on-line learning in a variety of interesting ways. As a number of the courses I support are taught at a distance and as almost all of ‘my’ students spend some time away from the university environment on placement, I am particularly interested in e-learning and what role (if any) it can play in the information literacy teaching and training I provide. I’m also interested in the concept of MOOCs as a whole, and doing one seems the most sensible way of understanding them. Enrolling on the course has already got me to sign up to Google+ for the first time.

I have also made plans to pursue a scheme at my workplace which would give me recognition for my contribution to learning and teaching and also, if successful, lead to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. This will require a lot of work, gathering evidence about what I do and how it contributes to higher education learning and teaching. It’s not going to be easy, but even if I am not successful, it will be worth pursuing, as it will force me to reflect on my professional work more than ever, and the required reading will teach me an awful lot as well.

In addition to all of this, I am trying to understand the world of Open Access publication of research, which has led me to read all sorts of interesting things.

So, new things. Time-consuming new things, at that! I’m still keeping up the old things, though, which means my time management skills will have to develop at a rate of knots…

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.

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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.

Books of the Month – May 2012


This has been a month where I haven’t really managed to read very much, and I’m not at all sure why. But what I have read has been worth reading.

Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn

Set on Fleet Street during the middle of the 20th century, this book is both highly amusing and rather sad.  It shows the newspaper industry at the end of it golden years, seen through the eyes of a few characters who work in an insignificant department, responsible for dreaming up crosswords and similarly cutting-edge parts of their publication (though they, of course, believe themselves to be dynamic journalists).  The characters are all deeply flawed, and Frayn draws them in such a way that you laugh at them, then are moved to feel sympathetic for them, even John Dyson, the pompous fool who is trying to make his name on television.  The disastrous press trip to the Persian Gulf which takes up much of the final few chapters of the book is a masterpiece of farcical writing.  An intriguing glimpse into a different time and world, this novel is decidedly worth reading.

Identity Theft by John Andrews

With the subtitle ‘Finding the missing person in you’, this is a Christian book about personal identity – both the general identity of a Christian as a child of God and individual identity.  This latter aspect is welcome, as a lot of Christian writing seems to imply that we are all turned out of the same mould and should be a homogeneous mass of identikit people.  This book sets out the reasons, both Biblical and otherwise, why this shouldn’t be the case, and encourages the readers to acknowledge both aspects of their identity.  I found the book challenging and encouraging, and have gone back to the beginning to read it again in the hope that I’ll actually remember what’s written here and live it out.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

This month’s book group book (though yet again I missed book group night).  I have seen the stage musical based on the book before and caught a mixed adaptation on television recently, but had never got round to reading it.  I didn’t find it one of Dickens’ best books, to be honest, though perhaps my feelings would have been different if he had finished the story before he died.  The chief problem is that the characters do not, for the most part, feel quite so vitally alive as his characters normally do.  Some of them, particularly Mrs Crisparkle and Durdles, are beautifully described, but there is a spark missing.  The big question of the book is this – what is the mystery?  Dickens made it clear in some letters that the obvious suspect is indeed the culprit, and all the clues are laid out quite clearly (for the reader if not for any of the characters yet).  So for me the mystery is how the guilty party will be brought to justice or who the disguised detective Dick Datchery really is (my money is on Bazzard, though that is again the obvious choice).  The mystery could be unravelled if everyone sat down and talked to each other, as each person holds a vital clue, but the likelihood of getting  such different people as Rosa Budd and Princess Puffer in the same room would be rather unlikely.  Reading Dickens is never a bad thing, but there are definitely better ones out there.  Oddly, leaving the novel midway doesn’t seem hugely frustrating.

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So not the most impressive list of reads this month.  In terms of impact, Identity Theft has been my most valued read, but Towards the End of the Morning wins in terms of enjoyment.

Books of the month(s) – March and April 2012


With apologies for missing a month, just in case there’s someone out there who has been waiting anxiously to find out what I’ve been reading recently.  Given that this post covers two months, it is surprising in some ways that it isn’t extraordinarily long.  On the other hand, the reason for that is one Monsieur Dumas.  So, in order of completion :

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Books of the month – February 2012


A smaller collection of books this month if you compare it to the January 2012 selection.  However, by the end of February, I was one third of the way through The Count of Monte Cristo as well.  That one really is going to take quite some time to finish!

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Why I love libraries


Today is National Libraries Day, a fairly new annual celebration of the UK’s many public libraries.  Though the future of many libraries is in doubt at the moment, they are definitely worth supporting and celebrating as an important part of life both locally and nationally.  Of course, it would be very easy to note that I’m biased, being a librarian, though from a different sector of the library world.  I should point out that I loved libraries long before I even considered working in one.  But why?

First and foremost, the books.  As I grew up, the library was able to feed my voracious appetite for reading, something which my parents would never have been able to afford to cope with had they had to pay for all the books I got through.  I read the lot.  The complete works of authors such as Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton (yes, even the stories set in girls’ schools!).  The Mary Poppins books.  The Jennings books.  Classic books like Kidnapped, Treasure Island and The Swiss Family Robinson.  And once I’d exhausted the area of the library dedicated to children, I started to raid the main shelves.  Agatha Christie.  Terry Pratchett.  Ngaio Marsh.  Plus the non-fiction, of course.  I had to learn about the world, and the resources that the library provided enabled me to read about the natural world, the arts and more.  These days, I buy a lot more books than I could ever have conceived of as a child, and have discovered many more authors and works which inspire me, but I still borrow from libraries.

Then there are librarians.  Generally not like the scary Madam Pince from the Harry Potter novels, though also not derring-doers like Buffy’s mentor Rupert Giles, I nonetheless respected and appreciated librarians in my youth.  They seemed to know so much, and were always helpful.  I now know that librarians do indeed know a lot of things, but their (our) greatest skill is the ability to find things out.  To know where to look to find the answer.  And no, even in the brave new world of information technology the answer isn’t always “look on Wikipedia” or “just Google it”.

Public libraries also offer a whole range of activities and services which I don’t make use of, but am glad exist.  They can be a major part of the social life of more vulnerable members of society – services like the mobile library allow books and perhaps more importantly people to reach members of the community who can’t get into the town centre.  Young children and their parents can socialise through storytimes or the intriguingly-named bounce and rhyme.  Then there are reading groups, the collections of talking books, the sessions for help with IT skills and much more.  All of these should be treasured and fostered.

Some people say libraries are irrelevant because everything’s online now.  Well, that’s not true.  Not everything is online, and even when it is, not everyone is able or willing to access it.  Even if you’re a believer in the idea that only the online is relevant, public libraries offer their members an increasing range of online resources, quality sources of information which they would otherwise have to pay for.  My local library service, for instance, provides access to biographical resources, sites for researching family history, an archive of classical music and selected services intended to help with homework.  Who, exactly, would provide all of this if it didn’t come from the library service.

I love libraries because they helped foster my love of the written word and encourage my curiosity.  I love libraries because they have wonderful staff.  I love libraries because their activities brighten the lives of many people in need.  And I love libraries because they have moved with the times, providing computing facilities, e-books and online reference resources.

Love them, visit them, support them – every day, but particularly today.

Books of the month – January 2012


I read a lot.  On the train, last thing at night, in lunch breaks or just when the opportunity arises, you will often find me with my head in a book.  It sometimes seems inconceivable that there are any books on my shelves which have not yet been read, but somehow there are.  Their ranks get topped up from time to time due to eye-catching titles in charity shops, exciting new publications or just general moments of weakness.  And then there are library books, whether from my place of employment or the public library (using the latter a lot more now, as they need the circulation statistics a lot more than university libraries do).  One of my goals for the year (in addition to sticking to my church’s scheme to read the Bible in a year) is to finish all those unread books, including one or two which were shamefully abandoned part way through.  However, of the books I finished during January, only two can claim to be from the “to be read” backlog.  So, what have I read?  Why did I read it?  And what did I think?

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Book of the moment: Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas cover

Cloud Atlas

Sometimes membership of a book group forces you to read something which you have been avoiding for whatever reason.  This can be a bad thing, or it can be a good thing.  In the case of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, it is a very, very good thing.  I had been avoiding the book because a great many people had told me I ought to read it, and such pronouncements often make me nervous, feeling (irrationally) that if I don’t enjoy the book I will be letting people down.  Well, everyone was right and I enjoyed it very much.

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Book of the moment: The Moon Pool


The Moon Pool

The cover of The Moon Pool, A. Merritt

Early science fiction bears little resemblance to the stories we would now class in the genre.  Decades before Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories or the birth of the Star Trek franchise, the genre began to take shape in the writings of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt, an author I had never heard of before picking up the book, sits alongside their works, bearing some similarities to proto-s.f. like Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but more closely resembling stories like King Solomon’s Mines with some scientific theories thrown in.  I picked up the book some time ago as part of a “3 for 2” deal, attracted by the fact that the latest reprint was inspired by The Moon Pool‘s apparent similarities to the TV show Lost, which I rather enjoyed.  This, coupled with an interest in the beginnings of the genre, was enough to inspire me to buy it.

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Arbitrary list of books


Well, I haven’t done one of these in a while, and having been tagged in a Facebook note thing with this particular variation of the meme and then seeing it come up on Reed’s blog with an interesting extra twist, I thought I would participate. 

A list of 100 books, which may or may not have come from Auntie BBC.  The idea is to put those you have read all the way through in bold, those you have read a bit of (like I read the first 1000 pages of Clarissa before giving up in sheer boredom) in italics, and put an asterisk after those you have seen adaptations of (I have included the stage as well as the variously-sized screens).

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen * [Big screen and small screen.  The BBC’s version wins hands down.]
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien * [Seen on screen and on stage.  The films are better than the musical.]
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte *
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling *
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible [I *think* I’ve read it all – I certainly did a ‘read the Bible in a year’ thing, though it took me nearly two years.  But as I can’t be certain I’ve really read every word, I went with italics.]
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare *
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald *
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams *
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll *
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame *
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens [I’ll finish it one day.  It still has the bookmark in it, though it is back on the bookshelf.  The same fate has happened to The Count of Monte Cristo.]
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis *
34 Emma -Jane Austen *
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen *
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis *
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne *
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell *
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown [Twice.  Why?]
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins [My favourite nineteenth-century novel.  So why didn’t I get around to seeing the musical?  Because the music I heard left me cold.]
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood *
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding *
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan *
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert [This is in the mountain of Books To Be Read].
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen *
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon [Read during West Side Story rehearsals – I wasn’t needed much during dance sessions.  What a magnificent book!]
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding *
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville [I have the cast recording of the very strange musical based on the book, but that’s as far as it goes.]
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens *
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker *
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett *
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson [Why haven’t I read this?  Hmmm.]
75 Ulysses – James Joyce [I’ve read Portrait…  That’s quite enough Joyce.]
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens * [I have seen so many adaptations.  The best one really is the Muppets one.]
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White *
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom [Hated this one.  Hated it.]
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * [I think I’ve read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, but most of it a long time ago.]
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton [She was on drugs when she wrote this, surely?  Weird stuff.]
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery [I have never seen an adaptation of this, but largely because I can’t see how you could adapt it without completely spoiling the book’s beauty.]
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams *
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shutwell
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas *
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare *
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl *
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo *

There are some puzzling things about the list – the Complete Works of Shakespeare are listed, but so is Hamlet as an individual work.  Likewise the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  But any list of 100 books will be somewhat, if not entirely, arbitrary.  How many books by the likes of Austen, Dickens and Hardy should be included?  What sort of balance between English, American and ‘foreign’ literature?  How about books written for children versus those for proper grown-up people?  How much genre fiction should be allowed in, and is there room for anything other than ‘the classics’, whatever they are?  Compiling lists of this type becomes more a question of what to leave out than what to leave in. 

So I have read just under half of the books on the list.  My reading displays, just like the last time I did something like this, surprising gaps.  Some of them are particularly shocking as they have been read by my book group, but at times when I was very busy and just skipped the books entirely.  I do very much want to read the rest of Jane Austen’s novels, as I have loved those that I have delved into.  And both Dune and Catch-22 have to be done, really.  But then, I clearly haven’t given French writers enough of a chance.  I have neither read any Hugo or Flaubert, nor finished anything by Dumas.  I’ve read quite a bit of Leroux, though.  Does that make it better?  Ultimately, I suppose, everyone likes different books.  There’s nothing wrong with Pratchett, or Jeffrey Archer, or even Mills and Boon as a choice of reading matter.  I just wish there was enough time to read everything I want to read.  Each book I finish leads to a quite agonising decision – what to read next?  Whatever I choose, there’s always a new world to explore.  You just can’t beat a good book.

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