Updated: Feb 27
Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart
A tough read for a January in Lockdown. Shuggie Bain is a tale of poverty, abuse and addiction, centred around the relationship between Shuggie and his substance-abusing mother, Agnes Bain. Stuart’s prose is limber, lyrical and tenderly crafted to capture, in excruciating detail, the realities of addiction. My reading experience? Well, I won’t lie, I did have to leave this book alone for a few days because, at times, it’s a grim reading experience. Even so, please read it – at once brutal and beautiful, Stuart’s first novel is truly outstanding.
English Pastoral, James Rebanks
I adored Rebanks’ first book The Shepherd’s Life and was delighted when English Pastoral appeared in my stocking last Christmas. Reflecting on his observations and experiences of how the ancient landscape and age-old rhythms of traditional farming life changed during his formative years, English Pastoral is an authentic portrayal of Rebanks’ personal journey to re-find, and re-found the traditions of the past. Though, at times, desperately sad, threaded throughout the narrative is a powerful sense of hope that, what was once lost, can be restored.
Young Adult Fiction
Vox, Christina Dalcher
I felt excited about this book and was looking forward to reading it with the Book Club I run at my school, but I was disappointed. The concept is clever: women are only entitled to speak 100 words a day, if they exceed this, they are punished, painfully. The plot drives the novel, but the prose was arduous and unrealistic. It’s a quick read and conceptually striking, but for me, that was about it.
7 Myths about Education, Daisy Christadoulou
As a teacher, of course, it’s only right for an education book to appear on my reading list every now and again. I’ve wanted to read this book for years, but it’s only because I’ve suddenly had more time than anticipated, that I’ve had a chance to sink my teeth into it. It is one of the best books, potentially the best book, I have ever read on education. Why? It’s sharp. Grounded in evidence as opposed to anecdote, it’s forensically detailed and highly assertive; I found myself fervently agreeing with her views. Though many would argue that her claims are bold in the way she daringly criticises the philosophical giants (Dewey, Friere, Rousseau) of educational reform whose theories lie at the heart of many teacher-training courses, Christadoulou is discerning and passionate in her argument that it is simply wrong to prioritise teaching ‘transferable skills’ over core knowledge. Knowledge is liberty she concludes, and she’s right.
Poem of the month
‘Winter’, Timothy Liu
How long will the bed that we made together
hold us there? Your stubbled cheeks grazed my skin
from evening to dawn, a cloud of scattered
particles now, islands of shaving foam
slowly spiraling down the drain, blood drops
stippling the water pink as I kiss
the back of your neck, our faces framed inside
a medicine cabinet mirror. The blade
of your hand carves a portal out of steam,
the two of us like boys behind frosted glass
who wave goodbye while a car shoves off
into winter. All that went unnoticed
till now — empty cups of coffee stacked up
in the sink, the neighborhood kids
up to their necks in mounds of autumn leaves.
How months on a kitchen calendar drop
like frozen flies, the flu season at its peak
followed by a train of magic-markered
xxx’s — nights we’d spend apart. Death must work
that way, a string of long distance calls
that only gets through to the sound of your voice
on our machine, my heart’s mute confession
screened out. How long before we turn away
from flowers altogether, your blind hand
reaching past our bedridden shoulders
to hit that digital alarm at delayed
intervals — till you shut it off completely.
It speaks for itself, really.