Monthly Archives: February 2015

Book 7 – To Kill a Mockingbird

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee (1960)

Audio book narrated by Sissy Spacek

The first time I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I was somewhere around 15. Only tonight I had a conversation about how memory is a funny thing. My memory of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was certainly flawed. A teenager’s values retained the court case, and the injustice, but not the bulk of the book, about the Finch family and the comings and goings of Maycomb County.

On the off chance that someone reading this blog has not read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, it is a book set in the 1930s, in the deep south of America. It is the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and single father, and his two children, Scout and Jem. Scout narrates the story, which gives the tale a childlike innocence. It is an exploration of a three year period and explores the ideas of race, gender and class. And it tells the story through a lense of compassion and tolerance.

My teen recall had the bulk of the book being about Atticus defending the negro, Tom Robinson, against charges of rape. In reality, that event is only a small part of the story. I also had no clear memory of the ending, and thought that the events which do occur at the end were going to happen much sooner.

I was inspired to listen to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because of recent news that the sequel is to be published this year. What a pity to think that Harper Lee’s sister protected her for more than 70 years, and now, since the sister’s death a few months ago, that protection is gone and the book is to be revealed. There must be a very good reason for it not to have been released all this time. And it is on the record that Harper Lee is not mentally competent enough to approve of the decision. I don’t know whether or not to read it when it is published… I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Interestingly, most of my colleagues love to teach the book. In my ten years of teaching I’ve never considered it, and now that I’ve read it again I am sure that I never would. It’s not that I don’t see the value in it as a teaching text. I certainly do. But there are so many wonderful Australian books with the same message that I think I would always be able to choose a more contextually relevant book for my class room.

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Book 6 – The Rosie Project

“The Rosie Project” by Graeme C Simsion (2013)

I finally got my act together and signed up for audible.com last month (thanks for showing me how, Damian). For joining I got a free audio book and for some reason I immediately clicked on a suggested book (which I never do). The whole, “people who looked at that, also looked at this…” thing or “based on your search, we think you would like this..” thing has always been so flawed as to be useless, in my opinion. Usually, I find it is the same with any “best seller” list. However, there was something about the cover and title of this book, staring at me from the screen as soon as I signed up, that seemed so familiar as to be appealing. With hindsight, I have no idea why it drew me, because I had absolutely no clue what the book was about as I started listening. It could, quite possibly, be the first time I have ever read (ok, listened to) a book that I had not read a single word about before I began.

Best rash decision EVER!

“The Rosie Project” is a delightful novel about geneticist, Don Tillman, who is undoubtedly brilliant, but also, well, socially awkward, to say the least. At 39, he has decided it is time to find a wife. And, like every other problem he needs to solve, he sets about methodically conducting research, and through a meticulous and flawless elimination process, identifying the appropriate candidate for the role.

Thanks to a bit of a mix up and some meddling by Don’s best friend, Gene, Rosie arrives in Don’s life. And while he quickly discounts her as wife material, he can’t help but become more and more involved in her life.

While Don is busy looking for a life commitment in the results of his survey, love sneaks up on him and asks him to question everything he values in his life.

This is the third book in a row that I have really enjoyed. It was a long dry spell, but the last few weeks of reading and listening have been such a joy. I can’t recommend “The Rosie Project” enough. It is a fine example of very clever writing and heart warming character development. Yes. You should read it. I’m off to download the sequel, “The Rosie Effect”.

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Book 5 – Sarah Thornhill

“Sarah Thornhill” by Kate Grenville (2011)

Long before I was writing this blog I read Kate Grenville’s award winning book “The Secret River” (2005). And even though it’s a confronting book that explores an ugly truth about Australia’s colonisation, it is a truly exquisite book. Grenville is a real artist. Especially with regard to the way she writes landscape and the emotional connection to land that is inspired by our brutal but beautiful country.

Browsing for new audio books over the Christmas break, I realised that Grenville had written a sequel to “The Secret River” and knew that I needed to read it.

It wasn’t until I was back in the routine of driving to work each day, last week, that I started listening to “Sarah Thornhill”. And for the first time in more than a year, I was engrossed in a book that drew me back when I couldn’t be with it. So much so that I chose to drive the long way to work and home every day this week, just so I could spend the extra ten minutes listening each way. Today, when I got home, there were 32 minutes left, so the dog got an extra long walk and the book was finished. And I will miss it…

“The Secret River” is a book about William Thornhill, a convict who makes good in his harsh new home, and settles with his family on property on the Hawkesbury River. But he makes some dark and nasty decisions in order to be the success he is so determined to be and in “Sarah Thornhill” his daughter finds out that nothing can stay a secret forever.

My views on Grenville’s skill as a writer are confirmed and built upon with this book. The characters are strong and believable. The descriptive language is evocative and powerful. The action is engaging and confronting.

At its core, this book is a love story. But it is also a continuation of the story of the building of a nation from nothing solid, and perhaps too much darkness of soul and nastiness of spirit. Read them both. They are darkly beautiful tales.

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Book 4 – Slake’s Limbo

“Slake’s Limbo” by Felice Holman (1974)

I never would have read this book… but then, last week, one of the teachers in my faculty, Bruno, asked me to try to get new copies of an old book that he loves to teach. The copies we have are falling apart from age and overuse. The book supplier must have laughed… “long since out of print” she wrote, as if we were mad to ask for it.

And then, two really cool things happened. The first cool thing was that I decided to post on Facebook (on the English Teachers Association group page) that I was looking for copies of the book to buy or swap. That maybe someone, somewhere, had a class set gathering dust at the back of their book room. The response was twice as awesome as I had hoped and soon we will have 60 new copies, all in excellent condition. And both schools who are being so generous want nothing in return. Happy to help a passionate teacher continue teaching a book he loves. It’s a nice feeling, being the recipient of kindness…

The second cool thing was that when I gave Bruno the good news, he said, “Well, now you need to see what all the fuss is about.” He bent to pick up a tattered copy from beside his desk, thrust the book into my hands and said, “Go on, read it, see why I love it.”

And so I did. On Wednesday, while year 12 were analysing a poem, yesterday, during an extra period, while year 8 waded through their Science textbooks, and, finally, today, while year 11 wrote me essays, with the last two pages being read after they’d left, during recess, instead of going to the staff room and making a coffee…

“Slake’s Limbo” is a short and engaging young adult novel about a boy, Aremis Slake, who runs away from home to live in the New York City subway tunnels. He finds a way to stop from starving and over time, makes a few friends, of a sort. And, interspersed through the novel about Slake, there is another story, about Willis Joe Whinny, who drives the trains and dreams of a better life, herding sheep in Australia.

I can honestly say that it’s been a long time between drinks as far as a really inspiring and genuinely beautiful novel goes. The whole time I was reading this book, I was imagining the kinds of lessons I could design. Predictions, alternative action, creative tasks, writing to the characters, and so much more – and such a rich text for analysis, with perspective, character development, descriptive language – I could go on and on. This is a beautiful book. Simple, but powerful. I totally understand now why Bruno can’t let it go.

And now that there are 60 fresh copies on their way to us, I look forward to teaching it myself.

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Book 3 – Anne of Avonlea

“Anne of Avonlea” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

They say slow and steady wins the race but all I can say is I’m glad I’m not in a book reading race this year. Hard to believe I’ve only finished 3 books so far. Normally, January is a very prolific month for me. But there are just so many other fun things to do with my days!

“Anne of Avonlea” is the second book in the Anne series, following on from “Anne of Green Gables”. It was written in 1909 and covers the period when Anne is 16-18 years old. Just like “Anne of Green Gables”, “Anne of Avonlea” is a gentle and joyful book that tells the story of Anne’s two years as school teacher in Avonlea and, along with Marilla, carer to twins, Davey and Dora.

It is Davey who provided a laugh-out-loud moment for me, while listening and walking in the bush a couple of weeks ago. He asked Anne if there was going to be all sorts of different jams in heaven or just the one kind every day. Anne, of course, was quite perplexed. Where did he get this idea from? He explained that Marilla had told him so, in the catechism the week before. Anne was adamant, he must have misunderstood. No, he explained, it was quite clear. Marilla told him – “God makes preserves and keeps us.” What ensued was a long lesson on the importance of commas. It still makes me giggle, whenever I think about it.

So, if you like the thought of reading books where characters say things like, “if you could see a kiss, I think it would look like a violet” then this is the series for you. Mind you, I’m probably the only person I know who hasn’t already read these books!

I’m off now, to download book 3, “Anne of the Island”, in which Anne heads off to college, along with Gilbert, who she has finally realised she quite likes… Happy reading.

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