Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book 11 – The Pigeon

“The Pigeon” by Patrick Süskind (Penguin, 1988)

“The Pigeon” is a novella about Jonathan Noel, a security guard at a bank in Paris who experiences an existential crisis when a pigeon appears in front of his apartment door, stopping him from moving freely to the bathroom at the end of the hall. The story takes place across one day, and follows how this seemingly insignificant event threatens Noel’s life and sanity. The pigeon of the title represents disorder, a notion of complete horror to Noel, who lives a meticulously organised existence.

It is one of my very favourite stories. One I have read many times. There are passages in the novella that still bring tears to my eyes, even though I have read it more often, probably, than any other book (except maybe “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Lorax”).

The reason I have read it 5 times in the last two weeks is because I am currently teaching it to my amazing year 11 class as part of a ‘critical study of text’ unit. And they are loving it. Earlier this week one of the boys said, “You know, Miss, this book reminds me of a play I saw called “Waiting for Godot”. They both really make you think about whether or not life is pointless.”

So, I don’t know how you spend your days, but, currently, I’m spending mine discussing existentialism and considering the complexity of absurdism. I bet you wish you were me.

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Book 10 – The Help

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett (2009)

Audio book narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer and Cassandra Campbell

My audio book choices seem to be guided by something different to my paper book choices. If I’m in a book shop I’m looking for the quirky, the unusual, the tucked away. But when I log on to audible there is something about the best seller list that just keeps jumping out at me in a way that has never happened in a shop.

“The Help” was another one of those ‘people who bought this, also bought that…’ ribbons across the bottom of the screen, this time when I purchased “The Rosie Effect”. I knew it was popular and I suspected I would enjoy it, so I ordered it without even reading the blurb. I don’t even know who I am anymore!

“The Help” is a book about a privileged white woman and two African American maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. It is about the tiny, creeping reality of civil rights in the deeply traditional, Deep South. Skeeter is the young, white writer, fresh home from college and disillusioned with the potential for her future, and Aibileen and Minny are the maids with whom she makes friends and writes a book. They are drawn together by the increasingly contradictory world in which they find themselves. And, against all odds, they join forces and develop a manuscript for a ‘sociological investigation’ into white and coloured relations in Mississippi.

Like a lot of the audio books I’ve enjoyed, this one worked well because of its narrators. One each for the three main characters who tell their stories first person in chapter chunks throughout the book. In addition, there is one chapter told by an omniscient narrator, which, to be honest, was a bit odd and didn’t really gel for me, although the logic was reasonable.

Strange as this might sound, this is one of a very few times where I am now very keen to watch the film that was made based on this novel, mostly to see if the characters look the way I have imagined them to look. I wasn’t all that impressed with the ending, though, so hopefully the Director of the film took some liberties to make it a bit more ‘Hollywood’.

Well worth a read or listen.

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Book 9 – House of Secrets

“House of Secrets” by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini (2013)

Yes, that’s right, Chris Columbus… the guy who wrote the screenplays for “Gremlins” and “The Goonies”, not to mention directing a couple of the Harry Potter movies. Like I was ever NOT going to read this book! Mind you, I had to find out it existed first. And the way I did that was by developing and delivering an extension reading unit to my top year 7 class last year. The unit was all about reading outside your comfort zone. Each student had to bring their favourite book and write about it and its genre, explaining why they loved the genre. Then, I paired everyone in the class up with a person who had brought a book from a (preferably significantly) different genre. The students then had to read their swap books and complete two tasks. The first task was a discussion in front of the class. First, the student who had brought the book had to explain why they brought it. Then, the new reader had to offer a review of the book and explain why they did or didn’t like it. Then they had to discuss their similar or differing responses. After that, each student had to make a promotional book trailer for the book they had read, even if they didn’t like it.

Two excellent things happened as a consequence of this unit. The first thing was that every student did an amazing job of every aspect of the unit. The second thing was that I got a new list of ‘must read’ books to add to my already loooooooong list. This book, “The House of Secrets” sounded especially appealing. As an added bonus, the student who brought the book in happily let me take it home over the holidays to read… but it took me a bit longer than that to get it finished. As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, I seem to be reading very slowly this year.

So, you’re probably wondering what the book is about. It is a story of 3 normal kids, living in San Francisco. Their names are Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor Walker and they are not very impressed when their parents buy Kristoff House, an especially creepy and strange house. They are even more concerned when a mysterious woman appears and demolishes it. She claims to be the “Wind Witch” and the daughter of the original owner of the house, Denver Kristoff. As if that isn’t bad enough, within the first couple of chapters, the Walker parents are apparently dead and the kids appear to have become characters in a novel written by Kristoff himself. Soon after, they are joined by one of the characters in the novel, Will, who is a member of the National Flying Corp from WWI. Things get even more confusing when they realise they are not stuck in one, but three novels! The Wind Witch promises to release their not actually dead parents if they retrieve a lost book and return it to her. And that’s where the real adventures begin…

I can totally see why kids love this book. And, of course, it’s a series, with a third book due to be published soon I think. It was a rollicking adventure with good characterisation and a fast-paced plot that kept you reading ‘just one more chapter’, but I don’t think I’ll bother with book 2. Great for the 8-12 age group.

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Book 8 – The Rosie Effect

“The Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion (2014)

Audio book narrated by Dan O’Grady

The sequel to “The Rosie Project” (Book 6, 2015), “The Rosie Effect” is a delightful journey through the next part of Don Tillman’s life. The tricky thing about reviewing a sequel is ruining anything from the first book for people who may have as yet unfulfilled plans to read them both.

As a reminder, this is what I said about the first book:

“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.

“The Rosie Effect” is a clever, engaging and entertaining book about the next part of Don’s life and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When you consider that sometimes it takes me 2 or 3 years to read the next book in a series or a sequel, even when I really, really want to, the fact that I immediately sourced and listened to this book should be a clear message about how enthusiastic I was to re-enter Don’s world. I encourage you all to read both books as soon as you can.

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