My prize for ‘person of 2017’ goes to Sarah Cullen: colleague, friend, flatmate and so much more. She recommended about half of the below selection for me to read. This one is aimed at KS3 readers, and I’ve told every teacher I know about it. Told from the perspective of a year 6 boy, it evokes the way children can do bad things just to be in with the ‘cool kids.’ A wonderful cautionary tale that every year 7 should have read.
I’m so lucky to be surrounded by reading colleagues. Dani Quinn has to be the best-read Head of Maths in the country (contenders on a postcard please), and this was a very thoughtful birthday present from her. I adored it: it reads like a university lecture made accessible; a contemplation of literature and art which feels both gritty and realist while at the same time intellectual and whimsical.
Another recommendation from Sarah, this is most definitely the reading equivalent of Ready Brek – warming, unchallenging, but somehow with a grain of good in there too. It is about a woman who loses her memory, and is learning how she has changed over the past 10 years. It’s a great one to prompt reflection. I read it partly on a train packed with hammered football supporters, one of whom said: ‘what’s that? Oh – hardly great fiction is it love?’ Well, perhaps no; but it was a really comforting read. And sometimes that is exactly what we need.
I’ve loved everything Zadie Smith has written, and this was no exception. I especially loved the trajectories of two friends and how their lives went in such wildly different directions. It was uncomfortably familiar to read the way you want to preserve that friendship for the sake of how long it has gone on, but still find it almost painful to persevere in it. The ending was surprisingly philosophical.
My favourite book of 2017, Barnes’ novel follows the fictional life of Shostakovich, drawing on real examples of his life dogged by the Soviet authorities. A horrifying sense of what life in an authoritarian state looks like, combined with beautiful observations about classical music.
An old line manager of mine told me to read Hamilton’s ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky,’ and so I knew I would love ‘Hangover Square.’ The two books are quite unlike one another, however; ‘Hangover Square’ is a comedy of indecision and inaction. It is worth reading this entire book for the final two or three lines which are just superb (do not skip to the end, though – they make no sense out of context!).
Another Cullen read: I adored this tale of a young woman trying to make her way in a new city, new career, and with new loves. Melissa Bank has a wonderful way of making you feel like you know every character of her books intimately, including the ones who are barely in the book at all. Bank has this marvellous way of dropping in the perfectly chosen detail to make you feel like you’re reading a true story.
Stegner’s style is like Steinbeck meets Walt Whitman: a roaring story told in beautiful prose. This book felt like a dreamscape, but it had moments of harsh clarity. This book also felt enduring, like the best classics do – it contained eternal truths beautifully phrased. I’m not sure why modern books don’t usually do this.
A familiar-feeling account of modern life for a girl, following her from school to adult life, and full of astute observations and ‘this is so me’ moments for female readers. A fun read, but one which stays with you.
Set in New York at the turn of the century, fact and fiction collide in this gorgeous account of all of human life. Doctorow draws the central characters with such depth and emotion, and the novel feels so realistic I looked up pretty much every character after reading to be absolutely sure which were drawn from real life, as they all seemed so believable.
My colleague Lia Martin told me to read this when I was feeling low, and it absolutely restored my mind. The story of a (very well-read) surgeon who is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour doesn’t sound very uplifting, but I promise you, through the tears comes a sense of hope, joy and purpose.
Receiving feedback is one of the hardest things about being human, whether it is from friends, colleagues, or partners. This fantastic book considers the best way to deliver feedback, and the best way to accept from it and learn from it. All leaders in all organisations would benefit from reading this.
A colleague from a past school recommended this, and Chris Fairbairn, Head at Totteridge Academy, has used this with his leadership team to create an astonishing pace of change in his school. The simple message at the heart of this book is to build a great team, create clarity around aims, and communicate (and over-communicate) that clarity; but the book is worth reading for the fine grain detail.
Reading resolution re-boot
In 2017 I went off the rails a bit reading-wise. Before, I was very strict with myself in reading one children’s book, one adult fiction book, and one non-fiction book. In 2017, I pretty much ‘comfort read’ for the entire year. Let 2018 be the year of getting back to a more healthy regime!