Top Reads of 2021

2021, like the year preceding it, was very much a year of reading and doing very little else. Shamefully for me, it was not a year of writing blog posts – this is my first post since last year’s round up of top reads. I did, however, edit my book, Culture Rules, during those several locked down holidays and weekends. Have a read!

Non-fiction

Doug Lemov Teach Like a Champion 3.0

A new edition of Teach Like a Champion is always an excellent excuse to revisit what I have come to feel are the markers of truly great classroom practice. I read this just as I reentered the classroom, having not taught for two full years – first when setting up a start-up school with no children, and then taking on a school through the second pandemic year (I was advised to not teach, and with good reason as almost every planned day last year was torpedoed by Covid in one way or another). Reading this, I found myself reflecting on how hard it is to automate the strategies that make a wonderful classroom, and how useful it is to revisit them time and time again. Lemov has provided such useful reflections and clarifications here, I challenge anyone to not find worth and expertise in this glorious tome.

Doug Lemov Teaching in the Online Classroom

I was so in denial of what was likely to happen at the start of the last academic year it took me far too long to read this. By the time I did, the incredible teaching and learning team at Ark John Keats were well into the swing of delivering CPD on remote teaching. My ardent hope for the new year is that there only needs to be one book on remote learning, and this is surely it.

Mike Schmoker Leading with Focus

This was recommended to me by not one but two of the Vice Principals at Ark John Keats. I found it particularly useful to read last year, when the sheer struggle to remain open as a school threatened to dominate. This book contains incredible clarity on curriculum and instruction, and if nothing else is a call to arms to stop focusing on anything else.

Musa Okwonga One of them: an Eton college memoir

I was fascinated by this account of attending the most prestigious school in the country – both the reality experienced on the ground, and the weight of expectation Okwonga details feeling throughout the rest of his adult life.

Lucy Kellaway Re-educated

Having followed Kellaway’s column detailing her move from successful Financial Times journalist to the classroom, I bought this for the writing style alone. The fuller picture – that of setting up a teaching charity from scratch, changing home and ending a marriage – was equally extraordinary. A compelling and inspiring account.

Joanna Rakoff My Salinger Year

A wonderful memoir of Rakoff’s work in the 1990s with a literary agency which happened to represent J.D. Salinger.

Fiction

Amor Towles Rules of Civility

This was my top fiction read of 2021, with characters I genuinely missed when I finished reading. Towles evokes an atmospheric 1930s New York as well as making the central relationship of the book – a female friendship – feel real and relevant.

Gemma Reeves Victoria Park

I spent many lockdown days in Victoria Park, Hackney, and bought this book because there is always something wonderful in reading about a familiar place. Though this book is made up of short narratives, the characters are loosely connected in what feels like a very current, almost anonymous London way; not through startling revelations but instead through minor coincidences.

Mateo Askaripour Black Buck

This satire made me laugh and cringe in equal measure. Despite its clear fable-like unreality, you really root for the main character throughout. Race is central to the book, and it also felt like a sharp critique of the empty hollow at the heart of modern start-ups.

Emily St John Mandel The Glass Hotel

This book swirls around a key line which echoes through its pages, its meaning becoming clearer and clearer as the story goes on. The parallel stories, which at first seem utterly disconnected, collide in a fascinating conclusion.

Lorrie Moore Self-Help

I cannot believe these short stories were published in 1985 – they felt utterly modern. Mainly around relationships and their messiness, the stark poetry of some phrases made stayed with me for days after reading them.

Esi Edugyan Washington Black

Though set in a time of slavery, this book resists being solely a slave narrative. A rich and complex novel, especially around the uneasy exploration of race relations at an individual level.

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