Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Book 3 - Pigeon English

Book - Pigeon English
Author - Stephen Kelman
Year - 2011
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 263
Bought for me by Alex Campbell

For whatever reason, I hold the Man Booker prize in high esteem.  I have read a few of the winners before (see The Sea and Vernon God Little for those I have read and reviewed on this blog) and have bought many more that are currently in my colossal "To Read" pile, but in general I tend to see the Man Booker as an endorsement that this is going to be a well written book and worth my time.

Pigeon English is not a winner, but was nominated a couple of years back.  Alex bought it for me as it is written from the point of view of a Year Seven student - and as a lot of my time seems to be taken up with the dealings of Year Sevens (yes, when you deal with them as I do, Year Seven deserves capitalisation) it may be an interesting read.

And it really is.  It follows Harri, a Ghanaian boy who has come to England with half of his family whilst his father stays behind with his grandmother and baby sister until they can raise the money to fly over.  At its heart, it is a book about an impressionable boy trying to fit into a rough neighbourhood that is shaken by the fatal stabbing of a local teenager.  Heavily influenced by the case of Damilola Taylor, it gives a true feeling of the London of now, and whilst far heavier than anything I deal with on a day to day basis at school, feels very real in its approach to everyday issues.

The real star of the book is Harri - or more specifically the way that he talks.  Written in first person, Kelman does not hold back in mixing his Ghanaian slang with some of the new London slang he encounters.  This only goes to heighten the fantastic voice that the character finds. Terribly naive and gullible, he misuses words and switches topics in a way that I often chastise the Year Sevens in my classes for doing whilst building on a structure that is unmistakably an eleven year old's.  Far from being maddening, it really does develop a fantastic characterisation that again lends a certain amount of credibility to the story.  Whilst unspectacular, it still makes it a book worth reading just for that.

My sole issue with the book is unfortunately a relatively large one.  Despite a wonderful build with some excellent supporting cast being introduced, the ending feels rushed.  Having stretched out some powerfully tense moments, I wanted a more suitable conclusion to wrap it all up.  It may have been the writer's intention to finish how he did, but personally I was disappointed.  This has knocked it a few marks, but despite that I already know that it is a book that I am incredibly pleased to have read, with a style that I think I will remember for a long time.  This is Kelman's first novel, so I shall definitely be keeping an eye out to see how he can follow it up - hopefully with the same writing flair, but just a slightly better finish.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Book 2 - Blood Brothers

Book - Blood Brothers
Author - Willy Russell
Year - 1986
Genre - Play
Pages - 100

Here is an example of a book that I have had to read for my job.  Blood Brothers has been one of the longest running shows in the West End, but one that I have never had too much interest in seeing.  There is no particular reason for this, it simply hasn't appealed to me, and as a result, I was not particularly interested in reading this play.

Set in 1970s Liverpool, it follows a set of twins, one of whom is given up for adoption by their mother Mrs Johnstone to a local family of considerably greater wealth than she has.  Their lives run very differently, and the play aims to show how being brought up with some money puts your life on a very different footing.  It is absolutely cram packed with all of the themes and ideas that make it a text to really study in school - possibly an aim considering it started its life as a piece of Theatre In Education (TIE).

This is sometimes off-putting in a story - if you jam a theme and message down a reader's throat then it sometimes loses its charm - but to my surprise, I found absolutely none of that here.  What follows is a beautifully told story with some incredibly interesting characters, and despite what could seem at times to be a damagingly close brush with cliche, it is actually very moving.  Seeing the less well off twin, Mickey, struggle with the lot that life has dealt him, despite starting as a down to earth and likable character, connects him with the reader that makes the inevitability of his downfall quite heart rending.  Likewise, you can prophesise the
doom of his brother Eddie, despite him coming off as a fantastic person.  The fact that the play starts by telling you the ending lends a sense of foreboding throughout that makes everything that occurs considerably more poignant.

The production is currently touring, and it pains me that I had not realised just how good a show this is before it visited my local theatre back before Christmas, but I shall make pains to go and see it when it next comes around, and in the meantime shall look forward to analysing it with my classes this year.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Book 1 - A Lion's Tale

Book - A Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex
Author - Chris Jericho
Year - 2007
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 412
Bought for me by Robert Hyde

Starting this year off with a book that very few of you may be interested in, but I am, so ner!  I haven't hidden here my love of wrestling, and for me Chris Jericho is one of the greats.  Rob very kindly bought me both of his autobiographies (so far, there is a third on the way), and I thought that starting the year with something I am really in to would be a suitable idea.

This first autobiography covers Jericho's life from his early years growing up in Winnipeg, through to the moments standing backstage waiting to make his debut for the WWE (or WWF as it then was).  In that time he covers his training, his time spent in Mexico and in Japan, and the terrible days of the poorly run WCW (wonderfully covered in the book The Death of WCW).

I had been told by many that this is one of the best wrestling autobiographies around.  Whilst I can't deny that it is incredibly enjoyable, it doesn't quite hold up to the very best around such as Mick Foley's first, and Bret Hart's Hitman.  Maybe it is because the stuff I know Jericho most for - his time in WWE - was saved for the follow up book, or maybe that despite being one of the funniest on air performers in wrestling, the humour in the book often fell a little flat.  Whatever it was, it took it down just a notch.

This is not to take a lot away from the book though which is warm and funny, and doesn't pull punches like some autobiographies do.  Notably, Jericho makes the bold move not to change any of the information about Christ Benoit in the book.  Benoit made the news, even over here, a few years back when he killed his family and then himself.  Research showed that through in ring trauma and an over reliance on steroids, his brain was pretty much destroyed, but since then his name is very rarely mentioned by WWE.  Benoit was one of Jericho's closest friends, and these events took place after the book was written, but before it was published.  Jericho makes mention at the beginning how he decided to keep Benoit in as the man he knew, and not the person he became in the last few hours of his life.  A bold and potentially controversial view, but one that pays off throughout the book.


Friday, 3 January 2014

Back to books...

I cannot believe that it has been four years since I first started The Book Challenge blog.  A lot has changed in that time.  Books went from being my hobby to being my job - I now work as an English teacher - and as a strange result, I have stopped reading anywhere near as much as I used to.  No you're right, that doesn't make sense, but it's the way it is!

I guess it makes a little more sense when you consider just how tough doing teacher training is, and just how much of my life it took up.  The blogs get thinner and thinner as my training picks up, and consists almost exclusively of books that I had read for school purposes.  My quite shocking reading total for 2013 appears to be one.  Whilst this doesn't reflect exactly how many books I read, it says a lot about how much spare time I had that my blogging - something I have enjoyed thoroughly over the past few years - dropped off considerably.  It didn't disappear - I set up a blog with one of my classes at school and reviewed some books there - but that's a story for another day.

Because today I restart.  My NQT year (also known as "The hardest year of your career".  I concur.) is in full flight.  I still have almost no time to myself.  But I can't be the kind of English teacher who doesn't read, and my to be read pile is genuinely obscene (you would actually laugh at how many books I am waiting to read at the moment).  So no target this year.  No level to reach.  No specific books that I am going to make sure I read to look more "well read".  And no shame if I only read kids books and wrestling autobiographies.  I want to get back to reading because I love it, and blogging because I enjoy it.

Please keep reading and commenting.  I would write this even if I thought that not a person ever read it, but hearing comments from you all truly makes this the special little thing that it is, so please do let me know what you think about the blogs, or far more importantly, what you think about any of the books that I have read.