View all posts by Laurence
Do you remember the first time you read Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’? I certainly do. I was 8, it was Easter and along with the mountain of chocolate eggs, I had been given a copy of the book. I remember racing upstairs, sitting under my red desk, cracking open a Smarties egg and peeling open the first page to what I can now describe as one of my all time favourite books. Being transported into a magical world where the imagination can run wild and anything is possible is something every child should be entitled to.
With a recent report showing that 72% of parents believe that bedtime reading is one of the most important bonding experiences they can have with their child and with 75 per cent putting on voices to bring their children’s favourite characters to life, it is obvious that enjoying books from a young age is not only a key part of a childs development, but also for their adult relationship with reading. With World Book Day coming up in a couple of weeks (Thursday 5th March), Sainsbury’s conducted a poll of 2000 readers, which found that six in ten parents choose to read stories to their children that their own parents once read to them. Nostalgia, it seems, is a powerful thing. Having recently read most of the Roald Dahl books to my six year old son, having already gone through the Enid Blyton ‘Faraway Tree’ and ‘Wishing Chair’ collection, I can empathise with this nostalgia wholeheartedly. Seeing the delight on his face as Mrs Twit served up worm spaghetti to Mr Twit is something that will stay with me forever and I can only hope that he will share the same joy with his own children when he is older.
In honour of World Book day, a list has been compiled of the top 50 books every child should read by the age of 16:
- Charlie and The Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl
- Alice in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- C.S. Lewis
- Winnie The Pooh- A.A.Milne
- Black Beauty- Anna Sewell
- James and The Giant Peach- Roald Dahl
- The BFG-Roald Dahl
- A Bear Called Paddington- Michael Bond
- Treasure Island- Robert Louis Stevenson
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
- Matilda- Roald Dahl
- The Railway Children- E. Nesbit
- Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens
- Five on a Treasure Island- Enid Blyton
- The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle
- The Jungle Book- Rudyard Kipling
- Charlotte’s Web- EB White
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit- Beatrix Potter
- Watership Down- Richard Adams
- The Hobbit -J.R.Tolkien
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J.K. Rowling
- Lord of the Flies- William Golding
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ Sue Townsend
- Great Expectations- Charles Dickens
- The Cat in the Hat- Dr Seuss
- The Secret Garden- Frances Hodgson-Burnett
- The Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank
- The Twits – Roald Dahl
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz- L. Frank Baum
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
- Anne of Green Gables- L.M.Montgomery
- The Tiger Who Came to Tea- Judith Kerr
- Green Eggs and Ham-Dr Seuss
- The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
- Bambi- Felix Selten
- Tom’s Midnight Garden- Phillipa Pearce
- Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Funny Bones- Janet and Allan Ahlberg
- Where The Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak
- Carrie’s War- Nina Bawden
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
- The Magician’s Nephew- C.S. Lewis
- The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
- The Story of Doctor Dolittle- Hugh Lofting
- The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
- The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
- Curious George- H.A.Ray
- Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
I have printed this list off for my young foster son, who has very proudly ticked off 11 titles already and he’s only 6! We are now making it our mission to slowly work through them. I also worked out how many of these children’s classics I had read – 34. Not bad, but that leaves 16 to still read, which I intend to do, either by myself or with my son. Take a look through yourself and see how many you have read from the list. I would also really enjoy hearing about the books you enjoyed as a child – can you remember Bobby Brewster, Flossie Teacake or Superfudge? Send us your own top 20 childrens books and we will share them on here for others to enjoy.
Everybody reads at different rates; some people only get a chance to read on holiday, some every day on their commute to work, some open up a new book and skim read through the pages like a robot whereas others like to take their and absorb each and every word. I would say that I am a relatively quick reader, certainly compared to my husband at least, but these days I struggle to find enough free time in the day to indulge in a good book. The only time I do tend to catch a spare few minutes to read is when I go up to bed and whilst picking up my book is a sure fire way to guarantee me nodding off, it certainly isn’t allowing me to get through as many books as I would like. Before having children, I worked in London and would have an hours commute on the train, the perfect opportunity to read. Holidays were also spent feet up, round the pool, book in hand, cocktail next to me, needless to say those days are gone.
It got me thinking about how many books I could expect to read in my lifetime and I worked out that if I were to read an average of 2 books a month, which allows for the different reading rates throughout my life, and if I were to live until the average life expectancy of a woman in the UK, 82.5, then in my lifetime I can expect to read approximately 1,980 books. It might sound a lot, but compared to the amount of books that are out there and that’s not even including the ones that haven’t been written yet, how can I begin choose which ones to read and which ones to leave?
Amazon have a link on their site for 100 books to read in a lifetime, which I guess is a good starting point and so I challenged myself to run through the list and see how well I had done so far. I am embarrassed to admit that I got a measly 28 out of 100, pathetic! but who actually compiles these lists and if I am only going to read 1,980 books in my lifetime, surely I should be choosing the ones I really want to read? How many times have you read a book only to get a third of the way through and still not get what it’s about, but not wanting to give up on it you’ve persevered, got to the end and are still none the wiser and left completely uninspired. Why should we be wasting our time on these books that do nothing for us? From now on, if I get to page 50 in a book and it’s not floating my boat and I am going to take great pride in laying the book down and starting a new one. A book has got to earn it’s place if it want to be part of my 1,980!
For my next article, I intend to make my own personal list of the top 100 books I believe should be read in a lifetime. And, yes, of course not everyone is going to agree with it, but if nothing else it will act as a record of those books that have struck a chord with me and may even act as recommendations for others. I would love to see your lists of books that would appear in your top 100, so send them in to us and we’ll share them on the page.
William Shakespeare is one of the world’s most famous playwrights and his plays are still enjoyed as much today as when they were first performed. Many of us will be familiar with some of the more popular and arguably ‘easier’ plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, mainly because this classic love story has been retold in so many different guises that we know the plot inside out and many of us will have studied this text at school. However, reading Shakespeare at school is often the very reason why so many of us are put off reading it in our adult lives. Sitting in a dull classroom, reciting lines from a play that seem mixed up, unfamiliar and lack visual clues is enough to put anyone off and it’s certainly not how Shakespeare would have wanted his plays to be received. One key thing we must all remember is that these are plays, which means they are meant to be performed, not read. So is it any wonder that we find it so difficult when faced with the challenge of trying to read it?
Shakespeare wrote his plays in Modern English, which means any of the words we read in his plays are in precisely the same language we use today and are therefore entirely familiar to us. What we find difficult is the structure of sentences and the placement of certain words. Shakespeare used very poetic language and had great fun playing with words to indicate personality traits, tone and setting. In speech and writing today we put the subject of a sentence before the verb, however Shakespeare would often do the complete opposite in order to change the poetic rhythm and meter. Words we use today may also have had double meanings or slightly different meanings during the Elizabethan Age, which again confuses matter for us and we often give up reading when we reach the first hurdle. What a shame, though, to miss out on some of the finest, most poetic and rich writings around, when all we really need is a very rough, general understanding of what’s happening and who is speaking. Which is why we feel it is important to help people understand that reading Shakespeare can be pleasurable, you just need to be patient, willing and have a bit of a plan.
Here are our top tips on how to read Shakespeare…and enjoy it:
Taking the time to watch Shakespeare’s plays performed on stage by professional actors is without doubt one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to understand and appreciate Shakespeare. Having the visual representation of a character, the setting of the stage and hearing the words read with rhythm, tone and clarity makes everything slot into place. Even if you don’t understand absolutely everything, you will certainly get the main idea and it will mean next time you attempt to read the play at home you will do so armed with a knowledge and understanding before you’ve even opened the book. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to see a theatre production of a play, there are plenty of good quality film adaptions available of most of Shakespeare’s plays. Make sure you check the film uses the original script before you watch it, as this could end up confusing you further. Good examples include: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to name but a few.
Listen to it
Another alternative to reading Shakespeare, or certainly something you could do before attempting to read it, is to listen to audio versions of the plays. Simply by hearing the rhythm of the words, the breaks and pauses, the tone and the difference in voices will really help you to not only distinguish between characters; a problem in itself, but also to get a real sense of the action. Many audio versions also include a transcript that you can use to follow along with.
Get over the fact you may feel a bit silly doing this and try reading the play aloud. Feel the richness of the words on your tongue and the variation in tone and rhythm of the language. It’s amazing how certain words become much more understandable and almost come alive when they are read aloud. If you feel like it you could even attempt to act out the play yourself, by adopting different voices for different characters, in order to create a sense of setting and drama that is almost impossible to achieve when you read in your head.
Understand the genre
As with anything you read, it always helps to know roughly what type of story you are about to read, which is why understanding the genre of a play can help immensely with your overall understanding. Shakespeare wrote Tragedy, Comedy, History and Romance and sometimes even combined two together, for example Tragicomedy. In Shakespearean plays the genres tend to follow these patterns:
Comedy – lighthearted, laughter; often at another characters expense, usually ends in marriage.
Tragedy – darker, more serious and often ends in one or more deaths.
History – the plot revolves around a historical event that usually takes place in England.
Romance – is about love that is often problematic, although tends to end happily.
Know the characters
There is always a long list of characters in Shakespeare and trying to keep track of who’s who, who’s doing what, who’s friends with someone and who’s trying to kill someone else is really, really tricky. This is made worse by the fact that Shakespeare would often use characters with the same name or who would appear right at the very beginning, disappear for ages and then reappear out of nowhere with no real explanation as to where they’ve been. One thing you can do that will help you keep track of characters is to make a list of names as they appear in the play and write a couple of words next to it about who they are, what they’re social standing is and what relationships they have with the other characters. You then refer back to this if you need to at any point throughout the rest of the play. You will notice a huge difference between lower class characters and upper class characters, mainly through the language they use. Upper class characters and the nobility talk in a much more poetic form, whereas the lower classes speak in simple, often naturalistic prose and once you recognise this difference it can really help you with your overall understanding of the play.
There is absolutely no shame in using summary guides, such as Spark Notes, to help you understand the play. You don’t want anything that is going to completely give the plot away, but having a bit of a synopsis certainly helps. Spark Notes works by breaking the text into small sections and then summarising it. With a bit of prior knowledge you can pay closer attention to how Shakespeare is telling the story, rather than concentrating on working out what’s going on.
Choose a good edition
There are literally tons of different editions of Shakespeare’s plays out there and although all of them are telling the same story, they are all presented in slightly different ways. Some will keep it very basic, some will include annotated notes and some may even provide modernised accounts of the play. You need to spend some time deciding which type you are likely to get on the best with, as this decision could be enough to determine your enjoyment of reading Shakespeare. The No Fear Shakespeare versions offer two accounts; the original script and a modern, common day language interpretation, set out one line after the other to make understanding slightly easier. Or the Barnes and Noble and the Oxford Shakespeare editions offer excellent annotations that help make sense of references to Elizabethan culture. There are also plenty of versions that have been adapted for child readers of Shakespeare and sometimes this can be a great starting point for an adult as well.
Use a dictionary
We appreciate that it’s difficult to enjoy reading something when you have to stop every 5 minutes to look a word up in the dictionary, but trust us it is a practice well worth trying, because in the long run it will help develop your love of reading Shakespeare. Alternatively, if you read on an iPad, Kindle or other electronic device, you are able to tap on a word you don’t understand and it will immediately give you the definition.
Stick at it
Apparently you need to read or watch at least 17 of Shakespeare’s plays before you begin to master an understanding of them. So, remind yourself of this if you’re starting to lose motivation and are close to giving up on your 4th, 5th or even 15th attempt at reading his work. Try sticking with just one play to begin with and if you feel your frustration building, put the book down and have a break from it for a couple of days; just remember to go back to it! You won’t understand every word at first, but what you can hope to achieve after a few readings is to build up an understanding of the larger significance of the play.
Read at the right time for you
To read a Shakespeare play properly and with enjoyment you need to pick the right moment. It’s no good convincing yourself to take it in holiday, with a view to reading it on the sun lounger, because it’s really not going to happen. But, pick that absolute optimum moment and we can promise you will experience Shakespeare like you never have before. For example, how about reading Macbeth by candlelight on a stormy winters night, in the comfort of your living room, in front of a roaring fire? Straight away you have created an atmosphere that emulates the setting of the play and will help immerse you within the plot.
Most importantly of all, allow yourself to enjoy and have fun with Shakespeare. William Shakespeare was a comic genius and many of his more lighthearted plays are riddled with puns, metaphors and jokes that he wanted his audience to enjoy and share in his laughter.
We hope this has inspired you to give Shakespeare another go and to understand the richness of language that this famous playwright has left for the world over to enjoy
We hear the word genre a lot these days, whether it’s in relation to films, music or literature, this singular word is enough to tell us an incredible amount of information about something, before we even experienced it. There are two main categories within literary genre; fiction and non-fiction, and within these are numerous sub-categories, which we know as genres.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes genre as:
“Genre from French genre, “kind” or “sort”, from Latin genus (stem gener-), Greek γένος, génos) is any category of literature, music or other forms of art or entertainment, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.”
So, we know that genres tell us about the nature of something, but where does the word originate?
The word’s roots lie all the way back in ancient Greek, when the now famous Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato devised a system for classifying literature. They felt that as more and more literature was being produced it was essential to divide it into ‘genres’ in order to simplify and keep track of them all. Literature originally only had three genres: poetry, drama and prose, which is obviously a whole lot less than the number of genres we have today! As even more literature was produced, with wider themes, more in-depth styles and specific speech and language patterns, there became the need for more genres to be introduced and so we have the following list of genres today (of which I am sure I have missed some out, there is that many!):
- Fairy Tale
- Science Fiction
- Short Story
- Real Life
- Tall Tale
- Magical Realism
These genres can also combine to form sub-genres, for example a comedy may have tragic elements to it and would therefore be categorised with the sub-genre of ‘tragicomedy’.
Genres continue to be reassessed, reordered and redefined as audience tastes change. As the world around us continue to evolve and experience new things, so too do the books we read.
Over the next few weeks I am going to be taking a much closer look at each genre to discover what style, language, themes and characters they have in common and to give you some examples of literature that falls into a particular category.
Next week sees the announcement of the winner of this years Man Booker Prize, an annual award that is presented to authors who have produced an outstanding and original piece of fiction. Contenders have already been narrowed down to a shortlist of six authors, who are each hoping to walk away with the prestigious prize and pave the way for international success.
Never before has there been such a diverse range of authors and works of fiction competing against each other. When the competition first started, in 1969, entries were restricted to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. Nowadays it has been opened up to include works that have been written by any nationality, so long as they are still written in English and published in the UK and this is reflected more so than ever in this years shortlist. Amongst the six there is the Booker’s first Jamaican shortlistee, two British writers (one of whom has Indian ancestry), two American writers (one of whom has Hawaiian ancestry) and one Nigerian writer. The outcome is that not only is there a vast range of ethnicity, but the style of writing and voices we hear in the text is incredibly varied and all the more difficult to judge.
Here is our look at the six shortlisted authors and their works, to help you make your mind up about who you think should win this year’s Man Booker Prize:
This is Jamaican writer Marlon James’s third novel and it uses the backdrop of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 to tell the story of Jamaica over the course of three decades. The New York Times described this novel “Like a Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner”, which we think is an absolutely perfect synopsis. The story is told through the eyes of the characters who are involved and affected by the saga; the seven teenage gunmen, the CIA, reggae groupies and the big ghetto bosses in charge of the assassination plot, and as such there is a fantastic spectrum of voices, which combine to create gripping storytelling at it’s best.
‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus)
Anne Tyler has a history of writing about family, in fact she has written 20 novels on the theme, and ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ shows Tyler off for what she does best. Telling the story of the Whitshanks family over the course of four generations, Tyler creates a jovial novel that is both heartwarming and nostalgic. Like a spool of thread, the story unwinds more and more as we are told about certain events, key moments and hidden secrets. Occasionally becoming knotted and tangled but ultimately entwined in a closeness that can only come from family, the leading character of Abby Whitshank tells the story of how she and Red first fell in love. Each story is told from the porch of the house; a place of comfort and familiarity, which offers the readers and characters a chance to reflect about the passing of time and indeed life itself.
‘The Fishermen’ by Chigozie Obioma (One, Pushkin Press)
This is Nigerian author, Chigozie Obioma’s first novel and is almost certainly guaranteed to set him up as one of the best new talents to emerge from modern African literature. He manages to combine both an older, traditional storytelling style, with its similarities to the story of Cain and Abel, with a more contemporary moral and purpose that readers of today can relate to. The story is told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Benjamin, who is the youngest of the four Agwu brothers. Set in 1990s Nigeria, we follow the brothers as they take advantage of the extra freedom they have now that their strict father is working further from home. Deciding to skip school one day, the brothers instead choose to go fishing, where they meet a madman who predicts that the older bother will be killed by one of the others. Will they live up to the prophecy or try to change the course of fate?
‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape)
The Daily Telegraph describes McCarthy as “A Kafka for the Google Age” and where we saw glimpses of it in McCarthy’s last novel, ‘C’, here we see it with much greater ambition. The novel’s main protagonist is a man called U, a corporate anthropologist who runs his own high class consultancy and for whom his staff have come to rely on to translate and control the world around them. He is an unlikely authority figure, who wastes his time looking at the finer details and events in an endless bid to discover the true meaning of life and to share his findings in the greatest book known to man.
Sanjeev Sahota’s second novel explores the lives of Indian migrants working in Sheffield. Focusing specifically on three men; Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, the secretive Avtar and the unpredictable Randeep, we discover their rich histories and the very different paths that led them to England. The narrative switches between India and England and takes us back through time to childhood, then back again to present day in a completely effortless manner that helps create a simply unforgettable novel.
‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)
This 700 page epic novel has already made a star of American author, Hanya Yanagihara with The New Yorker informing us the novel will “drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life”. Critics have raved about the disturbing, yet beautiful prose on a subject that is still considered by many to be very much taboo. Set in New York, ‘A Little Life’ reveals the damning effects that childhood abuse has had on Jude, a recent graduate who throughout the novel becomes more and more broken and haunted by his traumatic past. An immensely powerful and heart-wrenching novel about the power of love and friendships that culminates in acts of self discovery, human endurance and the definition of life itself. This is the critics favourite to win the coveted prize, but regardless of whether Yanagihara wins or not, she has made a name for herself purely through the depth and emotion of her classic, contemporary fiction.
So, there you have all six, and what a choice there is!
The 2015 winner will be announced on Tuesday 13 October in London’s Guildhall and the presentation will be broadcast by the BBC. Each shortlisted author will receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book, with the winner receiving a further £50,000 along with international recognition.
Let us know who you think should win the prize and why not send us your thoughts about each book.
Little Free Libraries is a registered charity that promotes reading and art whilst bringing the community together by increasing access to books for readers of all ages and abilities.
But what on earth does that have to do with the TARDIS I hear you cry?
Well, Little Free Libraries have come up with the brilliant and rather charming notion of installing free libraries across the UK. However, these libraries are not your average brick and glass buildings and as the name would suggest, yes they are indeed ‘little’. Ranging from beach huts and bird houses to hollowed out tree stumps and robots, these miniature model village-esque structures contain books that can be borrowed under the proviso that you leave a book in return.
The idea was the brainchild of Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who in 2009 built a replica schoolhouse, filled it with books and attached it to a post in his front garden along with a sign that said ‘FREE BOOKS.’ Over time the library became so popular that Bol went on to build more and now there are thousands of Little Free Libraries across the world.
Anyone can build a Little Free Library, in fact you only have to Google it or search for it on Pinterest and there are literally thousands of ideas and inspiration to help get you started on a design. There are no rules as to what your library must look like, but it is recommended that you register it with littlefreelibrary.org in order for it to appear on their world map and records.
Last Sunday morning saw the arrival of the Little TARDIS Library to Brighton beach, where it is set to embark on a tour around the UK. As we all know, the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside and the same can be said of the Little TARDIS Library, which is jam-packed full of hundreds of classic books just waiting to be shared with children and young adults. Some of the books hidden away in the TARDIS include:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
- The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
- Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
- The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
- Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
- Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)
- The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
- The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
- Black Beauty (Anna Sewel)
- Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
- The Adventures of the Wishing Chair (Enid Blyton)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
- Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
- The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum)
- The Snail and the Whale (Julia Donaldson)
Nick Cheshire, Director of the charity explains, “The TARDIS is an iconic and engaging piece of sci-fi art that will help engage children and young people to pick up a book and inspire a love of reading.” The Little TARDIS Library is currently time-warping it’s way through the schools and libraries of London, however future locations are announced on Twitter (@TARDIS_LFL) where you can also discover more about its time traveling adventures and see photos of some of the people that have experienced the shared joy of reading.
We’d love to hear from you, whether it’s your own experiences of the Little TARDIS Library or to hear your ideas for your own Little Free Library, so contact us or leave us a comment and we’ll make a page of all the best photos 🙂
Losing yourself in a good book is one of life’s simple pleasures, but did you know that reading is also hugely beneficial to your health? Neurological researchers at Emory University have spent years studying how reading affects the brain and have identified that there is a direct link between reading a good book and enhanced cognitive ability. The study, entitled ‘Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain’, has been published in the journal Brain Connectivity and has shown that the way the brain responds to reading is very similar to the way muscle memory is formed in sport.
I’m sure you don’t really need much of an excuse to find more time to read, but take a look at these incredible reasons as to why reading is so good for your health:
According to a study from the University of Sussex, reading for just 6 minutes a day can reduce stress levels by up to 68%! Cognitive neuropsychologist, Dr David Lewis, explain, “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” When a person reads their heart rate slows down and the whole body relaxes. Researchers have concluded that this is more effective at lowering stress levels than other so-called relaxing activities, such as listening to music or sitting down with a cup of tea. Neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield says, “Reading novels and magazines can offer a brief respite from the stresses and strains of everyday life. Traditionally reading was associated with learning, and in this way it is good for personal development, but reading a magazine or even cook book can be very comforting. Our brains are constantly bombarded with information, more so now than ever before, and reading is a good way to wind down.”
If you imagine your brain as a muscle, then the act of reading is exercise for the brain. The more you read, the more the ‘brain muscle’ is being worked and will therefore get stronger and more efficient. Around 820,000 people suffer from some form of dementia in the UK and research has shown that people who do mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, have a slower rate of memory decline than those who don’t do these types of activity. Not only does reading improve memory, but it also helps the brain remain active in old age.
It’s not just children that benefit from learning new words and expanding their vocabulary when they read. There are approximately 1,025,109.8 words in the English language and this figure is continually increasing, so you can pretty much guarantee that there are words out there that you have never heard of, let alone know the meaning of. According to a Scholastic report it is estimated that we learn 5 to 15 % of all the words we know through reading, so even as adults there is something to be gained from regular reading.
Refines brain function
Reading fiction enables a reader to escape from the mundanity of day-to-day life and step into the shoes of an infinite number of different characters and scenarios. This escapism causes significant changes within the left temporal cortex of the brain, which is the part of the brain associated with language comprehension and a phenomenon known as “embodied cognition“. This brain function allows neurons to trick us into thinking we are doing something we are not, ergo – escapism. Professor Gregory S. Berns, explains “The act of reading puts the reader in the body of the protagonist and at a minimum, we can say that reading stories – especially those with strong narrative arcs – reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains”. The changes that reading makes to brain function is likely to expand a person’s emotional intelligence and encourages empathy, which they can then take back with them to the real world. Tied in with this empathy is the belief that reading can motivate and encourage people to achieve life goals, for example reading about someone who has worked hard, overcome obstacles and achieved their lifelong ambition may inspire the reader to do the same in their own life. In fact, the closer you identify with a character, whether you recognise similar traits or simply that you like them, the more likely you are to empathise with them and therefore are more likely to take action yourself. Evidence of this is shown in a recent survey by the National Year of Reading where 60% of those surveyed claimed reading had influenced them to change something in their lives with one in five respondents claiming to have taken action as a reaction to reading an influential article or book. Professor Louis Appleby CBE, National Director for Mental Health in England, agrees that reading is beneficial to our health and says, “When we hear that reading is ‘good for us’ we may assume that this is because it helps our education. But reading anything for pleasure can also raise your spirits, offer an escape from everyday stresses, help you empathise with other people AND keep the brain ticking over. Reaching for a favourite magazine or book could well be good for your health.”
Happy New Year!
I can’t believe how fast this year has flown by, it truly seems like only yesterday when I was posting about my New Years resolutions for 2014. But I am happy and admittedly somewhat surprised, that I have indeed managed to keep my resolution of reading and reviewing a book a month. I hope that in reading my reviews, it has not only prompted you to read the books but to also help motivate you to find more time to read. We all lead such busy lives, but we must always remember to find time for ourselves and reading is a perfect way to fill this time. Reading shouldn’t be considered an indulgence, it is an absolute necessity. It provides us with escapism from the norm, a chance to dream and imagine ourselves in somebody else’s shoes and along with everything else it keeps the old grey matter ticking along by educating us in the process.
So, having proved to myself that I can keep a resolution, I have decided not to make any this year. Instead, I want to think about starting up a book club on this site. Offering a forum for others to recommend their favourite books, in order to broaden our reading horizons. It’s all well and good me talking about the books I have enjoyed, but I am just one reader amongst many and I am keen to read other titles, some of which i may never have even heard of. So, I hereby officially invite YOU to join thegoodnovel book club.
There are simply loads of book clubs scattered around the country and I can guarantee that most will fit into one of two categories. Firstly, the group that take it completely seriously, with a very academic list of classic ‘must read’ novels combined with the hottest newly released titles and winners of the latest award. Don’t even think about attending a meeting without reading that month’s book. You must have a copy that includes pencil scribbled notes of reference, colour coded post-it notes pointing you to the important passages within the book and be prepared to have quotes to back up your arguments and if at all possible bring other sources of reference. This kind of approach is fine for some people but it’s not really my cup of tea. Which brings me nicely onto the second type of book club, and this is exactly the kind that I belong to with a group of my close friends. It would be wrong of me to say that it is merely an excuse for us all to meet up once a month. That is without doubt an overriding factor yes, but what is truly great about the book club which I belong to and indeed many other book clubs out there, boils down to the true, core purpose of a proper book club – to be exposed to books that you wouldn’t normal even think to look twice at.
We all have a genre that we prefer to read. I, myself like dystopian fiction, in fact it is what I chose to write my dissertation on when I was at university, but I am very aware that it is not a genre favoured by everybody. However, I am sure that it’s association with geeky science fiction, is enough to put some people off and if given a chance more people would actually find that they enjoy this type of book. I tend to always steer clear of crime and thrillers, not really sure why but they just don’t spark much excitement in me. Yet, I found Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code books absolutely unputdownable, proving you really can’t judge a book by it’s genre.
I’m not asking for you to join this book club, with a view to you following a set list of books that must be read month on month. No, what I do ask is for you to pass on your recommendations of books you have read and enjoyed so that you can pass that joy onto others. It would be great if we could all pass friendly comments about a book, maybe raising issues about a book that others may not have considered and sparking up lively debate about the characters and the themes explored within a book. I would also be interested in hearing some of your top ten lists. For example if you had to list your top ten classic novels what would they be? Or if you could only rescue 5 books from a burning library, what would they be? And what 5 books are you looking forward to Sharing with your children for the very first time?
I will of course be offering my own views and answers to these questions in the coming months and with each new article I invite you to add your own.
I will also be trying to keep abreast of any interesting news in the book world, eg new releases, publishing news and hot new authors to look out for.
Please do join in as without you this site will be far less interesting and ultimately I want us all to be reading as much new and varied things as possible to keep our love of reading thriving in a digital world where written pages are increasingly losing out to video games and cyber worlds.
Read on fellow bookworms, until we meet again…
When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade – a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze. Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there – or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything – even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrol its corridors, to try and find out.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking – not another teenage dystopian novel! Well, yes it is, but do you know what? you really should give it a chance because if you are a fan of The Hunger Games or the Divergent trilogy then this book is definitely for you. Different enough to keep your interest, but still sticking to the tried and tested and seemingly ever popular model of the dystopian novel, the first book in the Maze Runner series will have you gripped from the very first page.
Thomas arrives in the Glade in a metal box, unsure of how or why he is there. The last of the boys to be planted in the Glade he must help the others try to crack the Maze and think of a way to get past the deadly Grievers. He knows he is special, but with no memory, only minor, confusing flashbacks, he is unable to work out his part in this strange world.
Suspicions start to arise in the other Gladers, when the metal box delivers their first girl, Teresa, who although unconscious, holds a note informing them ‘she’s the last one’ and shouts out Thomas’s name before passing out again. Reminiscent of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, the boys start to let their paranoias take over, resulting in arguments and power shifts as they struggle to understand their position and purpose within the group. The charcaters of Alby; the natural leader of the group and, as it later emerges, the very first boy to be brought into the Glade, along with Newt; second in command, Minho; the Keeper of the Runners, Chuck; Thomas’s faithful 12 year old companion, Thomas and Teresa have all been written with such strong, believable characteristics that it is easy to visualize them and to feel such strong emotions towards them. I found myself literally gripped with every page turn, desperate to read more and find out if there was a way out of the maze.
James Dashner has written this book, primarily for the teenage market, but more and more of this so called teenage fiction genre is crossing over into the adult readership and is becoming increasingly popular. Perhaps, it’s because of it’s easy to read structure or maybe because it offers such a visual perspective, which is proving easily transferable to film. Like November’s book, The Fault in our Stars, The Maze Runner has also been made into a film. Having enjoyed reading the book so much I was desperate to see the film as I could see how well it should translate onto the big screen. How wrong could I have been, I was sorely disappointed. Although, the producers managed to chose their actors wisely they cut out huge sections of the book and altered what I considered to be key factors and important pieces of information that I struggle to see how they are going to justify if they are make the sequels into film versions as well. I will leave it up to you to decide. I would be very interested to hear what you have to say both about the book and about whether you think the film has done the book any justice, so please do leave me a comment.
All I do ask is that you please, please read the book before you see the film, as it truly deserves it’s chance to shine in it’s original and intended form.
I’ve decided to have a bit of a change for next month so watch this space for more info! All that remains to be said is Happy Christmas!
Despite the tumor shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
The Fault in our Stars is the sixth book by John Green and was published back in January 2012. The story is narrated by the leading character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old girl who has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs and now relies on her trusty oxygen canister to survive. The title of the novel was inspired by the line from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, in which Cassius says to Brutus:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
(Act 1, Scene 2)
Yes, this book will almost definitely make you cry, but what marks it out as different is that the characters are not asking for your pity. Their diseases, although terminal, are not all consuming. They don’t indulge us with tales of woe but instead take the viewpoint that everyone is going to die at some point, so just get on with living the life you have.
Forced by her parents to attend the Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel reluctantly goes in a bid to keep them happy. But when she meets a 17 year old boy, Augustus Waters, who has recently been given the all clear from osteosarcoma, a rare form of blood cancer, she realises she is about to embark on a new chapter of her life. The story will make you feel every emotion known to mankind. Combining love, romance and teenage friendship with a tragic, heartbreaking sadness that will literally leave you weeping uncontrollably into the pages, Green creates a literary masterpiece that will stay with you forever. What no one can predict is how the story ends, and I am certainly not going to ruin it for anyone. You must, just read this book! A tragic, love story bound together by universal themes that we can all associate with, it is a book that you will find yourself coming back to time and time again. It has, without a doubt earnt a well-deserved permanent place on my bookshelf and I will be recommending it to all of my friends.
A feature film adaptation of the novel was released in June 2014 and I had the pleasure of watching it last weekend. Now, usually I am very much of the opinion that a film can never live up to the book, which is why I always insist that I read a book before I see the film. However, in this case I would say that the film is very much on a par with the book and does it complete justice. Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace Lancaster) and Ansel Elgort (Augustus Waters) portray their characters beautifully and the whole film was an absolute joy to watch, even though it did get a bit blurry at the end as my eyes filled with tears!
Next Month’s Book: ‘The Maze Runner‘