A Book A Day #2 - Favourite Book Set In A School

Matilda, Roald Dahl

A Book A Day #1 - A Book About Books

I think I kind of covered this one in one of my recent Top Ten Tuesdays (Top Ten Books For People Who Love Books) but I think that the ultimate still has to be The Borrower.  Not only does it celebrate a whole host of amazing children's literature but it is also a passionate battle-cry for the power of books to save.

Other posts from The #BookADayUK Challenge can be found here or alternatively head over to Twitter or the We Love This Book website to join in the conversation.

A Book A Day - September Version

Another month, another #BookADay challenge, this time hosted by We Love This Book - am slightly, slightly quicker off the mark this time so will try to join as soon as I can - have a very busy week this time though!

Anyway - here are the rules for anybody else who wants to have a go!

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Tear-Jerkers

I am a bit of a softie - I think most people who know me are aware.  As a child, I used to sob through films to the extent that my mother reports that my fellow cinema-goers used to end up watching me instead.  I remember when I was about six and talking to my grandmother on the phone, she asked me what was fresh.  I replied that I was feeling a bit sad at the moment because Mummy and I were reading the Little House books and Mary had just gone blind.  My grandmother (no doubt nonplussed as to why this should affect my more general mood) commented that I shouldn't worry as it was only pretend.  I agreed sagely and then suddenly remembered that actually, no, it wasn't, Mary Ingalls had been a real person who really had gone blind!  I like to think that I have gotten better at managing my reactions but there are still moments that can catch me off guard.  While at university I was in a bad mood for a week after I had to watch Millions Like Us for my 1940s fiction class - Gordon Jackson's 'death' really affected me, which was ridiculous since he might as well have had Cannon Fodder stamped on his forehead.  I just didn't see it coming.  Anyway, this week I decided to think about which moments in fiction had actually made me want to cry and these were the ten (ahem twelve) that I came up with.

Review: Flirting With French, William Alexander

I came to Flirting With French with misgivings as the whole 'funny frolics in France' thing has been done and redone repeatedly in both the humour and travel genres.  Still, I ended up enjoying this comic memoir, which charts one man's brave attempts to conquer the French language in a year.  There was a certain amount of personal recognition for me here; aged twenty I arrived in France for year abroad having studied the language for nine years but realised that although I had the ability to dissect the poetry of Baudelaire, I had no idea how to ask for a haircut.  And that was after nine months.  Upon arrival, I barely knew how to order an ice cream.  Alexander's quest to achieve francophone status is light-hearted and comic but also is a challenge based on his own personal love for France.  This book was written with the energy of the true enthusiast which made it a lively and entertaining read.

Review: Elizabeth of York, Alison Weir

Legend has it that the Queen of Hearts image in the deck of cards is based on Elizabeth of York and indeed that lady's blank face does rather recall the popular impression of Elizabeth of York.  She is consigned to history as Henry VII's wife and Henry VIII's mother, beautiful but silent.  Yet, she was daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother to Kings and as Weir points out in this biography, if Elizabeth had but been born a man, she would herself have ruled.  Like so many of the women of the Houses of Lancaster and York, it was her fate to survive those turbulent times but to have little control over her own fate.  In this book, Alison Weir seeks to uncover the truth behind this enigmatic woman who lived such an interesting life yet still stepped so lightly in her life, leaving barely a mark of who she was, what she thought and where her true loyalties lay.

Review: Gutenberg's Apprentice, Alix Christie

Alix Christie's début novel goes back to Mainz, 1450 and the birth of the printing press.  Johannes Gutenberg has been hailed for centuries as the genius who invented movable type which revolutionised the concept of the written word.  In this novel, Christie explores the notion that he did not work alone and that indeed there were an uncelebrated team behind him who worked to produce the first ever printed Bible.  Not for nothing does she include a quotation from Steve Job's biography alongside one from the Bible - we realise from very early on that we are witnessing a paradigm-shifting moment in history.

Saturday Poem - Because I Liked You Better

This week's poem comes from The Faber Book of Love Poems, another fantastic collection.  I've not read a lot of Housman but this one is so full of such quiet tragedy and heartache.

Because I Liked You Better

Because I liked you better
   Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
   To throw the thought away.

To put the world between us
   We parted, stiff and dry;
'Good-bye', said you, 'forget me.'
   'I will, no fear', said I.

If here, where clover whitens
   The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
   Starts in the trefoiled grass,

Halt by the headstone naming
   The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
   Was one that kept his word.

A.E. Housman

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Review: Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian

This one has been a firm favourite from the first time I read it back in the late 1990s.  One of my mother's rules was that I was not to be bought any books which I had already read, a stipulation which made a great deal of sense given how quickly I went through books but it did mean that it could be suddenly very distressing to really fall in love with a book that I'd checked out from the library since I knew that we could only be together for a short time.  Goodnight Mister Tom was the worst case of all and I dealt with only by checking it out six times during Year 6 alone.  At the end of Year Seven I won the English prize of a fairly generous book voucher and my mother finally relented and allowed me to get my own copy to my great relief.  This is a true classic of children's fiction, full of tenderness, love and affection without ever quite veering into the saccharine.  Rereading it as an adult, I love it as much as ever.  It has always irritated me when people denigrate children's fiction as somehow 'lesser' than work written for adults; literature is literature and Goodnight Mister Tom can be enjoyed by all ages.

Review: After You'd Gone, Maggie O'Farrell

I first read this when I was sixteen and it was a real treat to come to it again.  After You'd Gone was Maggie O'Farrell's first novel and in many ways it remains my favourite.  O'Farrell is one of those authors for whom I automatically prick up my ears - she is also an occasional columnist for the Guardian and has written several forewords for books that I have loved, including Our Spoons Came From Woolworths.  Whether she is discussing the motherhood vs. career dilemma,  her own stammer, or secondary infertility, she is always interesting, well-informed and offers a fresh perspective.  Her fiction is of the same quality but all the same After You'd Gone was the novel where I first discovered her magnificent gift for story-telling.  This is a novel that remains in the mind long after the last page has been completed.