Six (non ELT) books I read this summer

Well, this summer I took a much-needed break from blogging and tweeting and all things ELT. Well, this isn’t entirely true as I still had a million little things to do on the next two levels of Global that are due out in 2011. But… I did spend a lot of time relaxing it’s true. And I finally did some reading that was not linked directly to the world of language teaching. It was nice to get lost in a book, well in six books actually. I thought I’d share them here with you.

1. Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Who says the blurb on the cover of a book doesn’t make people buy it? This one read “Welcome to the meat grinder, flash incinerator race to become the 44th President of the United States” and it’s a journalistic account of the 2008-2009 campaigns. I remember reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing and enjoying it so I thought I’d give this genre a try again. It read a bit like a thriller and contained lots of tidbits and gossip and anecdotes about the candidates and on the whole was quite well-written. The stuff about Sarah Palin really just makes the mind boggle. A good summer choice.

2. Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve just heard too much about this guy now to ignore him. There have been several references to Blink and the Tipping Point on blogs I’ve read and I think I know what people are talking about but I thought I’d read it myself to make sure. Gladwell is also from my alma mater, the University of Toronto. I enjoy the popular science genre (err… I am a coursebook writer after all so have used quite a bit from this genre in the past) and this was no exception. The style reminded me of Freakonomics, so in the words of Amazon “if you liked Freakonomics, you’ll like Blink”.

3. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer

Sometimes you just have to know what all the fuss is about. And this WAS summer after all! But I confess that while reading this on the beach I did try and conceal the cover from prying eyes. When a friend expressed incredulity at seeing it in my bag (“what’s a middle-aged man who makes a big deal about including high literature and no celebrities in his textbooks doing with that?”) I had to mumble something about research. I haven’t seen the movies (and probably won’t) but I confess that I got quite caught up in the story by the end. But a part of me was a bit alarmed at the glorification of being thin, pale-skinned and moody.

4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

After Twilight I felt I really should up the literary ante as it were so I jumped in with both feet to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the Man Booker Award in 2009. Wolf Hall is set in Tudor England during the reign of Henry VIII (of the six wives fame) and is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell: “lowborn boy, charmer, bully, master of deadly intrigue and, finally, most powerful of Henry VIII’s courtiers”. If I had to write two words to sum up this 650 page volume they would be “luxurious prose”. A real gem of a book you can completely get immersed in although it’s a bit heavy going to keep track of all the names (fortunately there is a cast of characters list at the beginning that I kept flipping back to).

5. Pandemonium by Christopher Brookmyre.

The Guardian newspaper says of this book: ‘Smart, funny, big-hearted and blood-splattered. What’s not to love?’ What’s not indeed, and after the weight of Wolf Hall I needed a nice light bit of pulp noir to aid digestion. I’ve read several of Brookmyre’s books, he was originally recommended to me by a Scottish mate of mine. It isn’t exactly high fiction, but I always enjoy it for the bits of informal Scottish that I pick up (try, for example, to decipher the following: “Of course she wouldnae” or “Get yerselves tae fuck.”). On reflection though, I think it was a bit more blood-splattered than big-hearted.

6. Slow Death by Rubber Duck – The Secret Danger of Everyday things, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

After that good dose of fiction I felt I needed to get back to the real world. This book was a Christmas gift I had never got around to reading. What a great title for a book! It’s all about PCBs and other horrendous toxins in everyday objects around the home. While it focuses more on the American and Canadian situation (Europe being slightly ahead on legislating against harmful chemicals in household products) it still made for sombre reading. The problem with these non-fiction books is that after reading them you’re primed to notice the phenomenon everywhere. After I finished Blink everything I experienced seemed to be about split-second choices (fish or chicken for dinner? Ummm… fish!). After Slow Death, everything I saw was full of deadly chemicals (don’t use that pan for the fish!). I highly recommend it though.

Right. I fully realise that this was a self-indulgent post and a bit like those awful reading lists of prime ministers and so forth but I honest-to-god did read all these books and I haven’t tried to pose by including something really high-brow, like War and Peace (ok, so Wolf Hall was an exception). What about you? What non-ELT books did you read this summer that you could tell me about? I have a couple of long-haul flights coming up this fall and could use some recommendations. Post a comment, and welcome back!

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Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm  Comments (15)  
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  1. Not self-indulgent at all. I loved this post and have noted a few titles. I think it’s great when ELT bloggers share stuff about their lives outside of the industry. Since you asked…I’m currently reading “The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B,” which is not like me at all. Historical fiction doesn’t usually interest me, but I’m reading it with a few girls from high school. We’re going to discuss it online over some wine. I’m also reading “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” with my daughter. Nothing like rereading an old classic with a small child who is experiencing it for the first time. With my online students I’m reading “Anne of Green Gables”. We’ve all got different versions, but we’re still having fun discussing it.
    Have a great year!
    Cheers,
    Tara

    • Thank you Tara and welcome back! I think Wolf Hall has been my dose of historical fiction for awhile. I loved the Narnia stories and have a very old and beautiful box set of them. Maybe I’ll read them with my sons soon – we have just finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

  2. Thanks for this. I did some non-ELT reading and totally agree with you about “Wolf Hall”. An excellent read which really brings to life the times and the plotting behind the scenes. I felt like I was being challenged with this writing as it was so rich and plentiful – really descriptive. I totally had to use the charts at the beginning too and when I got a bit lost at times with who’s who, I just let it go and enjoyed the story. Apparently there’s going to be a sequel! Glad to be able to contribute to this post. I thought about doing a similar one but am on a blog break so thanks for allowing me the chance to contribute through a comment!

  3. Oh and about twilight. Its been so phenomenally popular that its a good thing to know what people are reading. I think its appeal lies in the whole angst of the fact that they can’t…well you know…do “the” deed and if you want to get really deep (and why not as literature is always reflective of its context) it reflects the US conservative obsession with abstaining until marriage. If you read the sequels you will see they do eventually get married but until that point, apart from fighting off enemies etc, Edward and Bella are basically thwarted from getting it on to a degree that probably resonates with teenagers everywhere in the moral bible belt! Of course the gothic is cool but then…..it is if you are that age isn’t it! I liked it and to be honest even though I know some people say its trashy, I think its interesting how it has become so popular just at the present time and how the writer has produced something that is familiar (the vampire metaphor) with a new popular twist. But that’s just me!

    • Hi Sara, nice to be back! I also liked Twilight, but I confess the abstaining chic thing went completely over my head. I found it more an advertisement for anorexia and staying out of the sun! But maybe that’s more the film…?

      • Yes film is more ‘visual’ in that respect, though book does explore it too amongst the metaphors of darkness. Don’t want to go on about it as for you it was probs a bit of light holiday reading, but in terms of popular culture, ‘twilight’ has a mass following in the US and a lot of those who are avid followers think it has a deeply religious and spiritual message (and are religious themselves). I think it says something about the times we live in that such a novel (and film), with a very old fashioned message in terms of relationships (not one that has much meaning to me I might add) has resurrected itself now. The phrase ‘spiritual wilderness’ spring to mind, but hey – as always perhaps I’m reading too much into it!

        Welcome back!

  4. I went back to England for a month, and made the most of it by picking up the Guardian in paper form every day. I read the brilliantly written but terrifying and depressing ‘The Death of Grass’, a piece of speculative fiction from the ’50s by John Christopher. And I also managed a few of the ‘very short introductions’ series from OUP. I love them because you can put them in a pocket and there is such a huge range – all smart and concise. Just finished ‘Photography’ and ‘Schizophrenia’ deciding whether to start on ‘Statistics’ or ‘The Spanish Civil War’ next.

    Fun list, Lindsay!

    • The OUP short introductions are great. I keep eyeballing them whenever I’m in Blackwells. Will pick some up next time. Go for the Spanish Civil War!

  5. I was lucky enough to be in an apartment in NY this summer that was chockablock with good reading – admittedly a lot of it on cognitive linguistics – but there were two books I’d wanted to read since they first came out, Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land (I’d really liked Independence Day) and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The former I put down after 200 pages; the latter I read in almost one sitting. Meanwhile my partner was devouring everything by Jonathan Lethem – and highly recommending it.

    • Thanks Scott for the recommendations. The Year of Magical Thinking sounds intriguing.

  6. I’ve had such few chances to read this summer, which is sad. I managed to read two books. Bliss by Ö.Z. Livaneli, which was absolutely fantastic. I read it in Turkish, but other people said the English translation was great. If you really want an insight into many of the facets of Turkish culture, this book is great. It captured so much of the country so well, especially the divisions both geographically, socially, and ideologically.

    The other book I read was World War Z by Max Brooks. I highly recommend it. It’s a detailed account of the aftermath of the zombie war by those who actually experienced it. If you’ve ever worried about how to prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse, this book is for you. I whipped through it in two days. I also purchased a “lobo.” It’s best to remain prepared 🙂

    • Hi Nick

      Thanks for the comments and suggestions, sorry to answer so late. Very impressed at you reading in Turkish. I read a book about modern Turkey awhile ago (The Turks Today? can’t remember the title). The World War Z book will definitely go on my to get list for plane reading!

  7. Interesting to see ‘Blink’ on the list. I love Malcolm Gladwell’s writing – it’s always thought-provoking. I highly recommend ‘Outliers’ , with its theory that someone needs to put in 10,000 hours in order to be an expert in a particular field. That roughly translates as 4 hours a day for ten years.

    If we relate this to language learning, then it’s not surprising that a student who does no homework and only attends class takes so long to become ‘proficient’.

    As for my summer reading, I have to admit I didn’t read as much as I thought I would, but I’ve been lapping up Brian Eno’s biography ‘On Some Faraway Beach’ and stopping every chapter to make playlists of the music he mentions using Spotify…very enjoyable

    • Thanks Graham. Might pass on the Brian Eno – I am not into biographies really. But Outliers could be a soon-to-read. 10,000 hours eh? Wonder how many hours I’ve spent writing…

  8. Great idea for the post! I’m a total bookaholic and feel weird when I have nothing to read with me. I also love reading about what other people read :)I absolutely loved “The Wolf Hall” and wouldn’t mind to get my hands on “Blink” and “Pandemonium”.


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