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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