Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Bookworm News (October 2012)

The British Museum and The Folio Society join forces this Christmas

 The British Museum Company and The Folio Society have collaborated to bring The Folio Society's illustrated editions of the world's greatest books to the customers of the British Museum's Grenville Room shop, and its online store. The British Museum Company therefore now stocks Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, The Tempest, and Sonnets & Poems from The Folio Society's Letterpress Shakespeare in its Grenville Room shop, to coincide with the current Shakespeare exhibition, which finishes on 25 November. The Grenville Room is also playing host to a selection of Folio's children's classics, including Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland. Beautifully presented and built to last, they would make wonderfully historic gifts this Christmas to last a reading lifetime.
 Shine inside and out this winter

With the onset of cold weather, we are often inclined to turn to recipe books that are bursting at the seams with soups, puddings and pies. But to keep healthy throughout the year – even when it’s freezing outside – many believe that we should be continuing to incorporate more and more raw foods into our diet. This is a philosophy espoused by Rebecca Kane, whose newest book, Shine Inside and Out, aims to help us do exactly this. Shine Inside and Out follows her first book, Turn Your Shine On, in providing recipes for refreshing smoothies, soups, main meals and desserts, which are all wheat free, dairy free, and, crucially, raw. Already a Raw Food Expert for Videojug, Rebecca specialises not only in classic cold dishes, but also in such delights as chocolate brownies and Thai curries, which continue to appeal even in winter – with traditional Christmas treats such as mince pies also available. Stay tuned for a review of Turn Your Shine On coming soon!

Samuel Johnson Prize Shortlist

With the results of the 2012 Man Booker Prize having just been released, it can often seem that all eyes are on fiction. However, the winner of the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction is also just around the corner, with the announcement due on November 12th. The titles shortlisted this year cover subjects ranging from the Spanish Holocaust and Mumbai slums to Strindberg and Mallory, with the list including luminaries such as Steven Pinker. History buffs may henceforth rejoice.

Think decisively, take action and get results in 2013

The above sounds like a list of new year's resolutions - and new book Result could be just the thing to help. Result's philosophy rests on the notion that it's the approach you take that matters, rather than just how much work you put in, which makes sense in terms of the maxim "quality, not quantity." Out this November, the book (by business coach Phil Olley) sounds to me like a straight-talking self-help book for the 21st century, focusing on skills and mindset in equal measure. Definitely sounds like a good one for me to have on my Kindle in the new year as I do battle with IB paperwork, lesson planning and assessment frameworks over the next few terms…
Lost for words?

Friends and family certainly won’t be when you adopt a word for them this Christmas. Choose a special real or made-up word from “surprise” to “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” for a personal gift that’s suitable for all ages. Your chosen word can be ‘adopted’ online, helping you to avoid the high street, and you can even combine words to adopt a whole phrase. All words and phrases come with their adoption pack, which is sent by post or email, and you can even purchase merchandise with the word or phrase on it to go with your gift. What’s more, it’s an ethical choice too: all the money raised goes to I CAN, the children’s communication charity, making the gift a truly thoughtful and unforgettable choice.

La Hune in its new location
Venez visiter le salon littéraire!

If you’re in Paris for a romantic winter break, you may want to come and visit Louis Vuitton’s new literary salon and gallery in the city, which has the theme « Writing is a Journey ». The temporary exhibition will be on display until December 31st, with art on the walls, books for sale, and literary conversations timetabled. The space, which was previously occupied by bookstore La Hune (which has moved to a corner a few streets away), is set to become part of an extended Louis Vuitton boutique in 2013. I can’t wait – and will let you know when I’ve been able to pop in for a peek.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bookish Bits and Bobs: A rose by any other name?

It was recently announced that Hilary Mantel, author of the famed Wolf Hall, had won the Booker Prize again for its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, just three years after her first win. This made her the first author to ever win the prize twice in her lifetime, and while I can't imagine what such a mind-boggling achievement must feel like, it did get me thinking: would she have won twice if her name had not been on the cover?

Negative discrimination springing out of first names in particular is well-documented. It may be superficial, but would you prefer your university lecturer to be called Catherine or Chardonnay? And would you rather have Charles or Chayse as your solicitor? Whether we like it or not, names do have positive or negative connotations encoded in them by society, and while some of us have a middle name that we can choose to use instead, our names are badges that we have to wear on our fronts more or less for life, and cannot be erased as easily as the arguably equally socially controversial tattoo can.

But what about positive discrimination? This perhaps comes less from the name itself and more from knowing the person (or, in Mantel's case, their work). As a teacher myself, I am ashamed to admit it, but there does come a moment about halfway through the year when you're marking students' work and you find yourself thinking something along the lines of "Oh God, what's Kaylie produced this time?" or "Ah, my shining star Stephen! He won't let me down!" And part of me wonders how much of their good or bad marks is down to the work itself, and how much of it is me EXPECTING them to do well or to do badly.

And so part of me wonders, too, if the judges of the Booker Prize were in some way expecting Mantel to win because of her high profile and previous Booker win. Her name was one of only two really famous ones on the shortlist (with the other being Will Self), with the other four being small-timers, and I'm wondering just how far this swung in her favour. Would Bring Up The Bodies have won if an unknown writer's name had been attached to it?

At university, even undergraduate dissertations are (at least theoretically) marked anonymously, only being tracked by a candidate number. I was therefore deeply disappointed to find that mine had been marked by my dissertation supervisor (the cover sheet doesn't quite cover all manner of sins), feeling that someone so intimately involved with the dissertation's development should not have had a hand in its final grading. For the true clarity of ideas to be perceived, a fresh eye is needed - and by knowing who wrote it from the off, you perhaps don't get that new perspective that the work sorely needs for its true merit to be assessed.

If I'm to practise what I preach, I ought to assign each of my students a candidate number and insist that no names are written on papers. But there are flaws to this system: to avoid candidate numbers being memorised (as I have no more than 17 students in each class), work would still need to be distributed among a wider pool of staff. And just how would such an anonymised system work for something like the Booker? The judging panel would need to have a separate, more highly-ranking administration body above it to anonymise the entries for truly blind judging to occur, which could be time-consuming and costly. Ultimately, however, it would probably be worth it for completely fair assessment.

You could argue that all of this arises from my own bitterness that Will Self didn't win. It's possibly down to that - not to mention that I do have a pretty good history of fabricating Booker conspiracy theories. It's also perhaps a little hypocritical, seeing as during the 1990s I got plenty of stick about sharing my name with a popular yet chavvy Eastenders character. So maybe I'd better just go away and read Mantel's books (my copy of Wolf Hall still sits on the shelf unread), applaud her victories...and then next term give Kaylie and Ashden a better deal.