‘Must Reads’ for A-Level Students

This blog comes from Lauren, a student who was with us recently for work experience.

A-Levels are hard. On top of the abundance of essays, exams and coursework deadlines, there is also the expectation that one is well read. This can sometimes feel like a heavy weight to hold on your shoulders. However, reading for pleasure is easy if reading is made pleasurable. This short list of modern classics is aimed to enrich you with intellectual ideas that will hopefully compliment your studies and entertain all those looking for a good read throughout the summer.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Lauren A ThousandCalling all fans of The Kite Runner! Khaled Hosseini’s second novel provides the perfect counterpart to his debut, again focusing in on the social and ethnic rivalries within a modern war-torn country. The story follows two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, whose lives are thrust together by conflict, loss and fate. The two soon form an unbreakable bond likening to that of sisters, enduring the hardship of Taliban rule together as a team. There is something undeniable about Hosseini’s narrative style throughout his work which makes even the most unbearable of events readable and I could honestly not put this book down. Although utterly heart-breaking, the political relevance of this novel helps further an understanding into the context surrounding fiction set in contemporary Afghanistan, providing invaluable insight into the complexities of modern Afghan society; this is especially useful to those studying The Kite Runner at A-Level. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel perhaps even more profound than The Kite Runner, one that will stay with you forever and a definite must read for all.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Lauren PerksThis brilliant book is a coming of age tale based around the challenges of the teenage years. Written as an epistolary entirely in the format of letters, the novella is set in early 1990s America and explores the themes of mental health, first love and self-discovery through the perspective of protagonist, Charlie, a socially awkward introvert. When faced with the world of first dates, mix tapes, school dances and adulthood, Charlie initially hates high school, but the story follows him on his journey of self-acceptance as he embraces his status as a ‘wallflower’ whilst himself through the help of fun-loving best friends Patrick and Sam. The film adaptation is equally as wonderful; the soundtrack features many of my all-time favourite songs, including music from The Smiths and David Bowie. This novel is beautifully written and deceivingly deep. I think it is important that young people take on board the messages within it and are encouraged to be brave, daring and sometimes a little wild.
“There comes a time when you have to see what life looks like from the dancefloor”

1984 by George Orwell

1984Written in 1949, Orwell creates a nightmarish dystopian future whereby everyone and everything is watched over by ‘Big Brother’ and controlled by its tyranny (clearly channel 4 were particularly inspired by this). This novel has had a profound effect and 1984 has now become shorthand for totalitarianism. It encapsulates the power of mass media and its ability to manipulate public opinion, the truth and even history. Great for writing about in exams and an even better conversation starter, this political thriller is truly unforgettable. Arguably one of the most thought provoking texts in modern literature, 1984 is an undeniable ‘must read’.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lauren MatildaRoald Dahl is one of the unconditional loves in my life. His body of work is legendary and I could go on all day about how he inspired me throughout childhood etc etc… and I really don’t think we should forget this as ‘adult learners’. It’s important to take some time away from academic reading and indulge in some of Dahl’s delightfulness from time to time. Regress back to childhood with this wonderful piece of fiction about a six year old girl that we all secretly wish we could be. I certainly wish I was storming through double multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens! And I’m seventeen! The horrid Ms Trunchbull is contrasted wonderfully with the lovely Miss Honey and it is impossible not to become overly emotionally invested in Matilda’s crazy life. I encourage everyone to pour some excitement back into their lives with this magical classic.

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Love is in the air – Epic Romance novels

Its not for everybody but February seems to me to be the best possible time to get stuck into one of these epic romances. These are love stories that stood the test of time, or adversity and lets be honest are probably much better for your soul than those red roses from the corner shop!

ali-outlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century – and a lover in another. In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds. A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming.

ali-bronze-horsemanThe Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

During the summer of 1941 the Metanov family are living a hard life in Leningrad. As the German armies advance their future looks bleak. For Tatiana, love arrives in the guise of Alexander, who harbours a deadly and extraordinary secret.

ali-time-traverllers-wifeThe Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This is the story of Clare, a beautiful, strong-minded art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock randomly resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable, and lend a spectacular urgency to Clare and Henry’s unconventional love story. That their attempt to live normal lives together is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control makes their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

ali-gone-with-teh-windGone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Set against the historical backdrop of the American Civil War, this historical epic is a tale of a nation mortally divided. It is the love story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlet O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

ali-wuthering-heightsWuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

At the centre of this novel is the passionate love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff – recounted with such emotional intensity that a plain tale of the Yorkshire moors acquires the depth and simplicity of ancient tragedy.

ali-a-walk-to-rememberA Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Landon Carter would never have dreamed of asking Jamie Sullivan out, but a twist of fate throws them together. In the months that follow, Landon breaks down Jamie’s natural reserve and begins to get to know her, and to fall in love. Then he discovers that Jamie has a reason for not letting people close.

ali-the-thorn-birdsThe Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Powered by the dreams and struggles of three generations, this is the epic saga of a family rooted in the Australian sheep country. At the story’s heart is the love of Meggie Cleary, who can never possess the man she desperately adores, and Ralph de Bricassart, who rises from parish priest to the inner circles of the Vatican…but whose passion for Meggie will follow him all the days of his life.

 

ali-love-storyLove Story by Erich Segal

Oliver Barrett IV is a rich jock from a stuffy Wasp family on his way to a Harvard degree and a career in law. Jenny Cavilleri is a wisecracking working-class beauty studying music at Radcliffe. They are opposites in nearly every way – but they fell in love. This is their story.

ali-war-and-peaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s beguiling masterpiece entwines love, death and determinism with Russia’s war with Napoleon and its effects on those swept up by the terror it brings. The lives of Pierre, Prince Andrei and Natasha are changed forever as conflict rages throughout the early 19th century.

ali-bridges-of-madison-countyThe Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, this story gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.

ali-atonementAtonement by Ian McEwan

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

ali-love-in-the-time-of-choleraLove in the time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Florentino Ariza has never forgotten his first love. He has waited nearly a lifetime in silence since his beloved Fermina married another man. Following the death of her husband, Florentino has another chance to declare his eternal passion and win her back. Will love that has survived half a century remain unrequited?

 

 

 

 

 

Librarian’s Choice – Sisters

This blog is from Kat, an Assistant Community Librarian.

Being a sister is weird; there is no one I love or hate more in the world than my little sister. I recently realised that some of my favourite stories are centred on this special and frustrating relationship – books, films and reality TV. My mum is also a sister and understands the special bond of sisterhood – I was once watching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and she said “Oh, I love this film, it’s about sisters being horrible to each other…” My all-time fave sisters are obviously the Kardashians but here are a few others that I quite like too;

kat-little-womenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read this (and watched the Winona Ryder film version)– and I keep meaning to reread as an adult but never get around to it. This is a story of four sisters and how the family copes whilst their father is away fighting in the American Civil War. Each sister has a different personality, but are all united by their love for each other and their grief (just like the Kardashians? Okay… I know no one else likes a Kardashian reference). Does anything sum up an annoying little sister more than when Amy throws Jo’s manuscript in the fire? And then needs to be rescued from the ice and becomes the victim? That is definitely something my sister would do!

kat-the-lost-and-the-foundThe Lost & The Found by Cat Clarke

Nominated for a Leeds Book Award last year this book is about a little girl who is kidnapped, and returns to the family years later, seen through the eyes of her younger sister; how she felt during the years without a sister and how she tries to get to know her on her return. This is such a heart-breaking book, it actually made me cry real tears (which very rarely happens!).

kat-pride-and-prejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Another book about four sisters, and again a really annoying younger sister (although actually Lydia was probably the most fun, I’d much rather have a sister like her than boring Jane). Although there is a focus on marriage, class and wealth at its heart this is a novel about family and the lengths siblings will go to to support/defend each other.

kat-double-actDouble Act by Jacqueline Wilson

This was the first Jacqueline Wilson I ever read – I can remember finding it in my school library (which was pretty much a single shelf in the corner) and devouring it. It made me wish I had a twin with a matching name (probably around the same time I was watching Sister, Sister on Nickelodeon and thought it was possible I had a long lost twin somewhere). It was also around the time I just got my sister, and although she wasn’t my twin at least there was someone with just as weird a name as me.

kat-the-other-boleyn-girlThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Where Little Women touches of the idea of one sister stealing another sisters love interest this goes all the way – and the worst part is this is based on real life sisters! Mary is Henry VIII’s lover for a while and then whilst she is pregnant he moves on to her sister Anne. Which in the end works out better for Mary, she might never become Queen of England but at least she isn’t beheaded. This is a little unbelievable from a modern perspective, but I guess this is just the way sisters were with each other back then – and at least they loved each other in their own bizarre way.

Zines, zines, zines

This blog comes from Claire, a librarian based at Studio 12 in Leeds Central library.

zineblog-leedsreadsI’m here to tell you about a new obsession. Zines!

Zines are the ultimate expression of the do-it-yourself ethic. It can look handmade. A zine is a functional vehicle for self-expression. It is generally a short run periodical produced for passion rather than an intention to make money. Zines are an immediate and disposable popular literary form and are typically less formal. A zine can take on topics that the mainstream usually ignores.

I was first introduced to zines through a workshop with Wur Bradford for International Women’s Day last year. The workshop took place over 3 weeks and by the end of the workshop we had learnt about letterpress, photocopying techniques and distribution. But what struck me the most was the pure range of subject, techniques and people the activity brought together. Here were maybe 8 women from diverse backgrounds who hadn’t met before talking openly about what it was to be a woman, looking at their cultures, experiences and backgrounds. The craft created an inclusive and relaxed atmosphere for learning and listening.

My colleague Sapphia suggested we take zines to libraries. We facilitated our first zine workshop at Moor Allerton Library, again for International Women’s Day. We haven’t looked back since partnering with Leeds Arts and Minds to produce zines with varying groups across Leeds for their This Is Me Exhibition hosted in Room700 Leeds Central Library.

We have since secured funding and will be putting on our on Exhibition in March next year. The exhibition will feature zines on a variety of topics including Local History, Poetry, Art, Culture and Books(obviously)

We recently created a zine with fellow Librarians looking at their favourite books. We were looking for book reviews, quotes and images to depict their passion for books and the librarians delivered!

zineblog-leedsreads2Our first zine page was created by Senior Communities Librarian Greg Stringer and looks at the book Brighton Rock. Greg said “It’s one of my favourite books (and films) – the central piece of pink and white paper jumped out at me right at the beginning, suggesting a stick of rock and I tried to find images to build around that that reflected either the era the book was set in (the cars, fashion) and the building suspense and terror developed in the plot or related to particular characters (Pinkie/violin music). There had to be some degree of inventiveness throughout if ideas for images weren’t readily available.”

zineblog-leedsreads4The Secret Garden was a bit of a favourite amongst our librarians.
Assistant Communities Librarian Chloe Derrick said “To maximise time I spent creating the Zine I gathered materials to work with directly. I avoided technology (photocopying, printing, etc.), started with the background and ended with the text. I only used part of a quote from the book so the meaning of the words could be ambiguous. When making the Zine I thought about how much I love the creativity within my role and considered events such Family Art Sessions at Headingley, as Zines really appeal to both adults and children.”

zineblog-leedsreads10This zine page was inspired by The Great Gatsby and created by Assistant Communities Librarian Mark Kirby. “The first thing that sprung to mind from the book was the valley of ashes, where a huge billboard looms over everything. That’s why I chose the block text from the adverts on a murky wallpaper background. To show NYC and the Roaring Twenties, I attempted a Manhattan skyscraper out of filmstrips, and some music manuscript for the Jazz Age. Plus some added party glamour via the dancing girls, courtesy of the Metro newspaper.”

zineblog-leedsreads7Assistant Communities Librarian Angie Palmer created this beautiful page in honour of The Book Thief.

 

 

 

You can view a full copy of the zine
https://issuu.com/studio12leeds/docs/librarian_zine
Zines can help us to celebrate our love of reading, research and culture by giving us a method to share our passions in groups, by distribution and by doing!

Librarian’s choice – Top 10 Favourites

This blog is from Stu, a community librarian based in the East of the city:-

Here’s a list of ten of my favourite fiction books, in no particular order.

stu-catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Joseph Heller was once confronted by an interviewer with the statement, ‘Since Catch-22, you haven’t written anywhere near as good.’ To which Heller replied, ‘No. But neither has anyone else.’ I think this is the greatest book written by anyone anywhere ever and is worthy of every bit of praise that’s been lavished on it over the years. It’s the sorry tale of Yossarian, a bomber in the US Airforce during World War II and his quest to “live forever or die trying”. It’s gloriously, riotously funny, contradictions piling up on top of one another so fast you need wings to stay above them, and the dialogue is absolutely hilarious too. At its heart it’s a razor-sharp satire on the utter ridiculousness of war and what it does to those who are made to fight it, and there are so many classic scenes it would be impossible to even begin to describe them. If you’ve never had a look at this one, you really should do so immediately. Read read read.

stu-salughterhouse-5Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut was described for the vast majority of his career as a sci-fi novelist, but it was a tag which he absolutely hated. So it goes. There are sci-fi aspects to this book to be sure – time travel, aliens from the planet Tralfalmadore – but really it’s a wickedly clever, achingly sad autobiographical novel about the fire-bombing of Dreseden at the end of World War II, which Vonnegut himself actually survived. It’s a startlingly original work with a mellifluous blend of fact, fiction and meta-fiction (years before it became de rigeur), and parts of it – such as the American soldier shot for stealing a teapot – are completely unforgettable. I must have read this book ten times and I’ll read it ten more before I’m finished. Amazing stuff.

stu-cannery-rowCannery Row by John Steinbeck.

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen” and he would have meant the same thing…..” If that opening paragraph doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will. This novella about Doc, Mack, Hazel and the boys panhandling down on Cannery Row is a thing of absolute beauty, and is the perfect introduction for anyone new to Steinbeck’s world. If you’re already familiar with this, the sequel Sweet Thursday is a great read too, as is Tortilla Flat, which is almost like a prototype for this little gem.

stu-wuthering-heightsWuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Emily is my favourite Bronte by a considerable distance, and this is my favourite Bronte novel by a country mile. Most people will have a vague idea of the story – Cathy, Heathcliff, love, passion, death etc. – but the real star of this novel is the wild Yorkshire landscape, described perfectly in Bronte’s turbulent, almost Gothic prose.

stu-notes-from-undergroundNotes From Underground by Dostoyevsky.

This book provides us with the first great anti-hero in literature, the progenitor of a whole motley crew of misanthropic weirdoes from the starving, unnamed wretch in Knut Hamsun’s Hunger to Arturo Bandini and Henry Chinaski and everyone in between. You could also look at it as the first proper Existential novel, if you really wanted to. The great Russian writers come with a lot of baggage and formidable reputations to boot, and the sheer size of their works can often put people off, but for the dedicated reader there are great delights to be found therein. This is reasonably short by the standards of many of his other works, so if you’ve ever fancied checking him out but feel over-faced by The Idiot, maybe this is the place to start.

stu-frankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Yeah, I know, people will tell you that there were Gothic novels before this one – The Castle Of Otranto, The Monk, Ann Radcliffe and all that – but for me this is really where it all started. It’s a canny mix of early Gothic atmospherics shot through with Romantic sensibilities, and it’s treatment of the dichotomy between science and religion captured the Zeitgeist perfectly when it was first published in the early 19th century. It’s a surprisingly easy read for something that’s as old as it is, and it’s a compulsive, page-turning story to boot; it’s also a hugely influential work that has spawned thousands of imitators both in printed and cinematic forms. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a movie with a mad scientist protagonist who ends up being destroyed by his single-minded pursuit of his vision, whether the writer even knows it or not, you can trace a direct line back to poor, misguided Victor. Incidentally, Shelley’s treatment of the creature he creates is deeply sympathetic, extremely humane and quite forward-thinking in many ways, so it’s kind of odd that over the years it has come to be known as Frankenstein’s Monster. It may be monstrous, but that’s not quite the same thing. With all the recent debates about GM foods, cloning and stem cells, it’s still as relevant as ever and seems destined to remain so for quite some time yet.

stu-johnny-got-his-gunJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

It’s worth noting that this book is unique on this list as it’s the only one that I haven’t read more than once – yet. I read it two or three years ago, having had it on my list since my university days a long time ago in a universe far, far away. It’s an absolutely breathtaking piece of creative writing and trying to describe it effectively is virtually impossible. In a nutshell though, the whole novel is an internal monologue from inside the head of a soldier who has been blown up by a shell in World War I. The thing is, he doesn’t realise initially that he has been blown up, and over the course of the opening few chapters he makes – via some astonishingly inventive psychological insights from the writer -several chilling discoveries about the extent of his injuries; he has no arms, no legs, and most of his face has been blown off so he’s deaf and blind as well. What follows is his attempts to deal with the situation he’s in, and his amazing efforts to communicate with the outside world. Absolutely extraordinary, this one.

stu-ulyssesUlysses by James Joyce.

Ulysses is really more of an artistic statement and an intellectual puzzle than a novel, but it’s no less enjoyable for it. On the face of it’s the tale of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom and their meeting one day in Dublin on 16th June, 1904. What lies beneath is a virtuoso display of technical skill, linguistic pastiche (check out the Oxen Of the Sun section for a stellar example of this) and stream-of-consciousness monologues, all addressing serious contemporary issues such as the power of the Catholic church, Home Rule and Irish Nationalism. It fulfils Joyce’s promise from A Portrait Of the Artist As A Young Man to ‘forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’ and it does so brilliantly.

stu-the-fightThe Fight by Norman Mailer.

A bit of a cheat putting this on a fiction list, but it’s an cracking example of what came to be known as the non-fiction novel so I think I’ll just about get away with it. This is Mailer’s account of the famous Ali-Frasier Rumble In the Jungle in 1974. Mailer was one of the great men of American letters, and many of his novels are undisputed classics. What people don’t often realise is that he was a very good journalist too, and that one of his main passions was writing about boxing, something he did for most of his life. This works as a great insider scoop of the fight, but it’s also an intimate portrait of the two fighters (there’s a lovely bit where Ali takes Mailer for a run on the eve of the fight, for example) and he captures the madness of 70s Zaire beautifully as well.

stu-fupFup by Jim Dodge.

I can never resist an opportunity to plug this one. So small you can read it in half an hour, this novella is a lovely little zen-like fable about a ninety nine year old man who keeps himself alive with home-made Death Whisper whiskey, his grandson and their pet duck Fup, who they rescue from the clutches of the crazy wild boar that’s terrorizing their ranch. Jim Dodge is an absolute magician with words and it’s a shame that his whole printed output only amounts to three novels – Stone Junction and Not Fade Away are both pretty mind-blowing too – and a single book of poetry/shorter prose. There’s a bit of magic realism going on here which adds to the mystique, but really it’s just a great story, beautifully told, and with a real heartbreaker as an ending. It’s one of those books that you’ll read once, go back to the beginning, read again, then start buying copies for all your friends. Wonderful.