Fun Palaces at Leeds Libraries

Fun Palace logo

This year we are delighted to be hosting Fun Palaces in 7 of our libraries.

Fun Palaces is a movement campaigning for culture by, for and with all – with a firm belief that community belongs at the core of all culture – and an annual weekend of events, where arts, crafts, science, tech and digital are a catalyst for community engagement and full participation for everyone, from the grassroots up.

Fun Palaces are made by local people for their own communities, bringing together arts and sciences, crafts, tech and digital, free and fun, linked by the the Fun Palace network – Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist. We welcome many more, from everywhere and anywhere, to join us in 2017 and beyond.

We want you to help us create a Fun Palace that is unique and relevant to the community that you live in. Have you got a skill that you can share with others? We would love you to give some time to share that skill at one of our Fun Palaces over the weekend of the 7th and 8th October. Follow the links below to find out more about the venue and contact details.

Community Hub and Library Fun Palaces in Leeds are in the following places:-

Armley One Stop Centre

Compton Centre

Crossgates Library

Dewsbury Road Community Hub

Guiseley Library

Horsforth Community Hub

Reginald Centre

For more information about Fun Palaces in general, visit the Fun Palace website.

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Librarian’s Choice: Funny Memoirs

This blog comes from Angie, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds.

My reading interests lean towards psychological thrillers but on occasion I like to lighten the load with something humorous. Laughing is a wonderful tonic and respite from the cares of the world and books are as mood busting as a trip to a comedy festival or an old episode of ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’
Some books are just wry and witty, some are light entertainment and others are laugh out loud “whoops there go my cornflakes all over the breakfast table” hysterical. I have often found myself involuntarily laughing out loud much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters. Below is a selection of some of my favourites, most of which are co-incidentally memoirs.

Ang Teenage RevolutionTeenage Revolution by Alan Davies

A very funny trip down memory lane, this time as an adolescent in the weird and wonderful late 1970’s early 80’s. This memoir will resonate with anyone of a similar age set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain. It is a reminder that far from being the ‘time of our lives’’ it can also be a period of high anxiety, of struggling to fit in and find a purpose to life. The book is such a great and painfully honest account of being a teenager, with lots of musical references thrown in, I had to dig out my vinyl collection afterwards to recreate the mood.

ANG Wishful DrinkingWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I have always been a big fan, I have enjoyed her previous memoirs films and regular TV appearances. We mourn the passing not only of a space princess but a genuine comic talent. In truth there is an element of ‘celebrity net twitching ‘ going on here which I am not immune to, but the reader is allowed this guilty pleasure since Carrie fisher’s life was full of dichotomies having enjoyed all the superficial benefits of a Hollywood lifestyle coupled with all its dysfunctions. Ms Fisher’s biographies are full of clever observations and acerbic humour.
‘Wishful Drinking’ is one of her later memoirs and as the title suggests offers an insight into her life post rehab. I read it in a hospital waiting room in 3 hours and frequently drew concerned looks from other patients as my whole body writhed with laughter. Sadly, as we now know she never did rid herself of her demons.

Ang The tentThe Tent the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy

As a child of the 1970’s I could so relate, my childhood and teens were similarly spent coiled in embarrassment whether by my mother’s cat suits and penchant for fancy dress parties or my dad’s moustache and permed hair, Kevin Keegan has a lot to answer for! Emma Kennedy is able to evoke such awkward but hysterical memories it almost makes me melancholic for the 3 day week and squishy cheese in a tube. The book introduces you to her eccentric family and their disastrous attempts at holidaying in a tent first in the UK then abroad. Be warned all holiday makers check that your tent is weather proof and that you take spare clothes for all eventualities including motorway service stations. This book was made into a BBC T.V series ‘The Kennedy’s, look out for any repeats, it is a must watch.

Ang How to beHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran not only lets you glimpse into her past but brings you bang up to date with the trials and tribulations of being a woman in the noughties. It is one long, very funny feminist rant. Caitlin is the funniest feminist commentator of our modern times, not for the fainthearted as it is very ‘earthy’ in tone and language.

Ang Serge BastardeSerge Bastarde Ate My Baguette by John Dummer

This book was borrowed to accompany me on my travels to France a few years back. I really enjoyed this true account of ex brit musician who relocates across the channel to try his hand as an antique dealer. Along the way he meets a fellow Brocante enthusiast Serge Bastarde (Bastarde by name and by nature) and hence the drama begins. Serge reminded me of Dell Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ a hopeless yet likeable rogue. As with any story set in rural France there is lots of wine drinking thrown in, what’s not to like? A very funny foray into the foibles of the French and all the more enjoyed due to a shared passion for antique hunting and flea markets.

Ang How to be a husbandHow to Be A Husband by Tim Dowling

A comical biographical journey through the life and times of 21st century man and confessed non-alpha male Tim Dowling. This books offers a very funny insight into the Guardian columnist life. Having been married over 20 years and with three sons he is more than qualified to comment on the matter. The book is essentially a collection of no-particular-order chapters of which include: “Twelve Labours of Marriage”, “Seven Ways in Which You Might Be Wrong”, “Five Things You Can Actually Fix by Hitting Them with a Hammer”. Basically Tim Dowling portrays himself as baffled and bewildered where even the family dog is a rung higher on the family pecking order.

Ang The HusbandNot to be confused with the equally funny ‘The Husband’, part of a spoof collection of ’How It Works’ Ladybird classics also available in Leeds Libraries

Ang Lady in the vanThe Lady In The Van by Alan Bennett

Camden is my old stomping ground and indeed my children were born there. I am familiar with the uniqueness of London, where the uber rich live cheek by jowl with the homeless. This is such a poignant and funny account of trying to put your principles into practice, the desire to be a good neighbour and humanitarian whilst also begrudging the consequences. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film or play this memoir revolves around a homeless eccentric old lady who lives in a van and after the threat of eviction becomes a sitting tenant in Alan Bennet’s front drive. This is classic Bennett, full of awkwardness and honest self- effacing northern humour

Happy Reading!

Librarian’s Choice: Books with a local connection

We asked the staff in our Local & Family History Library for their favourite books with a local connection. Here are their suggestions:- 

LFH Death avid readerDeath of An Avid Reader by Frances Brody, Set in the Leeds Library

Kate Shackleton’s sterling reputation for courageous sleuthing attracts the attention of the venerable Lady Coulton. Hidden in her past is a daughter, born out of wedlock and given up to a different family. Now, Lady Coulton is determined to find her and puts Kate on the case.
“I like this book because it is a very good detective yarn which keeps you guessing to the end. It is set in Leeds in the 1920s, The plot is centred around the Private Library on Commercial Street. I can relate to the staff in their roles as library assistants and can visualise the descriptions’ of the building from my visits there.” –Lynn, Library Officer

LFH Never trust a rabbitNever trust a rabbit by Jeremy Dyson, Leeds – Yorkshire

Unsettling premonitions, fortune-telling cashpoints and disappearing mazes all converge in Jeremy Dyson’s first book – a collection of short stories that established him as a formidable storyteller on original publication.
“Jeremy Dyson’s short stories are utterly terrifying in the smallest possible ways – tiny changes in routine lead to disturbing consequences, or a simple wrong turn leads somewhere scary and unexpected… Read ‘The Maze’ for an eerie story set in Leeds Central Library!” – Ross, Librarian Manager

LFH ChocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris, Barnsley – Yorkshire

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?
“This is without a doubt my favourite book, if I need comfort there’s no better way than to follow the wind and completely immerse myself in Vianne and Anouk’s world along with the mysterious Pantoufle (who doesn’t love an imaginary Rabbit)
Vianne is a strong female character who lives by her own rules and doesn’t care what other people think. Chocolat is a feel good book with a twist, a fascinating mixture of Folk Tales and Witch Craft with a dash of romance. Darker than the film, but the descriptions are far more magical than a film can show. Perfect for curling up on a rainy day with a cup of hot chocolate.” – Klara, Library Officer

LFH Damned UnitedThe Damned United by David Peace, based upon Leeds United Football Club

In 1974 the brilliant and controversial Brian Clough made perhaps his most eccentric decision: he accepted the Leeds United manager’s job. As successor to Don Revie, his bitter adversary, he was to last only 44 days. In one of the most acclaimed novels of this or any other year, David Peace takes us into the mind and thoughts of Ol’Big’Ead himself, and brings vividly to life one of post-war Britain’s most complex and fascinating characters.
“David Peace’s searing vision of life inside the head of (probably) the most charismatic football manager this country has ever produced remains a vital and necessary read. It’s not even really “about” football; instead, the novel carries a deep and pervading sense of loss for a very particular vision of ‘England’, of a community much diminished in the brutal face of very different notions of what a nation can and should mean.” – Antony, Assistant Librarian Manager

LFH Behind the scenesBehind The Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, York – Yorkshire

Ruby Lennox was conceived grudgingly by Bunty and born while her father, George, was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a woman in an emerald dress and a D-cup that he wasn’t married. Bunty had never wanted to marry George, but here she was, stuck in a flat above the pet shop in an ancient street beneath York Minster, with sensible and sardonic Patricia aged five, greedy cross-patch Gillian who refused to be ignored, and Ruby…
“I enjoyed this first novel from York-born author Kate Atkinson, which won Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995. It follows the life of Ruby Lennox, interspersed with flashbacks which cover the lives of six generations of women from Ruby’s own family.” – Karen, Assistant Librarian Manager.

LFH The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, reader of English and Professor at Leeds University (a tenuous link but for a book as good as this we’re letting it in)

The Hobbit is a tale of high adventure, undertaken by a company of dwarves in search of dragon-guarded gold. A reluctant partner in this perilous quest is Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving unambitious hobbit, who surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and skill as a burglar. Encounters with trolls, goblins, dwarves, elves and giant spiders, conversations with the dragon, Smaug, and a rather unwilling presence at the Battle of Five Armies are just some of the adventures that befall Bilbo.
“Tolkien, with almost ease creates this complex world full of imaginative creatures, including simple hobbits, beautiful elves, mischievous dwarves, dastardly orcs, and the dreaded dragon, Smaug. I like this book because it represents all of the fun of the fantasy genre while creating perilous obstacles that the characters must overcome. I have read The Hobbit numerous times as a child, teenager and adult, each time ending the novel with a new insight and as an added bonus it has one of the most iconic opening lines, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’” – Josh, Library Officer

Book Reviews: A Brief History of Seven Killings, Flowers for Algernon and Toby’s Room

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Stu Brief HistoryTo begin, a couple of notes on the title. This book cannot accurately be described in any way, shape or form as being “brief”; it clocks in at nearly seven hundred pages of tiny print, and even for it a super-speedy reader like me it takes some getting through. Secondly, although the title refers to seven killings, there are an awful lot more than that contained herein. If I said the body count was closer to triple figures it would sound like an exaggeration, but it’s probably actually not far off the mark. This is a brutal, nasty affair in places, packed with the kind of cinematic violence you’d expect from a Tarantino movie, with gallons of claret flowing throughout.
What you’re really dealing with here is a history of Jamaica in the second half of the twentieth century – centering on the savage political violence that split the country in half after its independence from Great Britain in 1962 – told through the distinct voices of innumerable characters, from gangsters and slum-dwellers to CIA operatives and American journalists. Stylistically it’s reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, with each chapter and episode being narrated by a different protagonist with a distinct narrative voice, from Jamaican patois to American hipster slang. It’s epic in scope, taking in the slums of Kingston, the keys of Miami and the desolate urban sprawl of 70s New York, and it works on so many different levels that it almost defies belief. It’s a literary page-turner, a pulp-fiction thriller, an investigation of the shooting of Bob Marley (referred to as “The Singer” throughout) two days before the Smile Jamaica peace concert in 1976. It contains flavours of Southern gothic and film noir, and the whole thing is shot through with a rich vein of super-dark humour which can’t help but raise a smile, despite the bleak nature of the subject matter. The characters are beautifully drawn and their individual voices are superbly rendered – this really is writing of the highest order. According to the blurb on the cover it made it onto 23 ‘book of the year’ lists when it was published. All the plaudits are richly deserved. I absolutely caned my way through this, desperate to see how it would finish, and yet was disappointed when it finally ended as I felt like I wanted to read more. A genuinely challenging, stimulating and thoroughly entertaining read, and how many Booker Prize winners can you say that about? Absolutely brilliant.

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Stu FlowersI’ve long been familiar with the plot and general themes of this vintage sci-fi novel, but it’s only recently that I’ve finally got around to reading it. For the uninitiated, it’s the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68 who works a menial job sweeping the floor in a baker owned by a friend of his uncle, who secured him the job to prevent him being sent to a mental institution. Charlie is selected by scientists to take part in a trial for a new surgical procedure which can increase intelligence, a technique which has previously been tested on laboratory mice, one of which is the Algernon referred to in the title. The surgery is a success, and Charlie’s IQ triples, but the effects are not quite as anticipated.

He realises that his ‘friends’ at the bakery aren’t his friends at all; they like having him to be around to make fun of and make them feel better about themselves, and they’ve coined a phrase – “pulling a Charlie Gordon” – to describe someone doing something to unintentionally make a fool of themselves. They feel threatened by his new intelligence, turn against him and he ultimately ends up losing his job. Despite being blessed with a genius level IQ, Charlie still has the emotional intelligence of a child, and struggles in social situations; he speaks to scientists and professors, but finds their conversation limited and dull; he seeks the love of a woman, but his intellect is such that he can’t engage with the opposite sex on any kind of basic level, and he’s lonelier than he ever was before the operation.

I don’t want to give the ending away so won’t say any more about the plot, but this is a great take on the Frankenstein fable about scientists playing God and the terrible consequences that it can bring. For those who don’t consider themselves fans of Sci-fi, don’t let the label put you off. The premise may be sci-fi, but this is set in a very recognisable universe, features very real, believable characters and shows some uncanny psychological insight throughout. Be warned though – it’s not a happy read and the ending is a real tear-jerker. It’s a startlingly original bit of writing which has become a stone cold classic since its first publication in novel form in 1966, and deservedly so. Well worth checking out if you fancy a left-field, thought-provoking read.

Toby’s room by Pat Barker

Stu Toby's RoomThis novel sees Pat Barker return to the subject of the First World War, and it’s absolutely brilliant. The story starts in 1912. Elinor and Toby Brooke have a relationship far closer than any brother and sister ever should, and one that they never dare acknowledge. Fast forward to 1917 – Toby is gone, missing presumed killed in the carnage of Flanders. Elinor is trying to find her feet as a professional artist, and is struggling to come to terms with what happened to her brother. Only one man – Kit Neville – an old friend from art school who was one of his stretcher bearers knows what happened to Toby, but he is suffering too, struck down by a hideously disfiguring facial wound. Only their mutual friend, commissioned war artist Paul Tarrant, can find out the truth, but will it be too much for Elinor to bear?
One of the great strengths of this novel is Barker’s incredibly perceptive understanding of her characters and their motivations, and her depiction of the complex relationships between them is first class. Her descriptions of the chaos of war and the effects it has on the men fighting it are startlingly real, and the climactic scene in which Neville describes the real events that lead up to Toby’s death while a winter storm rages outside is staggeringly emotional.
Technically it’s superb – practically flawless, actually. The descriptive prose is brilliant, the dialogue pitch-perfect, the scenes of war cataclysmic and the bits about the facial injuries suffered by many – as painted by Henry Tonks, who appears as a character in this novel – stomach-churningly graphic. Barker sets the plot in motion immediately, and right from the first couple of pages I was absolutely hooked on this. It’s a great story, beautifully written and told by an artist with an absolute mastery of her craft. Superb stuff.

Reviews from Stu, a Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds

Librarian’s Choice: My favourite books for under 5s

This blog comes from Debbie, a Community Librarian in the east of Leeds.

As anyone with small children will know, the Summer Holidays bring many challenges, including how to keep little ones entertained for the entire 6 weeks…that’s a massive 1008 hours. With that in mind, I thought I would compose a list of my all-time favourite books for under 5s. As a Librarian and a mother, I have read countless children’s books over the years. Here are the 5 books that have stood out to me and I have returned to time and time again.

Each peach pear plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Deb Each peachThis is my favourite children’s book of all time. Written and illustrated by the magical duo Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This booked is packed with wonderful illustrations of fairy tale characters such as Tom Thumb, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Mother Hubbard and many more. There is a little ‘I spy’ rhyme on each page and children can look for the hidden characters. The rhymes are repetitive so children can quickly anticipate what will come next and can easily learn to recite the book themselves. The book is told in easy rhyme, ‘Each,Peach, Pear Plum I spy Tom Thumb, Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard.

Each, Peach, Pear, Plumb takes us through a journey to find the hidden characters, but the real joy comes from discovering the other secrets hidden on each page. Children can continue the story themselves, using the many characters for inspiration. I have spent many evenings cuddled up with my children with this book and this is a book I will never tire of. This is a charming, sweet book that you will enjoy reading with your child over and over again.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler

Deb The GruffaloThe Gruffalo is my next favourite book. Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler, the Gruffalo is a classic book that will be loved by children and grown-ups for generations to come.

This book captures the imaginations of young minds. We are introduced to the characters- the Mouse, the Gruffalo, the Owl, the Fox, the Snake with the ‘innocent’ mouse as the main character. Throughout the book the Mouse shows his bravery and underlying cunningness to save himself from the various predators lurking ‘In the deep dark wood’. He is able to trick the various forest creatures into believing that he is in fact ‘the scariest creature in all the wood.’ The short rhymes and their repetitive structure make The Gruffalo a fun book to read aloud and children will quickly learn the words and be able to join in.

How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

Deb How theThis is a lovely book with an inspiring message for younger readers. There are also many positive subtle messages that perhaps only the grown-ups will understand but using this a starting point to chat to children and develop the story gives this book many layers. The overall feeling for all readers in one of positivity.

It is so refreshing to see the damsel in distress (Rapunzel) ‘rescued’ by the library-and not the prince on horseback as we normally see. Lots of would be rescuers show their hand in this book, but alas only the library can save the day! The illustrations are bright, cheerful and engaging for readers and offer a fun and refreshing
background for the tale. The book is told in rhymes and a cast of multi-cultural characters that help set this book aside from most other ‘fairytales’. As a mother (and a Librarian), I am very impressed by the messages in this book as these echo the lessons I try to pass to my children,

“So don’t just wait for your prince to show.
He might turn up, but you never know.
Pop down to your library and borrow a book
There’s so much to find if only you look.”

Eat your peas: A Daisy book by Kes Gray and illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Deb Eat your peasMy daughter loved, loved, loved this book. This is the book I had to read over and over again.

Eat Your Peas is a funny tale of the battle of wills between Daisy (who really does not like peas) and her mum. Daisy’s mum tries everything to get her to eat her peas
resorting to bribing her with treats such as staying up later and skipping bath time. However as Daisy continues to refuse her peas, Mum’s promises start to become more and more elaborate, including offers of chocolate factories, elephants and bikes. But still Daisy refuses to eat her peas. Finally Daisy makes a suggestion. ‘I’ll eat my peas if you eat your Brussel Sprouts’. Simple. Except….Daisy’s mum replies ‘but I don’t like Brussel Sprouts.

This common problem of disliking certain food makes the story easy to relate to for
children. The repetition in the book is a fun way for the children to be involved often
calling out ‘but I don’t like peas’. The pictures a clear and vibrant and would be suitable for children of all ages.

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrations by Helen Oxenby

Deb Bear HuntThis classic book is a favourite in many homes, nurseries, schools and libraries. There is a perfect mix of rhyme and repetition which engages children from the off and the anticipation of what will happen next is enough to keep children interested in the story from start to finish.

The story sees the determined family of 4 set off on their own bear hunt and tells how they overcome several obstacles in their way, until at last they manage to track down the bear. The story is simple and fun and easy for children to join in with. The descriptions of the obstacles in their way ‘swishy-swashy grass’ and ‘thick oozy mud’ lends itself to interactive and fun storytime session, with children being able to act out the story as they go along. Reading is meant to be fun and this book certainly is that.

Librarian’s Choice: Enjoy a bit of Fantasy Horror

This blog comes from Lisa, a development librarian based at Central library.

I thought summer would be a good time to go for something different and write about a few of my favourite horror/fantasy books, so here goes:-

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

Lisa NOS4R2I didn’t know until fairly recently that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. He’s clearly inherited the writing gene and I’ve since enjoyed several of his books. NOS4R2 is a not-very-festive Christmas story featuring a terrifying child abductor called Charlie Manx and a resourceful girl called Vic McQueen who initially escapes his clutches but then encounters him again later on in life. Things are typically not as they seem in this world and the author deftly mixes real world events with horror and fantasy elements. I like his writing style, and found myself really immersed in this story.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Lisa Night WatchI got hooked by this one and had to go on to read the whole series. It’s set in Moscow and is about the precarious balance between the “Others”, who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Agents of the Dark oversee nocturnal activity and those of the Light do the same during daytime. Legend tells of a supreme Other who will emerge and threaten this balance and in this first book, that’s just what happens. This series seemed quite different from others I had read and I really enjoyed the language and the Russian cultural references scattered amongst all the action.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M R Carey

Lisa Girl withA friend recommended this book to me and I was fascinated by it pretty early on. It’s probably best not to go into too much detail but if you like dystopian thrillers you’ll love this! It begins with Melanie, an unusual young girl who is picked up from her cell every morning for her lessons at gun point and strapped into a wheelchair. She loves to learn and clearly has much to give, so what’s going on and why are people so afraid of her?

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Lisa Let the rightSet in Sweden, this is an intriguing, haunting novel that’s not like the rest. Oskar is a 12 year old boy who struggles to fit in at school and is constantly bullied; however things change when he meets his new neighbour, a strange yet interesting girl named Eli who only seems to go out at night. Then a body is found that’s been drained of blood… If you enjoy reading this, you’ll find the Swedish version of the film is definitely worth a watch.

The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro

Lisa The StrainI was hoping I’d like this one as I’m a big fan of del Toro’s work. One of the early scenes in this book really got to me – when an aeroplane lands at JFK airport, then stops dead and all communications are cut. There is no way in and no way out for the passengers. It’s up to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather from the CDC to find out what happened and to try and stop what’s coming. This is pretty spooky and gripping from the start. It’s also written in quite a cinematic style so you can really picture the scenes, hardly surprising that it was made into a TV series.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Lisa American GodsOne of my favourite authors, Neil is so prolific that it was hard to choose but I love American Gods. Shadow is released from prison early when his wife dies alongside his best friend in a car accident and life gets stranger for him from that point on. He accepts a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know all about him, and is led into a world of ancient and modern mythology exploring the origins and influence of gods and spirits. I was absorbed in this from the beginning – I find the power of belief, how it spreads and what it can lead to really interesting; plus it’s a fantastic tale! The recent TV adaptation is definitely worth checking out as well.

‘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.