Category: Education

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Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

I still find myself wanting to read as much as possible as a way of making sense of the world and my own place within it.

I aim to increase the number of blog posts on what I’m reading. These will probably serve more as a reminder to myself rather than offering any particularly profound insights, but who knows. In any event, writing is the best way of organizing thoughts. Making these public gives an added incentive not to be flippant, sloppy, unkind or lazy.

The simple pleasure of making new discoveries and revisiting old favorites is an end in itself. The joys are an antidote to the cynical business-minded world in which, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, consumers are conditioned to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

To confirm this, I was happy to stumble upon something Ursula K Le Guin said in a speech at the National Book Awards in 2014 : “Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.


snpIn a conversation with Indian author Arundhatl Roy at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was refreshing to hear Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon presenting herself as a proud bookworm and promoting the general benefits of reading.

She said: “I have a theory that if more political leaders read more literature, the world wouldn’t be in quite the state it’s in right now”. I couldn’t agree more.

Trump is obviously the most extreme example of the catastrophic effects of un-learning. It is depressing to observe how his supporters continue to lap up his incoherent torrent of hate speech and pig ignorance rather than seeing it for what it is: a blatant abuse and misuse of power. Continue reading

Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker(Penguin Books, 2018)

9780141983769-itThis might just be the perfect book for the bedside table if the contents were not so damned scary.

The list of what lack of sleep causes is vast and should be a concern for those who, up to now, have regarded the daily hours of shut-eye as a waste of time.

The facts and discoveries from decades of scientific research prove that sleeping makes you healthier, wealthier and wiser. It can also make you more attractive and slimmer.

“Sleep fixes what is upset by wake” states Walker. As director of University College Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, the results of his long research carry a genuine authority. The title of the book is not framed as a question (Why do we sleep?) since the science gives us the answers. Ignore the findings at your peril. Continue reading

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (Fleet books, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-08-12 at 20.39.32“Be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer; and one day we will win our freedom” . The defiant words of Martin Luther King speak to Elwood Curtis.

An album of speeches by the great man at Zion Hill was the only album he possessed; a Christmas gift from his Grandmother in 1962. MLK put ideas in the young coloured boy’s head and fired the determination to study and, if need be, to suffer to make something of himself. A natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge meant Elwood excelled at school and great things seem to lie ahead. The chilling prologue to this novel gives fair warning that a harsher destiny lies ahead.

After being convicted for the ‘crime’ of being an unwitting passenger in a stolen car he is sent to the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.This is a work of fiction but the events of state sponsored child abuse he experiences and witnesses there are inspired by the true story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Continue reading

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton, 2018)

This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

W.H. Auden – Bucolics Part II – Woods (1953)

51-zvpnlixl._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_The pitch for this remarkable novel, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction,  is that it follows the converging stories of nine people who are transformed by the emergence of tree consciousness.

In the first section called ‘Roots’ there are separate back stories, more like fables, which introduce the reader to these diverse characters. The following three sections – Trunk, Crown & Seeds – show how these lives interconnect.

Significantly, none of them start out as political activists but each, for different reasons, feel moved to act out of a sense of moral outrage over the way our eco-systems have been, and are still being, destroyed for the sake of economic gain.

The book has 9 humans and over 300 named trees; the latter are in many ways the real protagonists. Powers wants us to appreciate the interdependence between humanity and the inanimate world. In an interview at Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, he poses the question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate?” Continue reading

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