What I’m reading: Gavin, Larkin, and more

The reading journal has been a little neglected of late. It’s time for an update.

Much of my (fiction) reading has been related to my PGCE studies. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve been reading:

  • Coram Boy, Jamila Gavin
  • A Girl in Winter, Philip Larkin
  • American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  • Divergent, Veronica Roth
  • Ghosts In Shanghai, Julian Sedgwick
  • The Circle, Dave Eggers

What I’ve got recently that I still need to read:

  • The Children Act, Ian McEwan
  • Boo, Neil Smith
  • Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
  • Thinner, Richard Bachman/Stephen King

I’m bound to get some more books that I’ll be teaching after Christmas – I’ll be (hopefully) finding out what these books are on Wednesday, as I have my induction day at my PP2 school.

Let’s take a look, one by one, of what I read in November:

Coram Boy

I had to read this as part of my course, so that we could practise our medium-term planning skills. We were also treated to a visit by the author – Jamila Gavin. A few pages into the novel, I realised that I had actually read it many years before, but could barely remember it.

Then I remembered why I could barely remember it.

While the premise of the novel and its narrative are brilliant, I found Gavin’s writing hard to read. At times the sentence structure seemed too complicated, and some of the words used didn’t seem to fit correctly with their context; it seemed as though another (or a different) editor should have had a look over the work. That criticism (which might be misplaced as the novel did win a few awards) aside, the novel is good: interesting characters, super premise, enthralling story which was, at times, harrowing and disturbing.

Meeting Gavin was an interesting experience. It was really insightful to talk to an author about the processes behind their writing – where the idea came from, their other influences etc. You can read a more detailed account of her visit here – written by a fellow PGCE student.

We were also fortunate enough that there was a performance of the play version happening at the Amateur Dramatic Club in Cambridge – so we went to see that. Again, it was interesting to see how a text can be transformed for the stage.

A Girl in Winter

I had a bit of a “Larkin” November. I read a lot of his poetry, taught and discussed several of his poems, and learnt a lot about his life. It was helpful, when teaching his poetry, to have lived in Hull; very close to where he had lived.

A Girl in Winter is one of Larkin’s two novels (the other being Jill – still in the post), and A Girl in Winter is the first that I have read. It’s different to his poetry, but the novel is definitely “Larkinesque”, and it is clear that he is the author.

For many years, Larkin was the librarian at the Brynmor Jones library at the University of Hull… I’ve spent many hours in that library. Although it looks rather different now (thanks to a mega-million pound refurb), some of the details that Larkin describes about the fictional library’s entrance conjure up images of the entrance to the Brynmor Jones library in my mind.

The novel itself is nothing ground-breaking. A tale of love-lost and found, it’s interesting and fun but not astonishingly amazing.

As to whether reading it adds much to his poetry, I’m not sure. While I’ve read The Whitsun Weddings thoroughly, I’ve only had a cursory look at much of his other poetry (I do own the complete works), so perhaps a more detailed reading might illuminate further links.

American Psycho

I gave up. I managed about 40 pages of this before I decided that I’d had enough. The crazy attention to minuscule details got a bit too annoying and just made it hard to read – I don’t need to know the make of every individual piece of clothing that someone wears. Just throwing in a couple of names is enough to tell me that they’re loaded.

Bit disappointed, as I had heard great things about the novel and I know that it’s probably really good.

Perhaps I’ll come back to it in the future.


A victim of being binge-read. Although I’m not sure that victim is the correct word there. If anything, it shows that the book was engaging enough for me to read it in one sitting.

A fun read, but at times too similar to The Hunger Games… fits well into the current dystopic YA trend.

Ghosts in Shanghai

Sedgwick visited my previous school while I was there, and gave a number of speeches to the students – I was lucky enough to watch one of them and get a signed copy.

Interestingly, Ghosts in Shanghai is written in the present tense. I’m not sure why, but this always seems harder to write and to read and seems, therefore, an usual choice for a children’s book.

Mixing in various bits of Pinyin adds to the vivid descriptions to create a sense of verisimilitude.

A fun book, if a little confusing occasionally.

The Circle

I loved this. A satire on the dangers of allowing a fictitious company to have all our information. The fictitious company is clearly a blend of Facebook and Google, and the novel shows that while many of their programs have helpful applications, there is something sinister going on in the background.

I just didn’t get the bit with all the animals. I sorta skim read that bit. It’s a shame as the rest of the novel was pretty great.





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