Summer reading

10th July 2009 at 01:00

Barbara Mann, Education development officer, East Dunbartonshire

Normally, I have a pile of books collected, waiting for that first blissful day of the holidays, but this year, for some reason, I am not so organised. I have a couple of books put by - both gifts from No. 2 daughter and her friend. The first, which I am looking forward to, is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I am not sure where they heard of it but they assure me it's "just up my street". The blurb says it was "hailed as a masterpiece from its first publication (1961) - a story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright young couple who are bored with the banalities of suburban life and long to be extraordinary".

For the next to be added to my "pile", I have taken the advice of The Herald's Alistair Mabbott and have ordered The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by the novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. The book follows events in the life of a concierge, Renee Michel, whose deliberately-concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable, but intellectually precocious, girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma has decided that life is meaningless and is making plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.

My final choice is 2666, by Roberto Bolano, which was briefly reviewed by Matthew Perren in "i-on Glasgow" as "the sort of book you don't just read, you become submerged in". He suggests taking "two weeks off work to read it - it'll be cheaper than a holiday and a lot more rewarding". Can't wait.

Leslie Manson, Director of education, Orkney

I've got two young kids and we're a very active family. The whole year, our lives run at 100 miles an hour, so more often than not, ours is a "do nothing holiday". I am a binge reader. I read for two weeks in the sun and, during that time, I read a book a day. Our usual pattern is to go into a book shop before we set off and buy over a dozen books.

My wife and I are fiction readers mainly. Kent Haruf was a memorable holiday read. He has written some beautiful books about small-town, mid- west America - Plainsong and Eventide. They are simple and gently told. He sketches out lovely characters.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of Scottish literature. I appreciate the talent of our contemporary writers but my reading is about escapism.

I enjoy crime and mystery. Without a doubt, the most enjoyable, exciting books I've read in a long, long time are the millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl who Played with Fire. Another is waiting to be translated into English. I don't usually anticipate the publication of books but this is a notable exception. They are the most exciting, complex, intelligent, intricate and mysterious books I've read. I love them.

Henning Mankell is another Scandinavian author. He wrote the Inspector Wallander books which were turned into a TV series, which I did not enjoy. I thought: "This guy couldn't solve anything. That's a guy who couldn't find his shoes in the morning." But Mankell is a fantastic storyteller - simple, sparse, like Larsson. These books are likely to shape my choices for this year.

Keith Brown, Schools Minister

I plan to do a broad range of reading, but as I am still relatively new in my role, I shall have quite a bit of work-related material to get through. I'll make sure, however, I find the time for some personal reading.

One I plan to read, which was brought to my attention through the Scottish Government's SPL Reading Stars project, is Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. It examines the perceptiveness of the subconscious mind and how first impressions can be more educated and controlled than we may think. It should prove to be a fascinating read.

I enjoy books that stop and make you think, through to easy-reading novels by authors such as Lee Child, Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly, and I shall be sure to fit a few of these in over the summer.

Sue Palmer, Author of Toxic Childhood and 21st-Century Boys

I've already read Ribblestrop, by Andy Milligan. It's a very funny and outrageous children's book, set in a school and written by a teacher. Ribblestrop, being a school with the motto "Life is dangerous", is full of insane risk-taking, but everyone survives. Children should obviously be taking more risks in play, but those who don't get enough opportunities can at least get an adrenaline rush from reading about it. Milligan has a sort of wry humour, like Evelyn Waugh. I choked while eating in a hotel as a result of laughing so much - I had to be helped by a waiter.

I got The Children's Book, by AS Byatt, from one of my former pupils, now a 30-odd-year-old computer programmer in Germany, for my 60th birthday. It's about these children growing up in the 1910s and 1920s, and the influence of their family. I'll be interested to see how she uses history to reference modern times.

I've been listening to Dreams From My Father on long car journeys. It makes you think maybe Barack Obama is the person people want him to be. I'm glad I'm listening rather than reading - his voice is so lovely.

Ann Ballinger, General secretary, Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

For me the summer is all about relaxing and enjoying life. I see friends and spend as much time outdoors as possible, and this includes sitting in the shade reading.

On the menu this year are: Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire - the Lieutenant General who was commander of the UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide. His book is beautifully written, but at times difficult to read. I've had to stop - it's not a book for the train unless you're OK with people seeing you weep - but I intend to finish it over a couple of sunny days when the warmth will perhaps shield the tears.

I've had The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, for about 15 months and haven't got round to it yet, largely because I don't like Dawkins. I'm determined to see what all the fuss is about, though, so if you meet me swearing under my breath somewhere, it's a fair certainty that I'm finally reading it.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells, was given to me by a young friend who declares it "wonderful". This is going to be my fun read for the summer. The theme is friendship and mother-daughter relationships, so it'll be easy to identify with and I'm hoping for some "laugh out loud" moments.

And I'll be reading anything by Denise Mina, who does shocking and funny thrillers! I usually buy a couple over the summer as light relief - they are wonderful escapism - and read them from page to page without moving from the chair (except to refill the glass of course).

Mark Priestley, Senior education lecturer, Stirling University

This summer, my wife and I are hoping to bag our last few Munros. It's a form of escapism, as is my planned reading: I'm a big fan of the more interesting samples from the fantasy genre.

I enjoy Stephen Donaldson, Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan, who has a new novel out, The Magician's Apprentice. The nice thing about these authors is that they take fantasy into new settings. And, while some people look down on the genre, the quality of the writing is high.

I'm concerned about the way A Curriculum for Excellence has hollowed out the notion of knowledge, and I'm planning a load of reading around this before I head for the Highlands. I'll be revisiting John Dewey and AV Kelly. I'm interested in the notion of agency, so I'll also be going back to Being Human, by Margaret Archer. Some of this stuff is so difficult, you have to read it about three times.

Kay Barnett, History teacher, Fraserburgh Academy and EIS vice- president

First off the "on the shelf" category will be The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. Set in 17th century Banff (just along the coast from where I live, in Fraserburgh), Shona MacLean's debut historical crime novel received terrific reviews - the fact that Seaton is a teacher makes it all the more interesting.

I was recently deeply moved by the choices of Sheila Hancock in the BBC's My Life in Verse, so I'll be reading her own moving account of love and loss in My Life With John and its follow-up, On My Own.

Every Saturday morning, over coffee, I catch up with - via her weekly column in The Herald magazine - the exasperating (much about her I can't stand) and entertaining (much about her I find amusing - even rather brave at times) journalist Fidelma Cook and her ex-pat exploits since leaving Glasgow for a new life in France. So her French Leave will be my first read in the "just bought" category.

I hope I'll have time to fit in My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt. Daughter of Lucien and granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, this Financial Times arts columnist's book is billed as half biographyhalf memoir, combining the impact of her obsession with Garland with her own complex and often public family life.

And as for "old favourites", I first read A Farewell to Arms as a teenager visiting Paris. My favourite author, Ernest Hemingway (terrible man, wonderful writer), shared my love affair with the city and I'll read it again this summer, sitting somewhere specially chosen from Quiet Corners of Paris.

Laurie O'Donnell, Freelance education consultant and former director of learning and technology at Learning and Teaching Scotland

I'll be reading What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. I visited Google HQ in California last year. It's like a university run by the students - everyone is a student. You get a sense that this is the workplace of the future. They are reinventing aspects of the economy. Their approach to advertising is pure mathematics. Staff get time off to work on other projects, which could be charitable work, research, or working with another company. This is the fastest-growing company in history, it is reshaping the world young people are growing up in, and we can certainly learn something from Google for Scottish education.

I read mostly business, education and technology books, but every summer I read at least one "classic" novel. I got a lovely new hardback translation of War and Peace from a close colleague for Christmas and can't wait to re-enter the acutely observed world of human relations that Leo Tolstoy creates so well.

I asked my colleague Bill Boyd - or the Literacy Adviser as he's known on the blogo-sphere - what he would recommend, and he gave me a long list, including Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero. The other one that took my eye was William Boyd's Any Human Heart. Looks like it's got all the characteristics of a good summer read. It seems to document the demise of a way of life.

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