Saturday, December 23, 2017

Books of 2017

And here's our annual popular post of books of the year as they feature in the press (excluding papers and articles with pay-walls, such as the London Times and most of the Financial Times) and on some blogs. This is a selective list of what we judge the highest-quality lists: if you want almost everything that moves, check out Largehearted Boy.

Most recent update: 7.1.2018.

Here are the SCC English Books of 2017.

Previous lists are here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.

  • The Irish Times this year has a Books of the Year feature in The Ticket, mentioning Old Columban Elske Rahill whose first book of short stories, White Ink, came out recently. Readers chosen Roddy Doyle's novel Smile as their Book of the Year. Declan Burke and Declan Hughes give us the 20 best crime books of the year, including the ever-excellent Michael Connelly's excellent start to a new series, The Late Show. Plenty of contributors and authors give their personal favourites here; our Finance Minister, Paschal Donohue seems to be a regular and thoughtful reader, and goes for Bernard MacLaverty's Midwinter Break, set in Amsterdam.
  • Readers' favourites in the Irish Times are listed separately, with quite a turn-out for Lisa Harding's Harvesting, with Mary O'Sullivan writing that "the ending haunted me, as it should. Harvesting moved me in a way that very few books do."
  • The Irish Independent in Part One has lots of categorised suggestions, such as in the short story section Nuala O'Connor's Joyride and Jupiter, and in biography/memoir, Ruth Fitzmaurice's much-noticed I Found My Tribe. In Part Two there are non-fiction choices, with Kim Bielenberg choosing Tim Shipman's follow-up to his brilliant Brexit account, Fall Out: a year of political mayhem.
  • The New York Times has its critics' Top Books of 2017: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie will be a big success - "a bold retelling of Sophocles’s Antigone, it begins with the airport interrogation of a young Muslim woman who has come to the United States to study, and Shamsie dilates throughout on Sophocles’ themes: civil disobedience, fidelity and the law, especially as regards burial rights." There are also best photography books of the year.
  • The ever-excellent School Library Journal has a series of lists which are helpful to parents, teachers and indeed children themselves. They are grouped: picture books / chapter books / middle grade / young adult / non-fiction. In the latter, Eyes of the World, about the photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, looks attractive.
  • The Times Literary Supplement is always suitably high-brow in its choices. However, Hilary Mantel keeps her feet on the ground, choosing the novelist Adam Thorpe and the poet Sinéad Morrissey, "an inspiration".
  • The Financial Times has a list of critics picking their best books, with the Editor Lionel Barber rightly praising East West Street by the lawyer Philippe Sands, "a beautifully written story about legal theory (crimes against humanity and genocide in the Nazi era), the city of Lviv in western Ukraine and an intimate family history."
  • The Guardian has its annual double serving from well-known authors: In Part One the great John Banville, author of the excellent Mrs Osmond, goes for Michael Longley's latest collection, Angel Hill (Longley has maintained very high standards for so long). Part Two sees Elizabeth Strout's new novel Anything is Possible repeatedly recommended, as is Irish novelist Sebastian Barry's latest, Days Without End.
  • In other Guardian lists in an enormous collection, there are best sport books; best biographies recommended by Tim Adams (including the fine literary biographer Claire Tomalin's own autobiography A Life of My Own); Robin McKie on science; many riches in history from Anthony Sattin; the poet Carol Rumens on poetry ("Leontia Flynn’s The Radio sparkles with 21st-century chutzpah, sometimes offset by maternal angst. “Every time my daughter cried, I came / barrelling out like some semi-deranged / trainee barista: friendly but perplexed, / and in the dark of night, Lo! I was there, / perplexed – and ratty –when she cried again.” (Yellow Lullaby)"; best children's books by Imogen Russell Williams; art books from the distinguished critic Peter Conrad; architecture from Rowan Moore (including lovely photos from Taschen's Entryways of Milan; graphic novels from Rachel Cooke; Mark Lawson on crime fiction (Jane Harper in The Dry "slowly but thrillingly reveals where the truth lies").
  • An excellent annual feature from the Guardian is 'the hits and misses of the publishing year', in which publishers reveal books that made their year, books that deserved to do better, and books that they wished they had published. Lots of mentions again of Sally Rooney here.
  • The Globe and Mail from Toronto has its 100 books of the year beautifully displayed with the covers displayed prominently. In the poetry section, Lynn Crosbie's collection about her father's dementia, The Corpses of the Future, looks interesting.
  • The Library Journal has its Top Ten Books of 2017, including the Man Booker-winning Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and also its Notable Books of the year.
  • The LA Times non-fiction books of the year include the outstanding Ta-Nehisi Coates's collection We Were Eight Years in Power: an American tragedy. In fiction, they have Naomi Alderman's The Power, which we thought was so-so, and the much better Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. And there's a handy children's list, divided into Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books. They also have favourite books of the year from their Critics at Large: Susan Straight astonishingly writes "You might not believe it. I read or reread more than 500 novels this year, to make an epic interactive map of our literary nation with regional fiction. There are 737 novels on that map, which I made for Granta."
  • Sleek has some gorgeous art books of the year, such as David Hockney.
  • The Washington Independent Review of Books favourites include some regular names (Jennifer Egan, Elizabeth Strout, Mohsin Hamid). Jessica Shattuck's The Women in the Castle could be good. 
  • The Evening Standard in London has 24 Best Books of 2017. Deaths of the Poets by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Harley looks like it's up our street.
  • The Millions Year in Reading is always worth following, with many contributors building up the list over the weeks.
  • Esquire magazine starts with Heather, the Totality by the creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, and also has Celeste Ng's new novel Little Fires Everywhere (her earlier Everything I Never Told You was well-worth reading).
  • The Spectator's reviewers present a selection of the best and (always a welcome feature) most overrated books of 2017. Frances Wilson: "Molly Keane, Sally Phipps’s life of her mother, is as fresh and true and eccentric as any of Keane’s novels, and shows just how good biography can be in the hands of a natural writer. A further selection has Daniel Swift go for an option that immediately struck us: "Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young's is big, beautiful, and most of all bold: a rewriting of King Lear, transplanted to modern day Delhi, which is both a dazzlingly original reading of the play and a full novel in its own right. A masterpiece, and by a long way my book of the year." 
  • Library Journal has a huge number of lists, including their Top Ten, and you can get a PDF of some of their other lists, too.The New Statesman divides its recommendations into three; in part one, East West Street gets another deserved mention, and the tremendous Rebecca Solnit is recommended by Robert Macfarlane (see our illustration above) for her latest collection of essays, The Mother of all Questions; in part two Susan Hill goes for David Walliams's Bad Dad, "a blast. Kids will adore it. So did I." Finally, in part three Melvyn Bragg goes for Ian McEwan's Nutshell, set in Hamlet's mother's womb (should have been right up our street, but it was so-so).The bookseller Barnes and Noble has a categorised list of best books of 2017 here 
  • The San Francisco Chronicle's 2017 holiday books gift guide includes Kurt Vonnegut's Collected Stories, and a well-chosen selection from genres like art and architecture. 
  • iNews has Best Books, including the much-noticed first novel from Irish writer Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends
  • The excellent Five Books, which we highly recommend, has Arifa Akbar selecting the best novels of 2017, with Fiona Mozley's Emlet at the head of the list, and best poetry books, including the much-noticed Tara Bergin's The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx, as well as Best Tween books.
  • In the Chicago Tribune: Heidi Stevens on 10 books she loved, all written by women: Real American: a memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims looks interesting.
  • On Quartzy: tables of the best books when aggregating choices from 21 other lists: Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing beats George Saunders to the top fiction spot.
  • The Economist says its best books are 'about music, nicotine and the tsunami in Japan': the latter is Richard Lloyd Parry's Ghost of the Tsunami: death and life in Japan's disaster zone, 'the finest work of narrative non-fiction to be published this year'. And we can endorse the choice of The Undoing Project, about the intellectual relationship between Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald has 'The year in reading: these are the books we loved'. It's great to hear that Tim Winton, author of one of our own books of the year, The Boy Behind the Curtain, has written a 'searing masterpiece', The Shepherd's Hut, which is published in March.
  • The English and Media Centre have an excellent list of Christmas Reads; we've recommended Thomas Harding's Berlin-based The House by the Lake before.
  • The Huffington Post has the best fiction books of 2017, includes a book of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: "Prickly yet hypnotic, familiar yet alien".
  • Paste Magazine gives us the 30 Best Young Adult Books of the year, with Dear Martin (Luther King) by Nic Stone standing out.
  • The Root has 16 of the best books by black authors, with some very strong names - Coates, Adichie, Ward and Gay among them. 
  • Vogue's best books provided 'much-needed solace' (a common note this year). Bridget Read is "obsessed with Mrs. Caliban, Rachel Ingalls’s perfect, short, bizarre, heartfelt, insane 1982 novel about a woman and a lizard, reprinted this year from New Directions.”
  • The London Independent has Best Art Books selected by Michael Glover, with lots of gorgeous options.
  • The Chicago Review of Books has Best Fiction Books (great cover for Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk), Best Non-Fiction (including the anthology Who Reads Poetry, and Best Poetry.
  • Darcy Moore has a 'baker's dozen' in his most enjoyable reads of the year, including in his 13, like us, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Ali Smith's Autumn
  • The National Post's choice of 99 includes the best Canadian writing of the year.
  • The Faber blog doesn't confine itself to Faber publications, with contributors answering questions about what they will read for Christmas, what books they will give as presents, and their book of the year. Sarah Ward goes for Christopher Fowler's The Book of Forgotten Authors, which sounds promising.
  • Go to Lithub for the best list of Best Crime books,  with The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason, the terrific Icelandic writer, mentioned.
  • Electric Literature gives us 15 Best Non-Fiction Books, 25 Best Novels and an interesting list of 15 Best Short Story collections (some particularly good covers there).
  • BBC Culture has a selection of 10. Cristina Garcia's Here in Berlin, with its echoes of Sebald, looks promising. 
  • Austin Kleon's 'Reading Year' includes one of our own recommendations, How to Think by Alan Jacobs.
  • Time has Top 10 Novels, with Irish author Sebastian Barry making the list with his award-winning Days Without End
  • The Australian's list includes Jon McGregor's often-mentioned Reservoir 13, and Teju Cole's latest, the essays in Known and Strange Things
  • The excellent Atlantic magazine gives us its editors and contributors' choices, with Rachel Cusk's Outline mentioned by Rosa Smith (it features in many other lists too).
  • Barack Obama released his books of 2017 (the current President didn't...), including Mohsin Hamid's readable Exit West (including more than a touch of magic realism).
  • The Children's Book Council has a handy summary of lists of children's books. 
  • The Atlantic's 'Best Books we Missed in 2017', with comments by the authors themselves, include Alice McDermott's eighth novel The Ninth Hour, and Draft No 4, a promising book on writing by the teacher John McPhee.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

SCC English Books of the Year 2017

Book of the Year:  
Tim Winton's The Boy Behind the Curtain: notes from an Australian Life. An outstanding collection of (mostly) autobiographical essays from this superb novelist, who read from and spoke about the book at the DLR Lexicon in May.

  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale: the choice for our staff book club in December.  32 years old, it has had a fresh lease of life partly thanks to the television series, but it was already striking notes again in the Trump era, and it is as fresh and striking a piece of writing as ever.
  • Thomas Newkirk, Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning. Everything by this engaging and humane writer on education is worth reading. "I am absolutely convinced that embarrassment is not only the true enemy of learning, but of so many other actions we could take to better ourselves" he writes. He is a good sensibility to be in touch with for the 200 pages of this book, and indeed he points out that such an experience is precisely what we look for in reading.
  • John Banville, Mrs Osmond. For anyone who knows The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and we imagine anyone who doesn't, this is pure pleasure (with plenty of sly and playful humour, too).
  • Laura Cumming: The Vanishing Man: in pursuit of Velázquez. The best kind of art history and story-telling, about the great Spanish painter.
  • Ali Smith: Autumn. Fluent, intelligent, responsive to our time: this is the first of a quartet, with Winter now also out.
  • Donal Ryan: All We Shall Know. Consistently readable, this contemporary Irish writer is a joy.
  • Finally, in the year we celebrated the work of our former pupil William Trevor, a fabulous edition of his Collected Stories (and well worth the money).  It is reviewed here by Joseph O'Connor, who read from the book and spoke about Trevor during our Arts Week in March.

Check out this year's edition of our annual summary of the best Books of the Year in the media here. 

Here are our choices for 2016.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

'The Submarine', December 2017

The first edition of the new format of The Submarine (formerly a Library publication) is now out in paper form, and here it is digitally too. Flip through the pages and use the arrows to magnify detail.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Young Adult reading, Autumn 2017

Our Librarian, Ms Kent-Sutton, has created this excellent list of recently-published books which may be of interest to pupils (and their parents for Christmas presents....).  

Flip through the pages using the arrows, and click again for a closer look. The document can also be seen and downloaded here.

Bullying Awareness Competition 5

The final selection from the recent competition:

Insignificant Creature? 
(a ‘top to bottom, bottom to top’ poem inspired by Brian Bilston’s 'Refugees') 
by Éile Ní Chianáin and Charlotte Moffitt (III)

All different, all equal.
Lest we forget,
The strongest survive,
The weakest will die.
Do not be so stupid to think,
The importance of the bee should matter to you and me.
Could the earth survive
Without the oxygen they provide?
An insignificant creature but
Because honey is its only feature
Bees will become extinct,
Don’t you think?
The human race is helping prevent global warming
Stopping pesky bees from swarming,
Saving many endangered species’ lives.
The truth is they
are all lies, all lies.
Bees will die,
Humans will thrive,
Because the strongest survive,
The weakest will die.


by Hugh Casey (Primary)

Lives in Sandyford
Hears nothing of interest (at home)
Sees differently to others
Touches a keyboard
Needs food and water
Fears killers and healthy food
Gives a loopy atmosphere
Wonders what is the creation of life
Dreams of another galaxy,
Believes in himself
Loves his family (sometimes).
Is different.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bullying Awareness Competition 4

Two more poems from the recent competition:

(a side-by-side poem - showing two views on one idea) 
by Linus Mertes and Timothy Otway Norwood (III)

Eternal darkness
Loved ones left behind
Lifeless matter
Buried underground
Turning into dust

Eternal slumber
Watching over loved ones
A new start
A new life
A new story
Carried in hearts


by Sadie Keogh (III)

Hear my voice.
It’s my choice.
A baby’s breath for a mother’s death.
‘Murder,’ you say.
‘Better,’ I pray.
Twenty-five or forty-five -
It’s a choice.
Hear our voice.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bullying Awareness Competition 3

Another winner from last week's competition.

lives where it's dry but she
Feels the rain,
Sees the lightning,
Hears the thunder.
Needs the sun but
Fears the sunm
Gives light,
Takes darkness,
Dreams she can fly,
Wonders if she can,
Believes she can't,
She is the light and the darkness.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bullying Awareness Competition 2

Another of the winners from this week's Bullying Awareness competition, this time by Lucy Maher. This poem was read out in Chapel yesterday. The model given was Brian Bilston's 'Refugees', so when you've read this in the order below, turn it around and read from the last line up.

Happiness has appeared. Cue the spotlight.
I don't want anyone to hear anyone saying
I'm going to rain on your sunshine.
I will skip and jump and
Teach you all
The magical powers of a day with blue skies won't
Disturb those who wish to console in darkness,
I tell you don't 
Forget to dance about in the garden
Encourage those to
Enjoy this marvellous day
Just please don't 
Waste your enthusiasm on mundane things
Happiness is here
I cry.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Bullying Awareness Week Poetry competition

This morning in Chapel Ms Smith introduced the winning poems from the Bullying Awareness Week competition, and there were several readings of these. Over the coming days we will publish some of the entries; there was an excellent field overall.

The overall idea was 'awareness' - of others, of difference. The tagline for BAW this year is 'All Different, All Equal'.

First, anonymously, 'Tainted Love' from the Senior section.

I fell in love with the moon
A pretty girl with bright blonde hair,
Soft as silk and unmarred velvet,
She smelt of lemongrass and steel,
Her eyes deep pools of forest green.
Cool as marble to the touch,
She danced her fingers on my skin
And laced her hands with mine.
Her kiss left bitter in my mouth,
Like blood mingled with rusting iron,
Our tainted loved stained lips.
She told me: 'A girl can't love another girl',
But how could that be true?
When all I cared about was her,
And my mind could think of nothing else.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Five Books

The site Five Books is strongly recommended. A simple idea, well-executed: experts in many areas recommend the five books essential to that subject. There are lots of riches here, with ideal introductions to many subjects. It's also very well laid-out.

For instance, Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland, on cultural memoirs, and Nigel Warburton's  choice of philosophy books.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

House Speech Competition 2017

Eliza Somerville from Fourth Form reviews the recent TY House Speech evening:

An evening full of captivating speeches began with a talk about concussion from Thady McKeever. He spoke about the dangers of contact sports, and the effects of repeated concussion on the brain. He ended his speech with a thought-provoking anecdote about an American football player, who ultimately died as a result of his eighteen-year career in professional sports.

I thought that this speech was very engaging. It began with a strong metaphor of your worst enemy hitting you with a bowling ball, and it was shocking to learn that this is equivalent to the force of a boxer’s fist. I also thought that the story about Mike Webster at the end of the speech was very powerful, as it showed the real-life effects of contact sports on the brain and body.

Next, Frances Wilkinson told us about the Butterfly Effect. She explained how small events can have huge, unforeseen consequences. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings could eventually create a tornado. She used an example of a man who spared the life of a soldier in World War I. This soldier turned out to be Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for millions of deaths in World War II.

I found this speech very interesting, as I was curious about how large an effect a small change could truly have. From the examples Frances used, I realised that even the smallest of actions can change the course of history.

Alexis Haarmann then told us about the controversy surrounding the death penalty. He explained that five per cent of people who are sentenced to death turn out to be innocent, and pointed out that waiting for the death penalty to be carried out is mental torture even for rightfully convicted criminals. I thought that this speech gave me a good background to the death penalty, and it made me more convinced that it should be abolished everywhere.
Ben Upton then outlined each side of the argument on whether marijuana should be legal or not. He explored both the recreational and the medicinal side of marijuana, explaining how the legalisation of marijuana would benefit the economy, and how people who experience seizures can benefit greatly from the use of medicinal marijuana. He eventually came to the conclusion that marijuana should not be legalised, as it just causes people to drift further and further away from reality. This speech was well-researched and it was an interesting view on the controversial topic of marijuana’s legalisation.

This was followed by an impressive speech from Tania Stokes on climate change. She first acknowledged that thinking of global issues can be daunting, and then emphasised that even one person changing their behaviour can have an effect on global issues. She then told us some simple tips on how we can reduce our own carbon emissions and waste. Tania ended her speech by telling us to imagine the most beautiful place we’d ever been to, destroyed forever because of climate change.

Tania’s speech stood out to me as she clearly knew her topic very well, and she was truly passionate about environmental issues. I thought that her ending, where she told people to visualise an amazing place, gone forever, was very strong, as it emphasised the shocking influence climate change could have on our world over the next hundred years.

Next, Andrew Kim gave a speech about transport. He pointed out that, four hundred years ago, people had to walk everywhere, or if they were lucky they had a horse. He described the efficiency of the transport system in South Korea, where they have a single card for all modes of transport. Andrew then went on to talk about the various improvements in transport in recent years, such as self-driving cars and the Hyperloop.

Andrew presented what could have been a dull topic in an engaging way, showing how our lives would be drastically altered if modern transport did not exist. I also found the modern advancements in transport fascinating.

Sam Lawrence then gave an absorbing speech about conservation. He informed us about the issues caused by our over-consumption of products such as palm oil. Deforestation of palm trees is occurring at an alarming rate, as fifty per cent of all products in an average supermarket contain palm oil. Sam covered many important issues in his speech, and showed how vital it is to conserve our planet’s resources.

Afterwards, Sophia Cabo spoke about divorce. In her speech, she drew from personal experience to paint a stirring picture of what it is like to go through the divorce of your parents at a young age. Sophia said that there are three stages to divorce: sadness, anger and happiness, and revealed that she was finally in the happy stage.

In her speech, Sophia showed a side of divorce that many people do not get to see. I thought that she described her journey through a difficult time very effectively.

Killian Morrell then talked about the Beatles. He said that his dad was a fan of the band, so Killian had grown up listening to their music. He added that now, when he listens to their music, he instantly gets nostalgic because it reminds him of his childhood in Dubai. Killian’s speech was unusual, and it gave an interesting picture of the different musical influences in his life.

Finally, Sophia Cole talked about women in sport. She said that recently, people have begun to see that women should not work solely in the home, as they have a lot more to offer. However, she explained that there is still huge inequality between men and women’s sport. For example, men get paid a lot more money for playing the same sport as women, and often get to play in drastically better venues than women.

Sophia raised some interesting points, and her speech was both clear and coherent. It was shameful to hear some of the inequality women still experience in the world of sport today.
At the end of the evening, I thought that the joint winners, Thady McKeever and Tania Stokes, were well-deserving of the prize as their speeches were both compelling and thought-provoking, and they each approached their topics with striking originality.

National Poetry Competition

Many congratulations to Tania Stokes, who has been awarded second place in the junior section of National Poetry competition from  PDST/WellRead for her poem ‘Resonance’. The awards ceremony is on November 7th at the CityWest Hotel.


I balanced on the strings.
Light as a tightrope walk:
Tentative, timid.
The first sound crept
At the draw of the bow
Like some small creature
From the dark.

I missed my mark.
The tone not true,
My arrow flew into
Nothing. The music played
Itself in my head. Pure,
Featherweight. Nimble.

I composed myself;
I could see it, crystalline,
The filigree lines.
I fixed my aim.
No stray note would escape.
I would catch it
And carve it to perfection.

But I was mistaken
In my reflection.
A cello’s purpose
Is not to take away –
Music grows. Its source?
A spark. Music throws flames
To the dark, illuminates hearts.

I reached deep, my arrow
Steeped in power. The melody,
I let it fly and it soared high –
It felt alive. I dived
Into the rising tide, and once inside,
I let it carry me to shore.
Music is more than perfection.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Shakepeare's Shadows

An excellent site (and idea, of course) is Emily Rome's Shakespeare's Shadows, where actors and directors talk about individual characters in the plays.  For instance, our current Sixth Form should listen to Cordelia and Lear.

Other characters who have featured so far are Mercutio, Ariel, Ophelia, Rosalind, Malvolio, Richard II, Hermione, Henry IV and Viola.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Bullying Awareness Week poetry competition

For the coming Bullying Awareness Week, we are organising a poetry competition, with winners getting vouchers and having their poems read out in Chapel on Friday 20th October. The deadline for entries is Wednesday 18th.
Your teacher will explain to you the tasks, with P, I and II having a go in class/prep. III, IV, V and VI are invited to write a poem in the form of Brian Bilston's 'Refugees', a 'two-way' or mirror poem. More in class soon.