Sunday, December 23, 2018

SCC English Books of the Year

The annual selection of books published in either hardback or paperback for the first time this year.

(Here is our annual round-up of Books of the Year lists).

Book of the Year
David Park: Travelling in a Strange Land. Short, absorbing, deeply moving. Park flies under the radar in terms of Irish fiction. This is outstanding.

Melatu Uche Okorie: This Hostel Life. Three short stories that have a big impact. A new angle on Irish life. Let's hope she's writing a novel.

Sara Baume:A Line Made by Walking. A dreamy, dreaming voice in the countryside.

William Trevor: Last Stories. Published posthumously: what a standard for a man in his 80s.

Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire. It handles a lot, and handles it brilliantly.

Tim Winton: The Shepherd's Hut. Author of last year's Book of the Year, The Boy Behind the Curtain. Does anyone match him for a sense of place? 

Maryanne Wolf: Reader, Come Home: the reading brain in a digital world. A deep meditation.

Emilie Pine: Notes to Self. The best book of essays this year. How to write about yourself with brutal and moving honesty.

Fintan O'Toole: Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. The definitive analysis of the horror show we're living through.

Mary Beard: Women and Power. What a strong voice.

Richard Ford: Between Them. On his parents. You never stop being a child at any time of your life.

Michelle McNamara: I'll be Gone in the Dark. True-crime chiller, with a dramatic post-publication development.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Books of 2018

Here we go again: our 9th 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 Sunday 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.

The list will be updated pretty well daily up to Christmas.

Previous lists are here: 2010201120122013201420152016, and 2017.

  • The annual Irish Times choices by writers demonstrate how strong a year it has been. Emilie Pine's powerful collection of essays, Notes to Self, features, with Pine herself going for Natalia Ginzburg's The Little Virtues. Paschal Donogue, Minister for Finance, is a rare real reader among modern politicians, and chooses Ian Kershaw's Roller-Coaster, the latest in Kershaw's overview of European history.  Joseph O'Connor points out one of our own choices, the brief collection of stories This Hostel Life by Melatu Uche Okorie, a new voice looking at Ireland from an entirely new angle. Elsewhere, Anna Carey has the standout children's titles of the year, including the excellent Louise O'Neill's The Surface Breaks, a re-imagining of The Little Mermaid. Elsewhere, Malachy Clarkin looks at the best sports books of the year: Peter Crouch turns out to produce the greatest laughs.
  • The Irish Independent has 50 top children's books from Sarah Webb, with good Irish representation. Its critics also name their best books of the year, top pick in fiction being Emer Martin's The Cruelty Men, which is 'stunningly ambitious and achingly tragic.' Michael Connelly, always reliable, appears twice in the thriller section. Another critics' selection mentions Tim Dee's Landfill, 'nature writing for the Trump era' from the excellent Toller Press, and in fiction John Boyne's amusing novel about literary ambition, A Ladder to the Sky.
  • The Guardian's selections are always interesting. This year, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, highly recommends Anna Burns's Booker-winner, Milkman, In another selection, Justine Jordan kicks off with the always readable Jonathan Coe's Brexit novel, Middle England. The Best Children's Books for All Ages points out that one in every three paper books sold this year in the UK has been for children, and Fiona Noble writes that 'In troubled times, books have the power to help children and young people make sense of the world, and a look at 2018’s award winners reveals just how writers and illustrators are responding to our challenging times'.
  • You can also listen to Guardian choices on their books podcast with Claudia Rankine (the full list is on the podcast page).
  • The Guardian's Sunday sister, The Observer, also has a good list: their critics choose selections from genres such as Graphic, Poetry, Fiction and Society. In Art, Laura Cumming, author of the excellent The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velasquez, mentions two books on Bruegel, including Winter Scenes, which looks wonderful.
  • The Times Literary Supplement is of course a key place to go. Their annual list has a lot of high-quality recommendations. The great Lydia Davis goes for two books by Natalia Ginzburg, while Roy Foster recommends Colm Tóibín's new book Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, about the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
  • The New York Times 100 Notable Books is always a formidable list (some great covers this year, too).  Rachel Cusk is a 'Marmite' writer; her Kudos appears here, and the very different Macbeth (the thriller-writer Jo Nesbo's version).
  • We've previously recommended the superb site Five Books: a simple idea, executed with depth and it has a series of Best Books of 2018, including for instance Best Non-Fiction by Fiammetta Rocco (with Ben McIntyre's highly-praised book about Oleg Gordievsky, The Spy and the Traitor), Nigel Warburton's Best Philosophy Books, and Charles Foster on Best Nature Books.
  • From Australia, in the Sydney Morning Herald local writers make their choices, including the great Tim Winton (author of one of our own Books of the Year: more shortly) going for a 'deadset masterpiece', The Overstory by Richard Powers (this is echoed elsewhere by Robert Macfarlane).
  • The Spectator's lists (both of best and overrated books) are always good: the first starts with Deborah Eisenberg's 'oustanding' short story collection Your Duck is My Duck, and the second includes one of our own books of the year, William Trevor's Last Stories (an extraordinarily high standard right to the end). 
  • The Spectator in the USA  has lots of interesting choices, many from the past. Keiron Pim, who is writing Joseph Roth's biography, is of course reading Roth a lot, including The Radetsky March.
  • The New Yorker's Best Books of 2018 by Kate Waldman includes that Marmite-writer Rachel Cusk's novel Kudos. Dan Chiasson looks at poetry books during 2018.
  • The New York Times Book Review has the 10 Best Books of 2018, which include Tara Westover's very successful memoirEducated, which reveals 'an irrepressible thirst to learn'.
  • The New York Times itself has Best Art Books and Best Poetry Books: Like by A.E. Stallings has been mentioned in several places this year.
  • National Public Radio from America has over 300 books from their staff, which you can filter by the usual categories, as well as 'Rather Long' (including Michelle Obama's well-received Becoming), and 'Rather Short' (Kate Walbert's His Favorites looks powerful).
  • iNews has 10 Best Books, including the ubiquitous Normal People by Sally Rooney and Tara Westover's much-noticed Educated.
  • Quill and Quire from Canada have writers' and booksellers' choices, as well as their editors', and Covers of the Year.
  • That great institution, the New York Public Library, has three selections: children, teens and adults.
  • The Washington Post's Michael Dirda's recommendations are here.
  • BBC Arts have 2018's 'biggest books' (not in physical size) with 'the perfect for...' sections, including Sarah-Jayne Blakemore's excellent Inventing Ourselves: the Secret Life of the Teenage Brain (the perfect book for parents, presumably).
  • Vulture's Best Books of 2018 by Christian Lorentzen is a good choice. Keith Gessen's A Terrible Country sounds interesting, and very much of the moment ('like a zombie parody of the Cold War).
  • Bustle is a newcomer to this round-up. Here, 14 Young Adult authors recommend their favourite YA books of 2018.
  • Another newcomer: the Church Times has readers' choices of books of the year. Anything Neil McGregor chooses is bound to be interesting: he goes for The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson, 'as exhilarating and poignant a read as watching the birds in flight.'
  • iNews has its best books of the year, including Sally Rooney, William Trevor, and Tara Westover. A different name is Zadie Smith, with her new collection of essays, Feel Free.
  • Prospect Magazine rounds up the best books in politics. An excellent writer, Sarah Churchwell (who has previously written onThe Great Gatsby and America, has a new book out: Behold, America is 'indispensable'.
  • Times Live from South Africa mentions Tim Winton's great The Shepherd's Hut (so evocative of the landscape of Western Australia) and Michael Ondaatje's Warlight, which many had expected to be getting major prizes. 
  • One of the best online magazines, Slate, has 10 Best Books of 2018 from Laura Miller, including the latest novel from Alan Hollinghurst, The Sparsholt Affair, and Tana French's latest well-received The Witch Elm
  • The Skinny's editors' choices include Sophie Mackintosh's 'utterly sublime' dystopian début novel, The Water Cure, and, in poetry, Tishani Doshi's 'captivating' collection Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (Emilie Pine, Sally Rooney and Anna Burns are here, too).
  • Prospect Magazine has a list of 'ideas' books of the year (starting with Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, a wordier version of Hans Rosling's Factfulness?), and one for history, including Gandhi, Churchill and de Gaulle), as well as economics.
  • Electric Lit's 15 Best Non-Fiction Books include Deborah Levy's 'memoir in essays', The Cost of Living. 
  • Flavorwire's Best of 2018 by Sarah Selzer identifies a 'mini-trend', 'books about women’s anger (both at their personal lot and at sexism at large)'.
  • No better place than Nature for Best Science Books (and shows) of the yea, such as Dermot Turing's account of the background behind his uncle's code-breaking, X, Y & Z: the Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken
  • CBC has best Canadian non-fiction, including Tima Kurdi's The Boy on the Beach, based on one of the most distressing photographs of recent times, as well as best Canadian fiction, including the internationally-successful Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, as well as plenty of individual recommendations.
  • The English and Media Centre has a great list of Christmas reading recommendations (from all years, and all the way back to Middlemarch). Perfidious Albion, the 'Brexit-novel' by Sam Byers, is one (hard to match reality, of course).
  • The Big Issue's selection by Jane Graham of best children's books includes The Dam by the 'giant' of children's writing, David Almond.
  • GQ Magazine has 17 Best Books of 2018, with Assymetry by Lisa Harding featuring, which it does in many lists: Harding herself recommends Deviation by Luce d'Eramo, 'a novelistic treatment of her life experiences with Fascists and Nazis.'
  • National Review's 2018: A Year in Reading includes When by Daniel Pink, who is always worth reading.
  • RTÉ's Sinéad Crowley's choices start with three powerful non-fiction books by Emilie Pine, Julia Kelly and Tara Westover.
  • The Seattle Times selection by arts writers includes books from previous years, but from this year comes Lauren Groff's short story selection, Florida (not all set in that state). 
  • Verso Books' authors choose their favourites here. Teresa Thornhill goes all the way back to Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves.
  • The LitHub Ultimate Best Books of 2018 list aggregates American recommendations, with Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation) and Tommy Orange (There, There) reaching 19 lists each. 
  • The Atlantic's readers' choices are here, with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles appearing twice.

Monday, December 10, 2018

'The Submarine', December 2018

The latest edition of the pupil magazine, The Submarine, has just been published, and you can read it above via Issuu (click on the arrows to go through the pages, click again for a closer view, and click the icon bottom right for full-screen). Tania Stokes, Avi Johnston and Edna Johnston put it together.

Among the pieces are (written) Georgy Dementiev, Sinéad Cleary ('In defence of Oedipus'), Shannon Dent and Marcus O'Connor, and there is lots of talented and skiful artwork by Amelie Buzay, Paolo Garcia Leslie, Isabelle Townshend, Kate Higgins, Jeanne Levesque, Max Cully, Glory Popoola and Frances Wilkinson.

Moreover, you can listen to Noah Leach's Song 'Muse' via Soundcloud below or via this link.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Macbeth quotation practice: all 5 Acts

This Quizlet combines all five previous quotation sets to provide 98 quotations for learning practice. In each case it is important that you also think about the use of each quotation in providing evidence on comments about characters, themes and ideas.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Macbeth quotation test, Act v Quizlet

Monday, November 05, 2018

Macbeth quotation test, Act 4 Quizlet

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Macbeth quotation test, Act 3 Quizlet

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Macbeth quotation test, Act 2 Quizlet

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Macbeth quotations, Act 1 Quizlet

The first of five sets of Quizlet flashcards on Macbeth to embed knowledge of quotations. College pupils can also see these on Firefly.

Some basic principles of quotations -
  • Quotations are the knowledge-base and evidence-base for all answering.
  • Quotations are used to back up a point.
  • Options: organise by scene / character / theme. Many quotations will have multiple uses.
  • ‘Tag’ quotations with a system. Make connections.
  • Re-reading quotations (and notes) is a bad learning strategy.
  • Use flashcards / Quizlet / a questioning partner.
  • Write down what you know. What gaps?
  • Go back again and again over spaced time: embed them so you can retrieve automatically.
  • Little and often. Keep going, especially while you’ve finished the play.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Week, September 2018

Last year the first Book Week, to promote reading by everyone at St Columba's, was a great success, and this year's equivalent starts on Monday 24th. Mr Jameson introduced the elements of it in a Chapel talk on Wednesday.

These include:
  • The Library will be open every day at break and at lunch-time as well as the usual hours.
  • There will be competitions in the Library (including staff ‘shelfies’) plus a new bespoke Book Week book token available from Ms Kent-Sutton.
  • Book speed-dating will take place for First, Second, Third and Fourth Forms in the BSR.
  • Drop Everything And Read will take place on Friday. All pupils bring a reading book to every class.
  • There will be an author visit from Richie Conroy on Wednesday 26th from 11.00 to 12.20 in the BSR. There is a sign-up list pinned to the noticeboard in the Library.
You can follow events on Twitter at #sccbookweek.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again

The new National Library of Ireland exhibition Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again at the Bank of Ireland Cultural Centre in the centre of Dublin is superb, and the perfect outing for those who have studied Heaney. Below is a series of tweets about the exhibition, with photographs taken on the day it opened.

Monday, July 02, 2018

An English Teachers' Bibli-blogography

A tremendous resource for English teachers interested in some summer Continuing Professional Development is An English Teachers' Bibli-blogography from Team English in the UK. Here you can find a huge list of excellent writing about English.

Links are grouped in categories such as Planning, Assessment Systems, Feedback, Cognition and Memory, Revision, Multiple Choice Questions, Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading for Pleasure (Kenny Pieper should be added), Reading, Rhetoric, Description, Narrative, Analytical Writing, Context, Drama, Poetry, Shakespeare, Speaking and Listening, and literary elements of exams.

It's difficult to make any selection, given the quality of writing and advice, but here is a starter of three posts well-worth your attention:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Submarine, summer 2018

The pupil magazine The Submarine has just released its end-of-year summer edition, and it can be read above (click on the arrows to navigate and zoom in). Its focus starts with the recent Eighth Amendment vote, and also in it are a poem by Iona Chavasse, illustrations by Flora Macrae and Tania Stokes and a Lord of the Flies wordsearch.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Leaving Certificate Paper 2

This year the SEC have started putting online papers as they are being taken, so with an hour or so left still we can have a look at the literature papers being sat in halls all over the country on this sunny Thursday afternoon.

The Higher Level paper 2 (click here to see it) first: we have studied King Lear as our single text, and questions there are a) on 'moments of riveting drama that offer thought-provoking insights into the human condition', which should be straightforward (Gloucester's blinding, Lear and others on the heath, Cordelia's death) and b) a character question on Cordelia having a more significant role than her sisters (despite her mere 100 lines or so in the text). These are both fair questions which allow an able candidate to show his/her abilities.

In the Comparative section, Cultural Context and Literary Genre are the modes, and questions there include ones on 'unacceptable behaviour' (possibly tricky depending on the texts you have studied), and cultural norms affecting the happiness and successful of individuals (this would test most candidates). The Literary Genre options are very straightforward (a woolly question on techniques affecting our response to characters, and the techniques used at the start of texts).

The Unseen Poem is well-chosen: Moya Cannon's 'Two Ivory Swans'- she can be seen and heard reading it at the top of this post.

The annual Poetry Derby sees four coming past the post: Robert Frost, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, John Montague and Philip Larkin. As has been the case in recent years, these tend to wordiness, and have plenty of potential tripping points, such as the question on Montague, on his 'effective use of place, both literal and metaphorical, to explore elements of his personal and cultural identity': there's a lot there to get your head around.

The Ordinary Level paper, which a small number of our candidates take, is very straightforward: the Lear questions will frighten no-one, and nor will Comparative questions on Hero, Heroine, Villain and Social Setting. Richard Peabody's 'Walking to Dublin' is the Unseen Poem, and Prescribed Poems are Larkin's great poem 'The Explosion', Ted Hughes's 'Hawk Roosting', Eavan Boland's 'Child of our Time' and Michael Coady's 'New World'.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Leaving Certificate Paper 1

The annual national stress-fest that is the Leaving Certificate exam season is on us, accompanied by the usual 'exam weather'. Paper 1 English was taken this morning, and there was certainly nothing in the Higher Level paper to increase those stress levels (Paper 2 tomorrow might be a different matter). Almost all our pupils take Higher Level.

The comprehension passages were interesting and well-chosen, starting with Colum McCann's 'Advice to Young Writers'. The second question on this text unusually opened up the literature course too, which probably surprised candidates, and this reappeared in different contexts for all the comprehension texts. Question B on this text was an interesting one about young people responding to 'unwanted advice'.

It was also good to see an extract from the very recently published Elmet by Fiona Mozley (above, shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize). The B question here was also accessible, being to do with 'the education you have received.'

The third text was the most inventively chosen, being from Above the Dreamless Dead, a collection of poetry and graphic illustration on the subject of World War 1 (here, an Isaac Rosenberg poem, 'Dead Man's Dump'. The questions fully exploited the meeting of the two media, and again the B question allowed candidates to use their literature knowledge.

The big question (25% of the overall mark) is of course the Composition. Two short stories, a descriptive essay, a personal essay, a speech and a discursive essay formed the mix this time. Candidates should have stayed away from a very demanding question of writing a short story in a collection of detective fiction (a tough one to take on extempore), but other tasks were more straightforward, including a essay about 'the value of personal space and quietness in the modern world'. Everyone sitting the Leaving Certificate should take just some such time this evening to themselves.

The Ordinary Level paper was as usual pretty straightforward. There were comprehension passages from Joanne O'Riordan (on technology and her disability Total Amelia - only seven people in the world have this), Larry Ryan (an interview with the Olympic rower Gary O'Donovan) and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi. The B questions posed no great challenges. In the full Composition section, there were three personal essays (including one on having or not having brothers/sisters), as well as a speech (impact of technology), two short stories and an article.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Signs Of Life

Another poem by Tania Stokes, winner recently of the 2018 Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry.

Signs of Life

One night,
I found myself under the stars.
I was alone
But for the brief flashes of cars
All driving home.

Always, the night hummed softly,
Engines revving somewhere else.
Under each orange spotlight
The faint buzz of lithium
Kept silence from waking.

The night grew strange

When the last pair of headlights
Melted away out of sight.
An absence reigned,
And the orange noise flickered
Down to nothing.

The quietest place in the world
Is by a road.
Silence, like an owl’s wings, unfurled
Into a shroud.

A remnant of the Rapture,
I walked in the white moonlight
And Debussy came to mind;
When the last bars drifted off,
I had been left behind.

The feeling grew

As I looked to the night sky,
Afraid I’d been forgotten.
I searched all through
The pattern of the heavens
To find the truth.

Though slight,
A sadness I could not describe
Came over me.
Somewhere, too far away from us,
There might be life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Transition Year English Evening 2018

The 25th annual TY English Evening was held in the BSR last night to round off the pupils' course. As usual the formula consisted of pupils reading out interesting pieces from their Work Portfolios, and a guest commenting on these and then on 'matters English'.

The guest speaker last night was the first 'graduate' of the TY programme itself, Sophie Grenham, journalist and Old Columban. She has an excellent series in The Gloss magazine called "Writers' Block", having interviewed writers such as Louise O'Neill, Dave Rudden, Sebastian Barry and Sarah Webb. The presenter, Mr Girdham, mentioned the many other guests who have spoken at the evening over the years, including: academics Professor Colin Graham of Maynooth (last year), Professor Terry Dolan, Professor Kevin Barry; English teachers John Fanagan, Colin Polden and Mary Milne; and journalists Trevor White and Tom Doorley.

Shannon Dent started, with a reading of her evocative piece 'My Secret Place of Wonder', about the lush nature of Ecuador. Sam Lawrence gave us 'Being Underwater', another but rather different world. Charlotte Klingmann, who the previous night had performed several pieces at the TY Music Concert, read out 'The Greatest Pleasure of My Life' (music, of course). Andrew Kim's piece was vivid about the early morning urban sprawl of Seoul in South Korea. Kathryn Kelly struck a recent note, since 'The Big Snow' was her most memorable event of the last 12 months, as she took the chance to reconnect with old friends. Frances Wilkinson was the only person to read a poem, "You", delicately examining the difficulty of saying those three words "I love you". Tania Stokes's garden piece about a day in the sunshine was fine with detail. Finally, Andrew Pollock ended things entertainingly with his quirkly essay 'Is Donald Trump Bald?'

Sophie Grenham then gave an account of her writing life, and of how well the College had prepared her for this. She said it was particularly important for young writers to 'find their own voice', and she made attentive comments about each piece she had heard.

She then made the annual announcement of Premier Awards winners. Congratulations go to Shannon Dent, Charlotte Klingmann, Sam Lawrence, Songyon Oh, Eliza Somerville and Tania Stokes.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Electric Picnic

Caoimhe Cleary was Commended in the recent Senior Poetry Prize for her portfolio, and indeed read one of these poems, Electric Picnic, at the Voices of Poetry event last night.  

Mr Canning comments: '"Caoimhe's body of poems on 'Wellness' sought to chronicle stages of recovering from mental illness and trauma.  Her poem 'Electric Picnic' was a strong, gritty assortment of images accentuated by jumpy alliteration. Her poem 'Bulb' echoed William Carlos Williams and imagist poems like 'This is Just to Say', while 'White Swans' evoked a very different take on Yeats's masterpiece 'The Wild Swans At Coole.'"

Electric Picnic

Strobe lights pound.

Sweat cascades.

Screams roughly grope me.

I’m a fish

jerking for water

through greasy air.

The bass jumps beneath

my skin.

I latch on

to your arm

Looking into your

endlessly cold


I’m hot.

I’m so burning



We twist away to twitch.


My chore has always been

to put away the leftovers.

I slide the food

From box to box

Trying to find the right fit,

making a mess.

As I put away the food in the freezer,

steam swiftly seems to rise

and fill the space.

The fridge light flickers

And dies,

pneumatic suction hisses

A breath of frost grazes me

I sigh

and go to the shelf

For a new bulb.

White Swans

During my holidays

I go out by the lake,

and just sit for a while.

Below the Homeric waves

dance fatal weeds.

I rest on the little boardwalk

next to the two festering

white corpses;

candles and rotting flowers by their feet,

still getting used to the smell.

I look out.

A crowd of cows amble out,

and swimming through the reeds,

are two white Hallmark swans

gently touching heads.