Sunday, July 03, 2011

Summer Reading 1: 'The Following Game'

Jonathan Smith, former Head of English at Tonbridge School in Kent, wrote one of the best books in recent times on teaching, The Learning Game; it was hugely readable and free of educational jargon Now retired, his latest book, The Following Game, has a broader reach but shares the same engaging tone and consistent intelligence. 

It tells the story of how he has 'followed' his son Ed's cricket-playing from school days to full England caps. It starts with Seamus Heaney's lines from 'Follower': I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, / Yapping always. But today / It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away. 

If you're not interested in cricket, though, don't tune out: The Following Game is more accurately a book about parenthood, and also travel, India, poetry, mortality and, again, teaching. 

At the start of the book Smith tells us he has been diagnosed with cancer, but reassures us that this is not going to be about that. Indeed it isn't, though the 50 short chapters that follow are inevitably coloured by it. What follows is another skilful series of meditations on the most important things in our lives, leavened by Smith's humour and self-deprecation. For English teachers, there is the pleasure of more of Smith's writing about poetry (the author takes a bunch of favourite poems with him on his trip to India with his son), including Edward Thomas's 'As the Team's Head-Brass', about which he writes that the poet uses 'the lightest of brushstrokes' to touch on 'all the big issues.' 

As does Jonathan Smith himself. 

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