You may have seen balloons around the Information Store, because we’re celebrating the launch of 2016’s Reading Ahead Challenge! All you need to do to beat the challenge is read six books, short stories, graphic novels, blogs, magazines or poems of your choice between now and June. You could win a holiday in London, so speak to staff at the issue desk to sign up and collect your challenge diary. There are lots of reasons why you might not read much- some people don’t have the time, some find it difficult or even boring. As well as issuing challenges, the Reading Agency run the “books on prescription” project Reading Well, providing books to help improve our mental health and well-being. We’ve scanned their list for books that should boost your mood as well help you to complete the challenge, as we agree that reading is a great tool for relaxation.
Start here: Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, BOOK ZONE 420 FRY
We were overjoyed to find that Stephen Fry’s website features a quote generator!
Stephen Fry is a national icon, and his sharp wit is evident on screen and on the page. In the first episode of Planet Word, Fry explains how humans first created language by looking at fictional languages like Klingon. In episode 2, he explores how our language (right down to our accent) gives us a sense of identity- think Scotch dialect in Trainspotting. Episode 3 focusses on one of Stephen’s favourite subjects, swear words. He looks at books that have been banned for using offensive language, and investigates the claim that swearing works as an effective painkiller! Episode 4 looks at written languages, from ancient runes to anonymous blogs. Finally, he meets with storytellers like Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings, to discuss how literature has changed the way we speak. Stephen is well-acquainted with the written and spoken word, but his joy at learning new things is clear to see! Each hour long episode is broken into quick sections which all relate to a similar theme, allowing Fry to feature as many experts- zookeepers, slam poets, Egyptologists, comedians- as possible. We are sure this series will inspire you to read!
Then try: Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson, BOOK ZONE 914.1 BRY
Bill Bryson fell in love with Scottish wildlife and campaigns to protect the Scottish countryside
When American author Bill Bryson decided to move back to his native country, he took a farewell tour of Britain, the place he had called his home for 20 years. This audiobook, read by Bill himself, contains hilarious stories from when Bill said goodbye to the weird and wonderful people you really can’t find anywhere else! The people of Britain have a great sense of humour but some of our quirks are understandably confusing to foreigners, even those who speak the same language. Bill is astounded by the historical scope of our ‘Small Island’, from the medieval churches you can find in almost every town to the castles that dominate our city skylines. One village Bill visited in Yorkshire contained more 17th century buildings than the whole of North America! Bill has written books about his many amazing journeys- A Walk in the Woods was just made into a movie with Nick Offerman and Kristen Schaal- but Notes From a Small Island made him one of Britain’s favourite residents. Our bloggers are both fans of audiobooks- Eleanor listens to them on her walk to the college and Victoria uses them to help her sleep. Filling your downtime with a soothing story is an easy way to complete your challenge!
Moving on: Real Food by Nigel Slater, BOOK ZONE 641.5 SLA
A evokative extract from Nigel Slater appeared in underground stations over Christmas
Want to put your rediscovered reading skills into practise? People on the Reading Well scheme named Nigel Slater as their favourite recipe author- you can almost smell the meat and spices in the extract above, evoking a comforting winter’s night. We often think of comfort food as something quick and easy, and these meals will take time to cook and prepare. But making something from scratch- mixing soft flour and runny eggs into a cake, or turning a pile of raw veg into roast dinner- is great for boosting self-esteem. You could help your friends and family to de-stress by inviting them over, or take your plate over to the sofa and snuggle down (perhaps with your favourite book!) Recipes definitely count towards your six items, so be sure to do your cooking by the book.
Start here: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, BOOK ZONE 649.58 GAI
Neil Gaiman alongside his wife, musician and author Amanda Palmer
We know that many of you are put off by massive books, and we also know how popular our graphic novels are! The Wolves in the Walls is just one collaboration by Sandman author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean. McKean uses photographs alongside his other-worldly drawings to enhance the sparse but sprawling text. There aren’t many words on each page, but this is no children’s picture book. Just like Coraline, the family in Wolves… are under threat from creatures living within their home. Wolves… is a great way for people who struggle with reading to experience a dark, adult tale.
Then try: Guards Guards! By Terry Pratchett, GRAPHIC NOVELS 741.5941 PRA
A Pratchett mural featuring Death (and Death of Rats) in Shoreditch
Guards, Guards! is the first book by the late, great Pterry to feature the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Pratchett wrote eight novels in which he used the Watch to confront real issues like racism and immigration. But before they changed their policy to accept anyone (dwarves, golems, vampires, werewolves and zombies) mad enough to take on the job, the Watch was comprised of rather hapless cowards. Alcoholic Captain Sam Vimes, heir to a disgraced dynasty, is forced back into service after renegade wizards summon a terrible dragon. He turns to Lady Sybil Ramkin, the richest woman in Ankh, who runs a sanctuary for (smaller, cuter) dragons, and the Watch adopts a runty dragon, Errol, for their mascot. Illustrator Graham Higgins breaks out the colours in this graphic novel, adapted from the book by Pratchett playwright Stephen Briggs. The characters are fittingly grotesque, with big noses, grey stubble, bulging muscles and knobbly knees! Though Pratchett’s novels are short by fantasy standards, many of the jokes rely on footnotes that can be confusing to follow or difficult to read. Some of the puns get lost in the translation to graphic format, but Pratchett isn’t overly reliant on any one form of humour. It might be best to read this somewhere where you’re free to laugh out loud!
Moving on: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, BOOK ZONE 823.91 PRA
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were close friends until Pratchett’s death in 2015, and Good Omens is a testament to their combined creative genius. The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have come to appreciate their life on earth, so when they learn the end is nigh they team up to stop the rise of the anti-Christ. Their efforts are misplaced, however, as the satanist disguised as the anti-Christ’s midwife managed to hand the child to the wrong set of parents. The actual anti-Christ, Adam, has grown up in a sleepy English village that was once home to Agnes Nutter, a witch who foretold the end of the world. As he comes of age, he acquires the power to make his dreams come true- Atlantis rises from the sea and small green aliens arrive on earth! In the ensuing chaos, the Four Horsemen- Death, Famine, War and Pollution- ride up on motorbikes, ready to destroy the world in a nuclear blast. Can an angel, a demon and a gang of village kids avert the disaster that Agnes predicted?
Good Omens is a great introduction (or re-introduction) to fantasy fiction- at around 200 pages long, you might not read it in one sitting, but we guarantee you’ll find it hard to put it down! A fantastic radio version was broadcast on Radio 4 starring Mark Heap (Supernatural) and Peter Serafinowitz (Star Wars: Episode I), with cameos from the authors themselves. You can find out more on the BBC website (which definitely counts as a challenge entry)
If you’d like to sign up for the Reading Ahead Challenge and be in with a chance to win a trip to London, speak to staff in the Information Store. We’ll be posting more reviews and recommendations as the challenge gets under way!
Benson, A stephen fry-9 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/qPUkzi on 27/01/2016
Leftwich, P Bill gets mobbed accessed at https://flic.kr/p/6Fatw on 27/01/2016
Mole, A Long Copy Xmas Tube Ad accessed at https://flic.kr/p/aW9BSa on 27/01/2016
Graham C99 Terry Pratchett 2 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/rrURxB on 27/01/2016
Brattle Theatre Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer at Brattle Theatre, 5/19/2013 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/ez1GSa on 27/01/2016