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An Olympic Summer

newsletterIt has been an Olympic Summer.

Records have been broken in swimming pools and on sporting fields – in political arenas and on convention hall floors. But while medals of glory adorn the athletes in Rio, ones of shame may well be hung around the necks of many politicians.

I watched the US archery team follow up their gold medal loss by bowing in awe and deference to their South Korean opponents. It wasn’t that they had worked less at winning or that they cared less about brining home the gold. They did it because it was the right thing to do. And we love and respect them for it.

Why is it then that we lower the bar when it comes to the people running our governments, our futures and our lives?

We expect our athletes to respond to defeat with hard work, fair play and respect for their opponents, while we accept that the players in the political arena respond with lies, fear-mongering and demagoguery.

We roll our eyes and swiftly disqualify doping practices among athletes, while accepting the fact that we now live in what has been termed “the world of post truth politics”.

It has indeed been a summer of contrasting events and emotions. The United States with all its potential stands at the precipice and the triumphs in Rio stand in stark contrast to the tragedies in Nice, Gaziantep and Aleppo.

At times the conflicts can seem insurmountable, the contrasts impossible to hold in our minds.
Perhaps a good place to begin – again and again and again – is with the surge of emotion we feel when watching nations march proudly, individually, yet together and in respect of one another and remember that the Olympic arena was located not far from the cradle of democracy.

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It’s been a busy summer at Books & Company and we are keeping up the pace with lots of new titles for you to enjoy, an exciting schedule of events and talks as well as a surprising addition and extension of our offerings. Stay tuned for more on all of this shortly……

Kidsread Thursday..

“Who knows for sure? But I’m a writer, and belief in the power of story is almost like a job requirement.”

Gene Luen Yang, the national ambassador for young people’s literature.

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Book of the Week – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up “Homegoing” the debut novel by Yaa Gyasi – a novel of emigration and immigration, of loss and the search for a new and better life.

I did get that, but I also found myself quickly turning the pages of a novel set in the fascinating historical and cultural context of Ghana, a country I knew little about.

“Homegoing” opens with the heartbreaking, chilling stories of the African slavetrade, of wars fought between the Asante and Fante tribes with British and American slavetraders waiting in the wings ready to exploit the situation. The novel follows two half-sisters Effia and Esi born in two different villages and into two very different futures. We follow their families from 18th century Ghana to present day as some stay in Africa and some travel to America destined to a life in slavery.

The novel covers a lot of ground in its 300 pages, leaving some historical periods, especially the development and growing independence of Ghana, unexplored or at least not fully explored. In spite of each chapter’s focus on a different family member the novel never feels disjointed, as Yaa Gyasi succeeds in making each story utterly personal, intimate and relevant, willing the reader to move forward at a quick pace to discover their fates.

With “Homegoing” we are once again reminded that where we come from is an inextricable part of who we are and that – if we allow it to – it can determine who we become, for better or for worse.

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What reading should be about

As we return to school, a reminder from writer Neil Gaiman of what reading really should be about. This is an excerpt directed towards parents and educators from Gaiman’s new book of essays wonderfully titled “The View from the Cheap Seats”.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R. L. Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.

There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to someone encountering it for the first time. You don’t discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the twenty- first-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

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