In this, our third ‘Bookshelfie’, we are delighted to feature book recommendations from current parent and alumna, Mrs Emma Craven.
I read History at Durham and left in ’91. I then worked as a journalist – mostly on health and beauty, but also travel writing and some freelance women’s articles for newspapers, as well as working at Condé Nast and Emap for Red Magazine (Health and Beauty Editor). I hope you enjoy my recommendations!
East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Philippe Sands
This is a staggering book that weaves together several family stories (including those of Sands’ maternal grandparents who lived on East West Street in Lviv, Ukraine) with the fascinating background of two Jewish legal minds, Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, whose work on the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity respectively formed the basis for human rights law at the Nuremberg trials. I found this book as readable as a thriller; it is part family memoir in which Sands pieces together the secrets of his family’s own past and part legal history investigating the concepts that were devised to deal with the horrors of the Holocaust. Given the continuing importance of fighting against anti-semitism and recognising the rights of the individual, this is a powerful book to read.
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
I love Joan Didion’s writing style and have always enjoyed her essays on American culture from the 1960s and 1970s including The White Album. But The Year of Magical Thinking is the book I come back to most. Although the subject matter is devastating, based on the year after Didion’s husband died suddenly days after their daughter fell seriously ill, it is a compelling read. She writes so beautifully and bravely about loss and grief, but this book is also an honest portrait of marriage, life and love in good times and bad. It is such a powerful, moving, perfect book.
My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis, Diana Darke
This is a wonderful book which I enjoyed as much for the journey Diana Darke undertakes when she falls in love with, buys and restores a house in the old city of Damascus as for the deeper understanding she gives of the Syrian revolution and the complex political situation that exists in the country. Through the story of the house, which Darke later offers as a sanctuary to friends, she describes life in Damascus in vibrant, everyday detail. Darke is a fluent Arabic speaker and expert on the Middle East with decades of first-hand knowledge of Syria’s fascinating society, politics and history. If you watch the news on Syria and want a better understanding of what led the country to this point of conflict and what hope there is for Syria’s future then this book is a brilliant place to start.
Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, Kate Clanchy
I bought this book on a whim and ended up reading it in one sitting, laughing and crying my way through it! It is a collection of true stories about various children English teacher Clanchy has taught through her long career. Some anecdotes are extremely moving, others laugh-out-loud funny. It really made me reflect on the education system, the teaching profession, society as a whole and the huge benefits and importance of studying literature.
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
This is such a wonderful novel that I am sure I will read it repeatedly for years. A retired school-teacher based in a small town by the coast in Maine, Olive Kitteridge is an unpredictable, warm-hearted, vividly created character whose sometimes unfortunate demeanour and forceful nature hides her compassion for others. The novel is a portrait of Olive and family, friends and acquaintances around her, brilliantly illustrating the joys as well as the tragedies of life and the endurance it takes to make it through. If, like me, you missed this extraordinary character on finishing the book, you can enjoy more of her in the sequel Olive, Again which was just as life-affirming and brilliant.