Noughts, crosses and the blunderer

Part of this blog relates to previous posts about reading books you never meant to - in my particular case at this moment because of a kindle malfunction rendering all my holiday choices out of reach - and what to do about children who don't read. Of my three children, the oldest and youngest are avid readers - my oldest daughter even gave herself a black eye when she walked into a scaffolding pole she hadn't spotted because she had her nose in a book on her way to school. The youngest has just begun the dreaded HP series but equally loves Rainbow Bliss and anything with 'treasure and princesses'. The middle one, however, has to be persuaded to read anything. Apart from the Alex Rider series, nothing has ever truly tickled her fancy - until this holiday. Faced with the sight of her entire family lying on sun loungers deep in a book, even she had to think again about her aversion to reading. I'm not entirely sure what the reasoning was. 'If everyone else is doing it, there must be something in it'? 'If everyone else is doing it and there's no one who wants to come swimming with me, I better do it too'? Whatever it was, the fortuitous discovery of a copy of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses in the house did the trick. I gave it to her, insisted she would love it, and left her to it. She barely moved off her lounger for the rest of the day.

I love the Noughts and Crosses series - we studied the play version at the first school I taught it. One activity the students loved was when we set up a Noughts and Crosses classroom. I divided them into those with an 'm' in their first name and those without; the 'Ms' and the 'No-ms'. The Ms had a lovely big desk with books and paper and pens and interesting activities. The 'No-ms' had a tiny desk to share in a corner, with one piece of paper and one pencil between all of them. It was interesting to see how some No-ms just accepted their fate whilst others protested, saying it wasn't fair and they couldn't help whether their name was spelt with an 'm' or not, that the division was entirely arbitrary etc. Blackman's point exactly.

Equally fascinating was how many of the Ms instantly revelled in their superiority, even though they were acutely aware that it was entirely undeserved, that they had done absolutely nothing to earn it - and that if I had chosen a different letter to focus on, they might be in a completely different position. They knew it was wrong, unfair and divisive - but having lucked out they were no way going to challenge it.

Daughter 2 has now started on book 2 of the series and is chomping her way avidly through it. Thank you, Malorie Blackman. You may have achieved the impossible and converted a non-reader to a reader.

And so on to my second topic of unintentional reads. Having attempted - and tried hard to like - Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, I admitted defeat and gave up on it. I'm sure it's a great book - judging by the accolades, awards and commendations, many definitely seem to think so - but I found it boring, uninspiring and miserable. Instead, I turned to The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith.

Despite being familiar with her name, I have never read any of her work before. I now know that I've been missing out! The Blunderer is compelling and very well-written - much more so than the average hard-boiled crime novel. I'm only a quarter of the way through but loving it. I will keep you posted about my progress - although obviously not on who dunnit. No spoilers here.

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