Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Fahrenheit 451 and other temperatures

June 12, 2012

Now, Senoras, how would you feel if I told you to hand over all your books … so that I could put them on a big bonfire and burn them? You see, books cause dangerous thoughts so it’s best to hand them over to me for safe disposal.

Okay … only kidding, but that’s the story behind Fahrenheit 451 by the American author Ray Bradbury, who died on 5th June last aged 91. In addition to Fahrenheit 451, which was made into a movie, you may like to look up a couple of his other books The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man.

If you feel so inclined, pull out that brand-new notebook of yours – the one that you’ve hardly used – and throw down some thoughts …

Write On: Here’s a question for you. From your home library collection (you do have a home library, don’t you?), which five books would you hide and save from the pyre?

And here’s a quote from Fahrenheit 451 to set your thinking:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

Write On: What, then, will you leave behind?

Finally, here’s Ray Bradbury in 2008, aged 87, talking about reading, imagination, doing what you love and … writing.

(Credit: National Endowment for the Arts, 2008)

And here’s a poem from me for Ray Bradbury:

In the chronicles:

Illustrated homecoming

To dandelions.


Summer Starts Here

June 9, 2012

Senoras, take a breath. Relax. Read a book. After all, you’ve all been saying that you haven’t had time to read for pleasure for a very long time. But now your exams are over and it’s playtime. Unless, of course, you have to do summer school.

Here’s my suggestion. Keep an eye on the blog. Tell us what you are reading and what you are writing. Through the summer, I’ll suggest reading ideas and writing ideas and send you lots of inspiring thoughts – that is, if I manage to have any.

So, I’ll start with something that caught my eye recently. This year’s Orange Prize for Fiction was awarded to Madeline Miller for her book The Song of Achilles.


If you didn’t already know about Achilles, you may have seen him in the shape of Brad Pitt in the movie Troy. Madeline’s book is remarkable for other reasons. It is a debut novel – in other words, it is her first book and yet it has won her a high-profile award, plus the equivalent of around 170,000 AED in prize money. And she did it all because she was passionate about her characters and their story. Here’s Madeline talking about how she came to write the book.

What characters from literature or from history fire you up? Post a message and let us know.


Coming attractions

September 15, 2010

The Señoras have not yet stamped their unique personalities on their cubicle on the second floor. To be honest they are a little apprehensive about going up there. They get funny looks from the people in the other two cubicles and feel like intruders. The second floor is a scarey place at the best of times: the faculty have their offices up there. We agreed that the Señoras had to call in their Señoras Book Club Design Team to give the cubicle a make-over. This could well be a job for Hello magazine.

Also the Señoras have to make their presence felt. They need to work a shift 24/7, make a bit of noise (that shouldn’t be difficult) and replace the whiteboard that’s covered in indelible marker scribblings. Fatima has some posters to put on the walls. Okay, so they’re from Twilight and Harry Potter … Vanessa and I will fight back our disappointment: we were hoping for something a little more chic.

Then there will have to be a Las Señoras Book Club Cubicle Launch Party and – budget-permitting – we will fly in celebrities … Brangelina, Justin Timberlake … I think you get the picture.

 Our book club storming produced some good ideas. Here’s a list of book club things-to-do:

1. Run an excursion to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) next March.

2. Send Vanessa in ahead of time to negotiate a book voucher deal for us: not a lot of people know that at the last ADIBF, thanks to her, our students got 20,000 dirhams to spend on their favourite books: that made Stephenie Meyer very happy and saved her family from a life of austerity.

3. Do a presentation at the Book Fair: last year Fatima and Vanessa took part in a discussion forum at ADIBF. Fatima made a fashion statement by wearing her gold trainers. Vanessa made no statement at all because she got stopped by the police as she was speeding to the venue and then lost her BlackBerry when she got there … but I digress.

4. Organise our own Las Señoras International Book Fair (LSIBF).

5. Run more writing competitions.

6. Invite a famous poet to come and talk to us. If you’re a famous poet, please get in touch.

7. Run a competition to write a book review and then put the best reviews in the library catalogue. Mmm … sounds like work.

8. Have a competition where people read the beginning of the summary of a novel … and then have to write an ending to the story. We agreed that the time has come for someone to write a new ending to The Lovely Bones. That murderer really has to be brought to justice. It’s causing the Señoras a lot of sleepless nights.


9. Have a quiz bowl. Erm … what’s a quiz bowl? Vanessa says we have to agree to read two or three books and then we pick a question about them out of a quiz bowl, and win a prize if we get the answer right.

The Señoras went a bit silent when they heard this.

‘What? We all have to read the same books for a quiz? Too much. Too much.’

‘Okay,’ said Vanessa, ‘we could quiz you on some famous books that everyone has read.’

‘Oh, right!’ said the Senoras, ‘you mean like Harry Potter … or Twilight?

No, that wasn’t really what Vanessa meant. Also that would count us out since we’re still stuck on Twilight page 100. We would need help.

10. Finally, invite someone – anyone really – to come and talk to us about their favourite books, their preferred authors … and the meaning of life.

Finishing School

July 21, 2010

The Senoras are all finishing school. One or two are still around doing summer courses, but even they will be heading off shortly to wherever Senoras head off to. Fatima gave up on surveying the Senoras’ recommendations for summer reading. They were a little evasive. As Fatima approached with her pen and notepad, Senoras fluttered away into the distance. Could it be that the Senoras associate reading of any kind with work? How are we to change this?

Right now it is just me and Fatima and Vanessa. I am thinking ahead to next semester about reading and writing activities. Vanessa is busy adding to the Library’s Leisure Reading Collection and Fatima … well she is reading Marked. Wait a minute! Am I mistaken or hasn’t she already read Marked? Here’s my great research finding: young people re-read a lot of books. Take Fatima, for example. How many times has she read Twilight? How many times has she read Marked? I suppose if you really love a set of characters, after living alongside them in a book it’s very difficult to be parted from them … so you simply re-read the book.


Now if you haven’t read Marked – I haven’t actually – here’s what you need to know. It’s the first book in the House of Night series (published in 2007). The other books are Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted, Tempted and Burned. I count seven books. Number eight – Awakened – is due for publication in January 2011. Naturally the books are about vampires or – if you prefer – vampyres. But these stories are about vampires that go to ‘finishing school.’ For those of you who don’t know, a ‘finishing school’ is a place well-bred (?) young women are sent to in order to learn high-level social skills and etiquette before they go out into the big wide world … and find – or receive – a husband. It would seem there are important skills that vampires need to know. Maybe there are polite ways to drink blood that vampires should learn. What do I know?

The protagonist of Marked is 16-year-old Zoey Redbird. Is that name strange or is it my imagination? As I’m sure you must be aware, names in novels often have symbolic significance. I wonder what that one means?

The House of Night series has two authors – a mother and daughter team: P.C. Cast (mother) and Kristin Cast (daughter). Being part of a family writing team is not such a bad idea, but how would you feel about writing a book with your mum? She might disapprove of the things you want to write, or maybe you’d be embarrassed by some of the ideas she was coming up with. And why is Kristin called Kristin while her mum is called P.C.? In British English PC could stand for Politically Correct … or Police Constable. In fact Kristin’s mum has a perfectly acceptable name: Phyllis Christine. (P.C., don’t worry about it. Nothing to be ashamed of.)

I checked the Cast family’s bibliography and they’ve been churning out an average of three books a year. They’re up to about 25 published books so far.  So don’t criticise the series until you have tried writing that many books.

In addition to reading or re-reading Marked, Fatima is re-reading Double Cross from Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. If you want to find out what that’s about you should cut and paste this link into your browser: www.meettheauthor/bookbites/1225.html and Malorie herself will tell you what the books are all about (not vampires). Malorie – I feel I know her already- has a very nice website:  and you can correspond with her on Facebook. If you do that, you can tell her that it was my suggestion but please don’t tell her that I haven’t yet read Book 1 Noughts and Crosses. Fatima loaned me her copy and the characters are still there on my bookshelf living out their story – I hear them whispering sometimes late at night. Fatima has made me (almost) swear that I will read the book this summer.

This is the book I promised to read

Let me just check to find out how long Chapter One is …

Las Senoras show up

May 9, 2009

Yes! Las Senoras do exist! Now we know this for a fact. Vanessa and I have seen them with our own eyes – at least five of them. We had our meeting and  … even though there was pizza, we have good reason to believe they came for the love of books.


We talked a great deal about Twilight. And then we talked a great deal about Twilight, and then – you guessed it – we talked a great deal about …  well … Twilight. This obsession was difficult for Vanessa and I to fathom. The first Twilight book does not contain any difficult words or especially long sentences, and yet neither of us could get beyond the first one hundred words. Some of Las Senoras, on the other hand, had read the books – more than one of them – three or four times. How can this be?

The wrath of Las Senoras has fallen on Stephen King, stephenkingwho – as I mentioned in the last post – said that Stephenie Meyer’s writing was ‘not very good.’ There was great indignation on the part of several of Las Senoras about this statement of King’s, which they retained to be a sign of immense arrogance on his part. I defended him, saying that, of course, we did not know the context in which this was said. As you can see from the photo, Stephen is not as pretty as Stephenie, though he does appear to like cats, and this could be a point in his favour. 

Las Senoras did not withhold their scorn for King … after all, what did he know about how to write, and anyway, what was ‘good writing?’ Clearly, then, Stephenie is a good writer – let us overlook the fact that she misspells her name – and Stephen is a bad writer.

So, what is good writing, and what is bad writing? Well, it depends. What is good writing for you, Senoras, may be bad writing for me. What is good writing for me, may be bad writing for you. We talked about ‘page turners’. Twilight is a ‘page turner’ for Las Senoras. They read and turned the pages quickly because it was so interesting. But when Vanessa and I read Twilight, we did not turn the pages quickly because we had already fallen asleep before we had finished the middle paragraph.

For myself I felt rather sorry for Stephen King, and to try and gain some sympathy for him from Las Senoras, I related to them the tale of his terrible accident in June 1999. This he describes in great detail in his book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft: ‘Writing is not life,’ he says in the book, ‘but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life. That was something I found out in the summer of 1999, when a man driving a blue van almost killed me.’ onwritingKing was out for his daily walk when the van veered off the road and crashed into him. The driver, who had a misbehaving dog with him, had lost control of his vehicle. King continues the story: the driver, ‘told friends that he thought he’d hit “a small deer” until he noticed my bloody spectables lying on the front seat of his van.’

Now, at this point I need to make it clear that for all their talk of Twilight, Las Senoras are in fact remarkably well-read, with perhaps the exception of one Senora who does not read books at all, but likes to hear descriptions of them from her friends. So it was that one of our Senoras told us that Stephen King’s book the Duma Key contains an account of a horrible accident experienced by the protagonist of the story. In telling you this, naturally I am not recommending that you go in search of horrible experiences so that you can write about them. Some of us are now putting Duma Key on our To Read booklists. It sounds intriguing.

Duma Key Cover

On the subject of booklists, Stephen King has one at the back of On Writing. He advises us to ‘write a lot and read a lot.’ Admittedly, booklists worry me slightly, especially when I find that, out of a hundred titles on a list, I’ve only read three … or less.

I’m pleased to announce that Las Senoras have now released their own updated list of recommended reading. There is, however, something a little suspect about this list. Out of 20 suggested titles, seven are by miscellaneous authors, one is by the much-loathed Stephen King, one is by Sidney Sheldon, one is by Charles Dickens, two (only two?) are by Stephenie Meyer. The remaining eight (!) are all by Nicholas Sparks! Now who is the Senora who is sneaking Nicholas Sparks onto our booklist?

What are you reading? What should be on Las Senoras booklist? Post a comment. More about reading tastes – and pizza – in the next post.


May 6, 2009

In an earlier post I was wondering why Twilight is on Las Senoras list of favourite or recommended books.


After all, it’s about vampires … and vampires bite humans and drink their blood.


That doesn’t sound too commendable to me! But I suppose you could argue that some vampires are better than others. For example, there are bad vampires, like this one:


And there are good vampires like this one – Edward, from the movie version of Twilight.


So, in other words, perhaps you can transform something unacceptable into something acceptable by making it look cute or pretty. Am I right?

The fact is that Twilight has been immensely successful. It came top of the New York Times Best Seller list for young adults and it has been translated into over 20 languages. Does anyone know if it has been translated into Arabic? (I doubt it somehow!)

Twilight‘s author Stephenie Meyer is 35 and is married with three sons. She does not belong to Las Senoras Book Club, but she has always been an avid reader, which is probably why many classic novels were the original inspiration for the Twilight series.

There are four books in the series. Twilight (2005) was inspired by one of the books on Las Senoras recommended book list. Which one? Surprise, surprise … it’s Pride and Prejudice. New Moon (2006) was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The third book, Eclipse (2007), was inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights; and the idea for the fourth book, Breaking Dawn (2008), came from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not everyone likes Stephenie’s books as much as Las Senoras. The author Stephen King (more about him another time) said she ‘can’t write worth a darn.’ (Whatever that means … I’m not sure). What do you think? Post your comments here.

Senoras, remember that there is a Book Club meeting on Thursday at 3pm. There will be pizza and Pepsi. It may be time for you to stand up and be counted. Are you Las Senoras, or not?

Shortcut to Mr Darcy

May 2, 2009

Hello, Senoras! It could be that, despite my mention of Pride and Prejudice (the book), you are not in the least interested in reading it. That being the case, I am offering you a shortcut, through which you can see for yourself what the problem was with Mr Darcy.


In the photo he does, perhaps, look a little grumpy. Find out more by accessing clips to the BBC version of the novel:

Then, don’t be shy – post a comment.

No show, or at least, a very meagre show

May 1, 2009

As it turned out, Las Senoras did not ‘write on’ and did not ‘read on’. They simply didn’t show up. Vanessa had the ingenious idea of luring them in with food: several giant-sized bottles of Pepsi and four huge pizzas. pizzaAt the sight of the pizzas, three ladies were enticed into the meeting room, but it turned out that they were not Las Senoras, but merely hungry people in search of a bite. Since we had no takers anyway, we would have been very happy to feed them and slip in some intellectual input at the same time but, alas, they were chased away by Las Senoras Vice President, who told them in no uncertain terms that they shouldn’t be partaking of these edible delights if they were not intending to contribute to the discussion. We therefore lost our three of our potential attendees and were left only with the Vice President, who informed us that she was only there because the President herself was not able to come and had sent the Vice President in her stead. The Vice President was on a diet, in preparation for a trip to India and, therefore, she did not want to eat our pizza or drink our Pepsi and she had no further comments to make about books, so … she left.

Vanessa and I ate half a pizza on our own. The Vice President had advised us that 3pm on a Thursday afternoon was a very bad time to hold a Book Club meeting. ‘Everybody goes home at that time and no one in their right mind would want to come to a Book Club meeting.’ That left us wondering why so many students were milling about doing nothing and why, if no one was supposed to be around at that time, the meeting had been set for that wretched time of day. We considered this unfortunate state of affairs and decided that we would continue to meet at this time regardless, until students got the idea and more Senoras materialised. We discussed Jane Austen, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the two Mr Darcys: the Pride and Prejudice Mr Darcy and Bridget’s Mark Darcy (aka Colin Firth in the movie of the same name).


We also came to this conclusion … that while Jane Austen would most likely be acceptable but complex for Las Senoras, Bridget would be a no no. She smokes and she drinks … and much more. Sorry, Helen Fielding, but the book is out and, sorry, Colin Firth and Renee Zellweger, but the film is out too. 41xr2jyt0tl__sl500_aa240_3All these things considered, it is strange that Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, which is about vampires,  is on their list of favourite books (

We could not manage to finish the other three and a half giant pizzas, so Vanessa went in search of students who looked like they might need a meal or two. She found a group of hungry-looking students huddled in the Cybercafe. ‘Oh, you should have told us you were having a meeting,’ they said. ‘We would have come.’