03 December, 2010

This is not a reading list (Part 2)

And so for Colin Firth to make his second appearance in our blog is two days, I present the thoughts of Heather and Sarah for what to read to get ready for life in London.

Claire, Bill and Sarah have their own opinions of what to read and watch, but as a mother of a very rambunctious 14 month old, I am rather short on time and therefore short on the time I can sit reading.  Although I too love reading as a way to pass my time, sometimes I have to get my knowledge of the UK and world events in different ways.

The royal wedding is going to be huge.  Sure, the Windsors and their people are saying they are aware of the current economic climate and will be taking that into account when planning the big day, but seriously, all you have to do is look at the million pound smiles on the two of them and you know that it’s going to be a million pound wedding.  And who doesn’t want to learn all about it?  Whether you are interested in it because you are a wedding junkie, because you like the fashion or because it’s good car crash entertainment, you will get your information from any good tabloid.  And I put forth the tabloid, Hello! or any other tabloid for your reading pleasure.  Sure it’s not Pulitzer Prize winning, and it’s not really that intellectually challenging, but I can guarantee you that you will learn all about the people that are in popular culture in the UK at the moment.  You’ll get the lowdown on what they’re up to, what they are doing that’s scandalous and who has sold the rights to their wedding photos for a disgusting price.   One thing to note is that tabloids in the UK are very different to tabloids in the USA.  You won’t find stories about how someone is having an alien’s baby in them here. You’ll more than likely find a different spin on stories that are covered by the BBC.  There may be an element of truth behind them or not, but more than one government expose has come of a story run by The Sun a ‘red top’ newspaper here that has a larger audience than The Guardian or The Times.  Something to think about.

If reading really isn’t your bag, may I recommend the BBC website?  You can read their news and entertainment but instead do as I did nearly 10 years ago and listen online to their radio stations.  About a year or two before I moved back to the UK, I started listening to BBC Radio 1 online.  Mostly because I just missed the place too much and partly because I was sick of all the commercials on US radio stations (The BBC is funded by listener licenses and therefore doesn’t have any commercials). When I finally got back to the UK, I felt as though I really had some clue as to what was going on here.  By listening to the radio, I heard the news which told me the big stories of the day, I heard the music which was very different to the US and I just generally got a good feel for what was going on.  Not to mention a better feel for regional accents as a good portion of the DJs are NOT from London.  It was one of the best things I did to get adjusted to living in the UK.

And so above I offer two alternatives to the traditional reading list for those of you feeling short on time.  You can delve into them feet first or just dip in and out while you are scouring the bookshelves looking for the other recommendations, but think about them.  They are the up to date commentaries on what is happening and a great way to get inside the heads of the Brits.  But know that there will always be time in my life for Pride and Prejudice and that Colin Firth will always win the wet tee shirt competition for me.

Recommending books is actually quite hard for me as quite often as soon as I finish a book, I can’t guarantee that I could tell you what it was about and if you asked me for the title of the book that I am currently reading I might not be able to tell you either. This is not because I don’t want to share these great books that I have read. It is just that I love to read and go through a lot of books. I am a classic London commuter, so get lots of reading time! It is on this note that I want to share my suggestions…

Last May a lovely woman called Katie recommended a book called Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and even left a copy behind for Claire and me to read. As soon as I got my hands on it, I read it and passed it on to Claire. To give you an idea of the type of genre, if any of you have ever seen the movie ‘Stardust’ it was based on one of Neil Gaiman’s books. If not, then he is considered to be a post-modern science fiction/fantasy author.  This is not usually my first choice of genre, especially when it comes to fiction, but I enjoyed it. The story was originally made as a mini-series for the BBC back in the 90’s, but Neil Gaiman
decided to convert it to a book. This worked out well for me as I, along with pretty much most of you, missed the mini-series! ‘Neverwhere’ is mostly set in an imaginary London referred to as ‘London Below’ that matches up with real London places. It is a good and quick read and you will recognize a lot of the places mentioned in the book when you come over. I recently lent Neverwhere to one of our current students who devoured this book and asked me if there was a sequel, so surely that is a good sign?

If you want to score some points with our London Centre Director then I would recommend some background reading into British sports, particularly cricket! The more you understand it, the more you will enjoy it and will probably make you a front runner for any quizzes Bill makes. It is also particularly important to stay on top of current affairs. Not just of the UK, but of the whole world. We are small and our news is not just focussed on the UK. This will enable you to strike up conversations with strangers, and you will stand a stronger chance of winning one of Bill’s quizzes and it can be beneficial for your classes. Lately it seems like
the news has mostly been about royalty, snow and FIFA! In fact this morning I had to wait for them to stop talking about FIFA before they would cover whether or not the trains are running because of the snow.

By the way if any of you find any books telling you how to snag the royal before he officially ties the knot, do let me know!

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