The Big Read has arrived at St George’s

The idea behind the Big Read is for everyone at St George’s to come together over a shared reading experience. This year The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was chosen and every first-year student receives their own SGUL copy of the book.

The Big Read project centres around making students, returning or brand-new to St George’s, feel welcome. It will help those of you who are feeling slightly nervous about being in a whole new environment, possibly away from home for the very first time and meeting lots of new people. As everyone takes part in this big book club, you have a conversation starter ready-made.

This year marks the first time St George’s University has its very own Big Read Project and to celebrate the occasion, Library staff have got together to discuss Harold’s pilgrimage over a cup of tea and a biscuit (or two). We had a lively discussion about Joyce’s novel and as in any good book club, we found that we all had slightly (or very) different opinions on the protagonists and key themes.

Below you can read our (spoiler-free) thoughts on the novel.

Beth, Liaison Support Librarian (IMBE)

It’s easy to see why The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was picked for this year’s Big Read title: it’s packed full of big topics that readers from all backgrounds will be able to relate to in some way. As the plot unfolds, it tackles (among many others) themes of grief and loss, loneliness, kindness, addiction and friendship. It’s an enjoyable easy read too, despite some difficult subject matter, as we accompany Harold on his pilgrimage across the UK. When I originally sat down to gather my thoughts for this post, I found myself wondering whether this had quite as profound an impact on me as previous Big Read selections. However, I was forced to re-examine that opinion after getting involved with our staff book group – this is certainly a story that deserves some unpacking and discussion. I’ve found myself revisiting and reappraising the way in which this book tackles these big issues and actually, it appears it’s definitely left its mark.

Anne, Liaison Support Librarian (Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education)

The themes in Harold Fry are universal to the human experience and include loss, regret, dysfunctional relationships and ageing. However, for me the power of the narrative lies in the portrayal of seemingly more minor topics, such as the importance of spending time outside in nature, mindfulness, and connecting with others regardless of how different they are from us. Along with Harold, the reader learns, or rather is reminded, that we are all unique and yet the same. We are often struggling with very similar problems, but ordinary human life is also full of wonders and human connection, which are always around us if we take a minute to appreciate them.

While the book unquestionably addresses really big topics, and can be emotionally challenging at times, it is a real page-turner.

Jenni, Research Publications Assistant

I thought that the portrayal of the beginning of Harold’s pilgrimage was very effective: he increases the length of his journey to post his letter by increments, unable to truly admit to himself that he doesn’t want to return to the home that represents his emotional stagnation, and once the idea of the pilgrimage occurs to him, giving him the excuse to keep going, he seizes on it. His inability to think about the practical reality of his pilgrimage, or to make any active plans other than to continue it, worked well as a mirror for his inability to entirely face his own emotions and past all in one go: like his pilgrimage, he has to tackle it piece by piece, at an angle, without admitting that’s what he’s doing until he’s already doing it

Dan, Information Assistant

I enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s book. There are many themes running through like isolation, grief and loneliness. However, my favourite chapter in the book is when Harold on his pilgrimage meets with Martina a qualified Doctor from another country and although she has problems of her own to address she nonetheless dresses his wounds from excessive walking and takes care of him for a few days when he clearly is exhausted.  It highlights one of the major themes in the book which is the unexpected kindness of strangers when you most need it.

Michelle, Research Data Manager, had a different take on the novel

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an inspiring book about illness, suffering and loss, and how these expressions of human existence transcend the various skins that hold them. Unfortunately, for a book about the fragility of skin and the universality of the human condition, Harold is hard to relate to. Harold is of a particular time and place and even as he challenges his own lens he is caught within them, making this a conflicting read at times.

At the end of the Library’s own book club, we couldn’t agree whether the protagonists have more to celebrate than to mourn or whether Harold’s journey has a “happy end” or not, so get reading today and join the discussion on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter today.

Previous years’ books

Organised since 2015, Big Read has been growing every year. In 2018, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine was picked, which proved very popular with Library staff. This and previous years’ short-listed titles are available on loan from the Library, as well as all the winning titles of course. You can read our thoughts on the books from previous years by clicking on The Big Read tag.

Current students and SGUL staff can pick up a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry from the help desk in the Library.

Author’s visit

Join us on 6th November for the Big Read Author talk at St George’s where Rachel Joyce will speak about her book and signs your copy! Find out more here. Booking is essential!

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World Book Day 2019

WBD logo EYES TOP RIGHT.jpgHappy World Book Day! While Library staff aren’t dressing up like classic book characters (we hope you aren’t too disappointed), some of us have been reading and reviewing new and classic picks from our fiction collection.

You can browse online collections of these titles at the links below, or by searching for fiction in Hunter:

KU Big Read titles
LGBT History Month titles
Black History Month titles

 

On to the reviews!

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

A short but beautifully bittersweet story of grief, and the loves that preceded it.

A book of two halves, the narrative follows firstly Ellis and then transfers to Michael, childhood friends whose lives have diverged in adulthood. However, while being centred on the story of these two men, the book opens in 1950 with a woman and what is described as ‘her first ever act of defiance.’ The woman, instead of complying with her husband’s instruction to choose a bottle of whiskey upon winning a raffle draw at a local community centre event, chooses a reproduction painting of van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The woman is Dora Judd, Ellis’s mother, and both she and the painting are a thread woven through the story of these men’s lives, signifying the possibilities of committing to an act of hope – the choice to turn towards the light.

Winman’s prose is understated yet brimming with beauty and compassion, embodying one of the underlying themes of the novel – the beauty and potential inherent in the everyday.

Verity Allison, Journals and e-Resources Librarian

 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

“For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition”

Home Fire is a modern-day reworking of the Greek tragedy Antigone, centred around a British Muslim community who are dealing with the fallout of one their own leaving London to join ISIS. The story unfolds through a number of different perspectives; from siblings Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz, to the Home Secretary Karamat Lone and his son Eamonn.

It is certainly an intense read, but an important one. Shamsie’s insidious descriptions of Parvaiz’s slide into radicalisation are heartbreaking and her characterisation of the British tabloid press is spot-on and desperately frustrating to read. Part-thriller, part homage to the power of love and family, the story builds and builds to a hugely cinematic climax. How satisfying you find the ending is very much up for discussion, but this is a read that has stuck with me for a long, long time after turning the last page.

Beth Jackson, Liaison Support Librarian

 

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

I first saw Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-winning film adaption of this book, and having subsequently heard the director talk about Michael Ondaatje’s beautiful writing I was intrigued. The book itself won the Booker Prize in 1992, and the Golden Man Booker Prize in 2018 – essentially being voted the best of the all previous Booker prize winners.

Set at the time of the Second World War, several lives entwine around an “English” patient who has badly been burned in an airplane accident. The back-story that unfurls is both romantic and heartbreaking.

I find it very hard to keep interested in books where I have already seen the film but Ondatjee’s writing really is special: he writes very poetically.  The plot is slightly different to the film which always makes it more interesting. I’d definitely recommend this book.

Daniel Jeffcote, Information Assistant

 

If you’d like some more recommendations, we’ve previously featured reviews written by FHSCE and Library staff. How about one reading one of our selected #KUBigRead shortlisted titles? You can find their reviews below:

The Penguin Lessons
The Elephant and the Bee
The Power
Radio Sunrise
The Brilliant and Forever
My Name is Leon

On the other hand, if you prefer a non-fiction read but aren’t in the mood for another Oxford Handbook, Library staff have also reviewed a selection of popular science writing. You can read our thoughts here.

Happy reading!

 


If you’d be interested in reading and reviewing any books from the Library collection, please do get in touch with us by emailing liaison@sgul.ac.uk

Service Update: Increased Loans, Changes to Fines and Automatic Renewals

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Library staff are pleased to announce that we’ve made a number of changes to our rules and regulations that will improve your experience of borrowing items from the Library:

 

booksWe’ve increased the amount of items you can borrow.

SGUL students/staff and NHS staff are now able to borrow up 15 items at one time. Some exceptions do apply*.

 

recycle-signWe’ve increased the amount of renewals on your loans.

Items on your record will now be automatically renewed until the end of your course.

Loans for NHS and SGUL staff will be automatically renewed until their Library account expires. This means you won’t have to remember to renew the items yourself, or bring them back to the Library when they have reached their renewal limit.

However, items won’t successfully renew if another user requests them, or you have accumulated more than £10 in fines. You’ll be notified by email if your book has been requested by another user.

 

coinsWe’ve changed the way we charge overdue fines.

By introducing these rolling renewals, we hope our users will accumulate fewer overdue fines over the course of their studies.

However, if a book is recalled, you’ll be charged 20p per day until the book is returned.

We’ll also continue to issue invoices for non-returned, lost or damaged items, which cover the cost of a replacement plus an additional administration charge.

 

By increasing the amount of books you can borrow and extending your renewals, we hope that borrowing books from the library becomes a more flexible experience for the majority of users.

However, rolling renewals will mean that books are likely to be off the shelves for longer periods if they aren’t requested by other users. Therefore it will become more important for users to request books that are on loan by placing a hold (or reservation). If you’ve not placed a hold before, see our FAQs below for further instructions.

 


FAQs

 

How can I check when my books are due?

You can manage your account by signing sign in to Hunter using the login option in the top right-hand corner (or by clicking the ‘My Account’ link on the library homepage).

SGUL staff and students should login using their University username and password. NHS staff can obtain their login by emailing library@sgul.ac.uk

Your Library Card overview will show you everything you have on loan, and their due dates:

library card

 

How do I place a hold on a book I need?

To place a hold on a book you’ll need to make sure that:

a) you are signed in to Hunter

b) all copies of the book you need are on loan to other users

If that is the case, an option to ‘Place Hold’ will appear above the location information for your book:

placehold

Click on this link and you’ll then be asked to confirm your request.

Step-by-Step instructions for placing a hold can be found here.

Don’t forget, you can manage your holds by signing-in to your account in Hunter. If you no longer need a particular title, please do be courteous and cancel your request so it becomes available for another user.

 

I’m going on placement – what if someone requests the book I’ve borrowed?

If you know you are going to be away for St George’s for some time, we’d usually recommend using an electronic version of the book you intend to borrow to avoid picking up fines on physical items you are unable to return.

However, using an electronic version isn’t always possible. While it’s likely that the rolling automatic renewals will last the duration of your placement, if someone has placed a hold on your item it will still need to be returned by the due date. Otherwise you’ll be charged 20p per day until the book is returned.

If your book has been reserved but you are unable to return it, please sign-in to your Library account on Hunter and attempt to renew it manually by clicking the ‘Renew’ button next to the correct item in your ‘Loans’ section. By doing this, if another copy of the book is returned, your renewal will be successful. You may need to attempt this over a few days to allow enough time for another user to return their copy.

renew

 

I have outstanding fines on my account – do I need to pay them?

Yes – although fines are changing, you will still need to pay any outstanding fines on your account. Try to pay them as promptly as possible: once your fines reach £10.00 your books won’t automatically renew and you won’t be able to borrow further items.

 


If you have any further questions about these changes, please send them to the User Services team by emailing library@sgul.ac.uk or ask a member of staff at the Library Helpdesk.

 

*Exceptions include: honorary members of staff, elective students & placement students. Some NHS job categories are only eligible for restricted loans or reference only access.

Library staff recommend: Science and Medicine bestsellers (part 2)

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This summer, we’re highlighting parts of our collection that you might not have come across before: popular science titles that you’ll find peppered throughout the library shelves. Over the past few weeks, Library and LTS staff have been reading and reviewing a selection of books: many of which are now on display by the helpdesk for you to borrow. You can also browse our handpicked selection here: http://wke.lt/w/s/q3KeB

Take a look at some of our recommended reads below. You can find part one of our staff book reviews here.

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

For another insight in to the world of neurosurgery you may also like ‘Do no harm’, neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s memoir of his life and work at St George’s.

‘When breath becomes air’ is the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi – neurosurgeon-neuroscientist and writer. The book charts his journey to medicine via English Literature and Human Biology, through the gruelling training in neurosurgery, to his experiences on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship following his diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer just as he was approaching the end of his neurosurgical residency:

“Instead of being the pastoral figure aiding a life transition, I found myself the sheep, lost and confused.”

The different phases of the book are woven together by Kalanithi’s thoughtful and tender exploration of the question, what gives life meaning? Navigated variously through literature and philosophy, through the visceral experience of practising medicine, and with deep personal insight as he comes to terms with his own diagnosis and prognosis. I believe that what you’ll take from this book is as deeply personal as the story itself, but that overall the book is profoundly life affirming and speaks of the importance of hope in the most difficult of circumstances.

Verity Allison
Journals and e-Resources Librarian

 

Bodies by Jed Mercurio

An unforgiving and at times confronting read, Bodies is one of those rare books that sticks in the mind long after the last page.

Bodies is a disturbing, fascinating and truly compelling fictional account from the front line of hospital life in the late twentieth century.

This first novel by Jed Mercurio, a former doctor turned drama writer whose recent works include the award-winning TV series Line of Duty, was later adapted by the BBC. It charts the day-to-day experiences of the book’s unnamed narrator, who as the story begins has arrived at the hospital for his first day as a newly qualified houseman.

From the start the reader is immersed in the gritty reality of life as a junior doctor: the gruelling hours, lack of sleep, urgent references to the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine and the life and death decisions that have to be made on a daily basis. Mistakes are inevitably made, and the reader shares the narrator’s distress as he struggles with how a simple misjudgment can lead to the most severe of consequences.

The narrator doesn’t flinch as he reveals the reality of the battlefield of hospital life, seamlessly blending stomach-turning episodes on the wards with his own personal life.The reality of his work impacts his faith and also his relationships, which are graphically recounted alongside his work.

As the story progresses, the idealism that a new young doctor brings is tested. He is presented with moral dilemmas and decisions of conscience which force the reader to wonder what path they would take when faced with the reality we have seen through his eyes. An unforgiving and at times confronting read, Bodies is one of those rare books that sticks in the mind long after the last page.

Emily Daniel
Information Assistant

 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

This book will capture the imagination of all and take you down the rabbit hole into the wonderland of the human brain.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is comprised of a series of case histories of Oliver Sacks’ patients. Sacks, a neurologist, writes about some of the more unique and baffling cases he has come across throughout his career. His patients have different neurological disorders that lead them to navigate the world and their own sense of self in mysterious, startling and sometimes heart-breaking ways. Written over thirty years ago, our knowledge of the nervous system has since developed and some of the terminology is outdated. What makes this book still current is that Sacks does not claim to have all the answers – the brain was then, as it remains now, largely an enigma.

Reading the book, I couldn’t help but ask, how do we make sense of the world, and of our place in it, when perception, memory and cognitive function has gone? For many of us it’s our worst nightmare; we suppose that to lose our past and our sense of the familiar, would be to lose our humanity. The patients in Sacks’ book show a remarkable ability to strive for meaning and identity.

The namesake of the book, Dr P, is a man who has lost his ability to understand what he can see in front of him. In one occurrence, Dr P stares at a glove, pondering over what this strange object with its “five outpouchings” could be. Upon placing his hand within the object he makes sense of its function. It is only then that he declares that it is a glove! He has lost the ability to recognise faces, hence mistaking his wife for a hat. He can perceive features, but not the whole. As a talented musician, he instead ‘sees’ through music: “He had no body-image, he had body-music: this is why he could move and act as fluently as he did”.

Sacks reveals these stories in a frank and humorous light. Sacks aims with this book to “restore the human subject at the centre” of medical case studies. Disease and the individual are not separate entities. Sacks argues that much of the behaviours of his patients are not manifestations of disease. They are an “organised chaos”, responsive to the absolute confusion of disease, through sheer will or desire to live. It encourages the medical profession to positively focus on faculties that remain, or that flourish, under pervading diseases. For those of us without a scientific background, it encourages us to wonder at the marvel of what the human brain is capable of and question what we perceive as ‘lesser’ or ‘deficient’.

Catriona Robertson
FHSCE Liaison Support Librarian

 

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop – David Adam

“I can’t think of a single positive thing about OCD. And I’ve thought about OCD a lot.”

Writer David Adam is fairly unequivocal on the question of whether OCD might have an upside; but he also understands how the largely hidden nature of the suffering it causes might lead to such misperceptions – to the ‘little bit OCD’ of popular imagination. A science journalist who has himself had OCD for over twenty years, Adam realised he might be well-placed to shine a clearer light on the condition; “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” is the result.

He takes as his starting point the intrusive thoughts and doubts that lie at the heart of OCD – and finds they are actually surprisingly common to us all. So what is it that happens differently in the small number of people who can’t let go of these thoughts – who go on to develop OCD? In the search for answers, Adam takes us on a journey through genetics, childhood experience and misfiring brain circuits among other things. And while he admits there is much still to be understood, he finds some intriguing possibilities.

But it’s perhaps in recounting his own experiences that Adam is able to shine the brightest light – describing with unswerving honesty how it feels to live in the grip of obsessive doubt; or the long journey to find the treatment that keeps that keeps those thoughts – mostly – under control today. His book manages to give both a readable introduction to the evidence, and a voice to personal experiences that have sometimes been overlooked.

Hilary Garrett
Information Assistant

 

Library staff recommend: Science and Medicine bestsellers (part 1)

book display

This summer, we’re highlighting parts of our collection that you might not have come across before: popular science titles that you’ll find peppered throughout the library shelves. Over the past few weeks, Library and LTS staff have been reading and reviewing a selection of books: many of which are now on display by the helpdesk for you to borrow. You can also browse our hand-picked selection here: http://wke.lt/w/s/q3KeB

Take a look at some of our recommended reads below. You can view part 2 of our book reviews here.

 

Why we sleep : the new science of sleep and dreams by Matthew Walker

There will be something to astonish you almost every time you pick it up… I’d recommend this book to everyone.

This brilliant book is packed with incredible facts about the benefits of a good night’s sleep and the consequences of not getting enough good-quality sleep. Matthew Walker, a sleep specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, shows how sleep can improve everything from memory to the efficacy of the flu jab, not to mention productivity at work, mood and even blood sugar levels. He also explains that driving while sleep-deprived can be more dangerous than driving drunk, and that (unfortunately) a weekend lie-in can’t completely compensate for a lack of sleep during the week.  The book is written in a very accessible way that is neither too technical nor overly simplified, which makes it an easy read despite it being absolutely full of information. There will be something to astonish you almost every time you pick it up, and you’ll want to start improving your sleep straight away – handily, the book also includes a few tips on how to do just that. I’d recommend this book to everyone. In Matthew Walker’s words, “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”, and that is something we can all benefit from.

Georgina Coles
Information Assistant

 

Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag

Recommended for medical historians or anyone interested in the history of medicine.

First published 40 years ago, Sontag examines the euphemisms, myths and metaphors that surround diseases such as TB, cancer and AIDS. In obituaries, the expression ‘she died after a long illness’ is often a euphemism for ‘she died of breast cancer’. This is because cancer attacks parts of the body that can, to this day, be embarrassing to acknowledge (e.g. breast, colon, testicles). A particular strength of the book is its debunking of the psychological aspects of disease. This relates to the myth that TB, cancer or AIDS sufferers are somehow to blame for contracting their disease. Sontag tracks a line from the ancient Greeks through to the Victorians where disease is perceived as a judgement on the behaviour or morality of the sufferer. And before we gloat about how much more civilised and reasoned we are today, one only has to recall that is was just over 30 years ago (at the height of the AIDS crisis) that singer Donna Summer allegedly remarked that AIDS was God’s punishment to gay men.

Lawrence Jones
Content & Digital Infrastructure Manager

 

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

A great read for anyone who has an interest in debunking medical nonsense. This book will equip you with the skills to see through the ‘Bad Science’ filling our world whilst still managing to be both funny and entertaining.

Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor, academic, campaigner and bestselling author; his first book Bad Science encompasses all of these by picking apart the ‘Bad Science’ that is filling our lives, whether it comes from the media, advertising or the pharmaceutical industry.

Bad Science is split into two sections: the first focusses on how research is carried out and reported before walking through some notable cases of misleading science including an interesting review of the placebo effect and the smearing of the MMR vaccine all the way to a personal experiment with an ‘Aqua Detox’ and a Barbie doll.

The aim is to explain how not only media and marketing mislead us but also how pharmaceutical companies skew clinical findings. Full of facts and humour in equal measure, Bad Science will not only equip you with the skills to spot the questionable scientific claims filling the world but will also probably make you laugh along the way.

Kerry Dixon
Learning Technologist

 

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

If you are a fan of true crime or are in any way interested in the complexities of human behaviour, this is very much worth a read.

Ronson’s book begins with a mystery: someone has been sending peculiar packages to academics across the world containing a book crammed with cryptic messages. With the mystery seemingly unsolvable, Ronson is brought on board to help crack the case and his pursuit of the book’s origins leads him on a funny – but often troubling – journey that unravels what it means to be ‘mad’.

Underpinning most of the book is Ronson’s exploration of the Psychopathy Checklist; which he uses when interviewing a number of individuals who arguably exhibit psychopathic traits: from the head of a Haitian death squad to the CEO of an American manufacturing company. The most intriguing character for me is ‘Tony’, an offender who’s plan to ‘fake madness’ to get out of a prison sentence backfired when he found himself locked up in Broadmoor indefinitely. Interspersed amongst these stories are examples of Ronson’s own battles with anxiety, which offer welcome relief to some of the quite grisly content.

While the book is clearly well-researched, some aspects of the storytelling do feel unbalanced and over reliant on the more sensational case studies in the field. It’s also occasionally guilty of offering a superficial look at some aspects of psychopathy, so I’d advise casting a critical eye over any conclusions you draw from the material explored. Nevertheless, it is a fun and entertaining read and if it’s sparked your interest in the field (as it has for me), you may find yourself looking into more authoritative texts to satisfy your curiosity.

Beth Jackson
Liaison Support Librarian (Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

EDIT:
(9th August 2018) One of our Twitter followers highlighted a response to Ronson’s book by Robert D. Hare, who’s work (and checklist) are featured heavily in the text. For balance, we’d certainly recommend reading his reflections on the book here. We’d like to share another thank you to the follower who brought it to our attention, it made for an entertaining read and echoed many of the concerns we couldn’t include in our word count!

Book Stock Delivery on Friday 15th June

Life in the library never stands still and tomorrow, Friday 15th June, we are expecting a big book stock delivery to add to our collection. The couriers will be delivering the books at around 12pm via the silent and quiet study areas. This means that there may be some disruption over lunch for a couple of hours. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

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