Talking to my mum about a good book she read recently; a social history about 5 women who had one thing in common – they were all murdered by Jack The Ripper in 1888. Also includes some advice and comments about reading books to learn English.
Hello everyone, How are you doing out there in podcastland, or should I not ask?
We all know that the dreaded coronavirus is making life difficult for everyone and I very much hope that you are basically well and that you’re keeping your spirits up despite the many difficulties that you might be facing during this tricky period. I expect you will either be extremely busy looking after children, or perhaps trying to solve work-related problems, or perhaps you’re growing increasingly bored and lonely if you’re just stuck at home in self-isolation. I am also attempting to adjust to a new routine as we are looking after our daughter, trying to keep her busy, while also trying to get work done. But really, things are not too bad for us at this stage. We’re quite lucky.
I just want to wish everyone all the best and I hope you’re managing to stay positive. I won’t talk a lot more about this situation right now. I’m thinking of doing one or two episodes about self-isolation and associated vocabulary in the coming days or weeks.
In any case, this can be a good opportunity, if you have the time, to focus on things like listening to podcasts or reading books to improve your English and in fact that is what this episode is all about. It’s a podcast conversation with my mum about books, well, about one book in particular.
That’s right, this is the first episode of Gill’s Book Club, which I mentioned on the podcast a while ago, I think in my mum’s episode about Quintessentially British Things from January in which she chose to talk about 3 of her favourite books. I suggested that that might make a good regular feature for episodes of this podcast. Lots of LEPsters agreed and my mum is happy to do it and so here it is. Gill’s Book Club.
The concept is pretty simple. I talk to my mum about books that she has read. She describes them, tells us what they are about and what she found interesting about them. We can also read some samples from the books too if possible.
It could be any book or books she wants → an old favourite, a recent discovery or just something she thinks will be interesting to talk about. Hopefully it will just be a pleasant listening experience for you, but it could also give you some inspiration if you’re looking for a book to read in English.
Briefly, before we start. Here is some advice on how to use these episodes of the podcast.
How to use these episodes of Gill’s Book Club
You can either
a) Just listen to the episode, try to follow what my mum and I are saying and hopefully find it pleasant to listen to without feeling the need to actually read the book being described. As I’ve said before, it is very important and beneficial for your English to listen to things like this on a regular basis, equally it is important to read regularly.
So, your other option could be this:
b) Having heard us talk about this book, you can then get your own copy and then read it yourself. Alternatively you could get the audiobook version.
And perhaps if the particular book we’re talking about isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, listening to my mum talking about reading could just encourage you to read more in English yourself even if it’s not the book we’re describing.
If you do want to read a book to improve your English then I have some advice for you, but I’m going to tell you that advice after you’ve heard my conversation with Mum because I don’t want to go on and on too much here at the start.
So listen all the way until the end of this episode to hear specific advice from me regarding how to choose a book to read in English.
Anyway, let’s now talk to my mum. We decided to talk about just one book in this conversation in order to be able to focus our attention more clearly.
Don’t forget to check the page for this episode on my website, where you will find all the details of the book plus some other notes, transcripts of my intro and ending and so on.
So, without any further ado, let’s talk to my mum.
OK so there you are, that was the very first episode of Gill’s Book Club. Let us know what you think by leaving your comments in the comment section on my website. You’ll find this episode in the archive, or just click the link in the show notes in your podcasting app.
I said at the beginning that I had a few tips to help you choose a book in English.
I’ve talked about this on the podcast before in quite a lot of detail, but here’s some of my advice just distilled into a few brief points.
Tips for choosing and reading books in English
- Choose a book you want to read. You’ve got to be motivated to read the book. Would you choose to read that book in your first language? People often say to me things like this, “I thought of reading Harry Potter, what do you think?” and I ask them if they would read it in their language and they kind of say “No”. I wonder then why they would choose to read it in English. Choose a book that you actually want to read, not only because you think it might be good for your English. Don’t choose to impose a boring and ‘homework-style’ reading experience on yourself. It is possible to read in English for pleasure and improve your language skills as a result.
- Pick a book which contains the right kind of language. Pick something modern if possible. Older books (including really popular stuff like Sherlock Holmes Jane Austen and Charles Dickens) tend to be written in a fairly old-fashioned style which can be really difficult for learners of English (and me too – I love Sherlock Holmes but I often struggle to understand what is actually happening because it’s all so dense and detailed). Try to find something in a plain, modern style. Obviously, if point 1 is more important to you (i.e. you just really really want to read that book) then point 2 is less of a concern. Ultimately it’s good to be exposed to all types of English and if you’re motivated that’s the best thing. But to be on the safe side, pick a modern book in plain English. Harry Potter for example is not a bad choice in this case. It’s not perfect, because a lot of the words are made up words in the HP universe, but mostly it is written in a modern way, similar to how people actually speak now. You heard Mum and me mention Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I think would be a great choice actually, because it’s a good book and it’s written in the sort of English that people actually use these days.
- Pick a book which you will be able to finish. Finishing a book is great isn’t it? It gives you a sense of success and closure, literally. That’s important! So, consider a shorter book, or even a book which has been graded for your level (Check: Macmillan Readers, Penguin Readers, Pearson English Readers – they all have some excellent books graded for different levels – choose a book you want to read and something appropriate to your level, probably B1 intermediate, B2 upper-intermediate or C1 advanced). Also consider buying the sort of book that is quite easy to read, like a page turner (The Da Vinci Code is an example of a page turner – it’s quite easy to read and you just want to know what happens next. Page turners usually contain mystery, romance or horror). An advantage of page turners is that you can fly through them quite quickly, which is one of your aims – get as much English into your head as possible. A disadvantage of page turners is that they can be a bit meaningless and of poor quality. For example, I found the 5th HP book to be a good example of a page turner. I couldn’t wait to get onto the next page to find out what was going to happen next. I read it incredibly fast, but at the end I realised that nothing really happened in the book. Somehow JK Rowling wrote it so that I felt something interesting was always around the corner, but then when I finished it I realised that it was mostly nothing. Someone dies at the end and that’s it really. But I read it extremely quickly. And that is actually a good thing for learning English. You want something that will allow you to read more and more and more.
So, overall you need to strike a balance between
- A book which you want to read
- A book which contains the right kind of English (today’s English, basically)
- A book which you will be able to read
But the most important one is #1 → Pick a book you want to read, because motivation will carry you through points 2 and 3, and if you enjoy something the language is more likely to stick with you.
You can also choose to stop and check words in a dictionary, note them down, perhaps note the extract in which they appear, or just carry on and focus on continuing the book and only check new words when you think they’re really important. If literally every other word is new to you, then it might be better to choose a graded reader as I said before. In those graded books, the range of vocabulary is narrower and they’re easier to read. And remember, it’s not about being able to understand the most difficult books. It’s about reading as much as possible, as regularly as possible and enjoying the experience.
I think The Five is certainly an interesting sounding book which I can imagine many of you would like. The reviews for it are great. It has a rating of 4.5/5 on Amazon.co.uk. Although the English can be quite dense (which is normal for books like this), it is written in a modern style and there is definitely a lot of vocabulary which you would pick up from it. So if you’d like to learn more about these 5 women and their lives, then get yourself a copy of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold.
It’s available in Kindle version, Audiobook version and normal paperback and hardback versions.
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Tips on how to read a book in English
Basically there are two approaches. Oh, I’ve already mentioned these things. Forgive me now as I repeat myself a bit.
1. Have a dictionary and check words as you discover them, noting little definitions or other things that might help you remember the words, possibly keeping a vocabulary notebook as you go.
2. Just focus on reading for pleasure and try to tolerate or guess the words and phrases you don’t know. Keep going and try not to be distracted by bits you don’t understand. It might make more and more sense as you continue.
I do strongly suggest that you persevere through the first 25% of the book. Often it takes a while to get used to a new book and it might not grab you until you get through a certain number of pages.
Resist the temptation to give up. Keep reading! Don’t stop! Push through the difficult or boring bits. From time to time, stop to think about the book and try to form some opinions on it as you go. What do you think of the characters? What’s actually going on? What is the writer’s point of view? What is this really about? What does the world of the book actually look like, feel like and even smell like? All of that can help you to get into the book more as you read it.
That’s it! Leave your comments below and tell us what you think of Gill’s Book Club.