Publications & My Book Reviews

Anne’s article on Exam Invigilation published in the Times Education Supplement.

“Isn’t invigilating exams like watching paint dry?” people ask. Absolutely not – unless it’s an art exam. It’s much more like being a Formula 1 mechanic: part of a well-drilled team; mainly active at the start and end; watching others go round in circles for hours while staying alert for the occasional moments when we’re needed. Exactly like F1, apart from the expensive cars. And the exotic locations. And the noise levels, obviously.

Like the mechanics, invigilators can never sleep – though admittedly we can come perilously close to it in A-level Latin on a sultry afternoon…. [read more]

 

My reviews of books on Goodreads

The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers about DangerThe Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers about Danger by Michael Blastland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Subtitled “Stories and Numbers about Danger” this is a book on statistics which turns out to be readable, interesting, and even fun! Threaded through it are 3 characters with different attitudes to risk to help illustrate the data. Norm, who’s average in everything (almost), Prudence who’s … prudent. And Kevin who’s a big risk-taker. The stories didn’t always work for me, but I appreciated the intention. E.g. I enjoyed the spoof romance with the hero surgeon, lash-fluttering nurse, and surprise ending.

The authors introduce new ways to help us think about numbers and risk, such as the MicroMort – a 1 in a million chance of death, and the MicroLife, one of the 48 half-hour chunks of life which we have each day. These are useful for comparing risks from various activities – personally, I’m still saving hot-air ballooning till I’m 80.

I know some of the stories and figures in the book already from other reading, for example the way that events naturally occur in clusters, rather than spreading out evenly. The authors have a persuasive illustration of this in relation to murders per day in London. I’ve read other accounts on why we focus on particular risks or unusual events, and ignore the numerous times nothing happens. (Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is very informative on this) Thinking, Fast and Slow

The chapters are short, focused round a particular topic, such as transport accidents, surgery, radiation, unemployment. Yes, there are statistics, but generally not too technical. There were several ‘did you know that?’ moments for me. Such as the fact that women are increasingly at risk from transport accidents as they get older, or that Florence Nightingale suffered from hospitals gaming the statistics she tried to collect from them.

A key strength of the Norm Chronicles is that it understands how real people approach risk, that there’s a strong human factor which means we don’t always listen to experts. ‘Probablility is intuitively difficult and confusing’, and that’s why we need a variety of metaphors and analogies when talking about risk and chance. People’s fears of risk might be odd but they’re not stupid: ‘They live in an uncertain world, where risks can change and no one knows which side of the odds they’ll fall … they are fears in a real and usually messy human context.” [p. 286] And, ‘How are you supposed to decide which risk to take when you are often judged not by the fact that you did your best in all good faith in a state of uncertainty, but by how it turned out?’ [p.66]

This isn’t the definitive book on the subject, but it is interesting and readable.

Deadheads (Dalziel & Pascoe, #7)Deadheads by Reginald Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As other reviewers have said, the ending is unexpected, and not altogether satisfying. But I like that Hill plays with readers’ expectations and that each book is subtly different – crime authors with a series can end up being repetitive, but Hill keeps up the surprises, even if they’re uncomfortable ones. And I keep being impressed with his portrayal of Ellie Pascoe, whose left-wing feminist 1980’s politics is very accurately observed. I might not have given this one 5 stars, but it was still really good. Now on to #8!

 

Under World (Dalziel & Pascoe, #10)Under World by Reginald Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in a Yorkshire pit village in the 1980s in the aftermath of the miner’s strike, this gives a real feel for what life is like under ground. The detective story plot is well worked out, and the characters keep progressing. Hill writes with insight about what the strike meant to women, and I find his female characters especially Ellie Pascoe very believable. I love the humorous touches, and I’m even coming to have a soft spot for the sometimes monstrous Dalzeil.

 

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel bad giving a one-star review, especially to a writer like Kate Morton who is generally skilled and whose other books I like. But given I gave up on The Distant Hours a third of the way through, I have to be honest and say I didn’t like it. Looking at other reviews, I can see I’m not alone. Morton writes beautifully and descriptively, she draws interesting characters, and the plot has possibilities. But I got to the point where I picked up the book for my hour’s reading before bed, and thought, I’ve read 250 pages, there’s 420 to go, and I don’t care enough what happens to commit any more hours of my life to this. Judicious editing to cut the novel down by a third if not a half would have made a big difference. It’s not bad writing, it was just too much of nothing much happening. I hope Morton is better served by her editor next time.

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