Reading a blog post in which the blogger complained bitterly about Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass, one of those national classics kids have to read because, well, it's a national classic, made me think of the books I've had to read in my time.
Until about Year 10, there were no set texts that I can remember. We read what we wanted and wrote book reports. If the teacher was being especially creative, we were allowed to do these in the form of a book dust jacket - something I'm sorry to say has come back in my school at Year 7 level, where, until this year, there was a creative response that involved book trailers and fan fiction and such things that let the kids use their imaginations and show that they had understood the books.
Anyway. At Year 10, we had to read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, which I took home and read in an evening. Next day I asked my teacher,"What do I do now?" His response was,"I don't know. I haven't prepared anything yet. You were supposed to take three weeks."
He was a nice man, but not a very good teacher. There should have been reading and discussion in class and some work given to us as we went. I'm not sure he had even read it himself yet.
I did enjoy The Chrysalids, which was about a future dystopia in which, after a nuclear war, there is a Puritanical society where anyone with a mutation was banished to the lands still affected by the radiation. The children from whose viewpoint the story was told had an invisible mutation: telepathy. That could have been great for class discussion, though, having reread it, I loved it again, but felt that the style was a bit dated. I wouldn't set it, though I would invite good readers to try it.
Our Shakespeare that year was Julius Caesar. Again, we didn't actually read or discuss it in class. We saw the movie with James Mason and Marlon Brando(a very sexy Mark Antony), but that was it. I had so looked forward to discussing this in class, having read my sister's copy before I was out of primary school. I am not even sure the teacher ever read the essay I wrote. I don't think any school does that one any more; our own kids are doing Romeo And Juliet this year, and that one has been the Year 10 Shakespeare for many years. Probably more appropriate for teenagers - I was a very strange teenager, one who would have enjoyed any Shakespeare.
The next year's texts were Catcher In The Rye and Brave New World, both of which I had already read and loved, our Shakespeare was Richard III. I've already mentioned in previous posts that this was the year I discovered Richard and went on to read Daughter Of Time and join the Richard III Society; we had a wonderful English teacher that year. I've downloaded both novels to my iPad recently. Going by all the complaints on Goodreads, Catcher In The Rye is not all that popular these days, but it's known as the "first" YA novel and it used to be an act of rebellion to read it, one of those "under the covers with a torch" books. Probably because there have been so many YA novels since it was published it no longer has the effect it once did and is a bit dated. The ultimate indignity is that it's now a set school text! Brave New World is, I think, still relevant, though I don't know if anyone still sets it.
I get a bit of a mishmash in remembering my Year 12 books, because I did both English and literature, so there were a lot of books to read and I can't quite recall which books I had to read for what.
Here are some of them: the poet was Lord Byron. We had to read the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I loved both, but I wasn't very good at writing about poetry, alas! Reading it, writing it, but not writing about it.
The Jane Austen was Pride And Prejudice. I confess it took me a couple of re-reads to appreciate that one, though if you have to study Jane Austen at high school level, that one is probably the best. That was before all the dramatisations made this novel such a big deal - and well before Colin Firth emerged from the lake in his wet shirt! We only had the book and, while the teacher was much better than the one I had in Year 10, she couldn't quite get me enthused about the books we studied. Not her fault.
The Dickens was Great Expectations, which I did enjoy. I have to agree with my sister that the hero,Pip, is "a little shit!" Peter Carey seems to think the same, judging by his novel Jack Maggs.
We did The Importance Of Being Earnest - that year the Drama Club performed it. I got to be Lady Bracknell. It was a good thing to do, because we had to discuss the characters and how they should say the lines and why.
The Shakespeare was King Lear and if I'd always been a fan, that one turned me into a raving Bardoholic. I remember my copy falling open to the scene where Lear banishes Cordelia with that passionate speech... and I was hooked for life.
We read James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain which, alas, I can't remember at all, and Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler. That one is about a former Party leader who is imprisoned and expecting to be shot any day. He has flashbacks and thinks about all the horrible things he's done for the Party in his time, and whether or not the end justifies the means. And he talks to the prisoner in the next cell by Morse code, as they can't talk any other way. I have read all three in that "trilogy". It wasn't a trilogy in the normal sense, just three books on similar themes. I read The Gladiators, his novel about Spartacus, when I was about twelve or thirteen. The final was Arrival And Departure, which I read in my university years.
You can see that the types of books we had to read for English in those days were very different from today. A lot more complicated,a lot more assumption you could handle them.
And not one Australian book in the lot!
What do you remember from school days? Did it affect you? If you are still at school what do you think of your set books? Are there any authors you'd read again?