Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Top Ten Books I was Forced to Read

With a literature degree, postgraduate diploma and masters in the process, plus 8 years of teaching English Language and Literature there are many, many books I have been forced to read. Here is my top ten.

1. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck At 16 I had to read this for my own GCSEs and I fell in love with Georde and Lennie, now 16 years later I teach this book year after year to pupils studying for their GCSEs, and I've yet to find a pupil who hates it. In fact this year I don't have to teach it, but I think I will read it to my top set who will read a 'more difficult' book for their GCSEs.
2. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje I read this back when I was 21 the first time I attempted my literature Masters degree, and then I read it again as part of the additional reading for my current Masters. I love the romance, poetry and setting of this book. Ondaatje is a god!
3. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie One year I applied to do a degree module which only had 10 places, I wasn't one of the first to apply so I got stuck doing my second choice module. In the space of one week I had to read 5 books before the module started. One of these books was Midnight's Children. Boy did I struggle to read this, and I hated every damn page as I read it. Then when it came the week with all the lectures on this book I read back key scenes, read about it, talked about it and fell in love with it.
4. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens The fist book I read for my A Levels. I loved all the characters but most of all Estella, at 16 I admired that fierceness she had with men (I was 'madly in love' with my bf boyfriend at the time so quite bitter about love), I desired that cold hearted attitude. And for a while I was nicknamed Estella at school, then I fell in love properly and Estella became both a figure of admirationa and pity.
5. A Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood Read for the best module I ever studied in school or university, protest literature was an amazing module that the exam board (the fools!) pulled two years later because they didn't A Level student should have to study 6 (amazing) books for just one module. The book which changed my life path from becoming a legal secretary and studying law to going to university to study and then teach English Literature. At 17 this was the most powerful and shocking book I had read, I quickly read a lot of other Atwood novels and that veered me off in search of other great female writers.
6. Antigone (various authors) Last year for my masters I had to read different versions of Antigone for my first assignment, from Sophocles, to Brecht, to Anouilh and all the others in between I loved this play and its various retelling and recreations. Every time I go up to London for a lecture (I study online mainly) some body says that they wish they could return and study Antigone again.
7. Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo A book I teach to my year 7s (11-12yr olds) about two brothers in the war. Every time I have to take a deep breath and read the final pages without shedding a tear. But there is always a few tears from the class.
8. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen Another book from my A Levels, read a just the right age 16/17. I quickly devoured all of Jane Austen.
9. Skellig, David Almond Another book I read to year 7s, they are still at that perfect age for the magical creature discovered in the garage. My older pupils who I taught in year 7 often ask if we can reread it - damn not having enough time on the curriculum to feed this whim!
10. A Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness Two years ago I took a course in Children's literature, some of it I hated but much of it I loved. It 'forced' me to reread A Knife of Never Letting Go and the other books in the series. And my assignment was to write 5000 words about why this book was good enough to win a children's literature prize - no surprise that this was my best mark.

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