School Reads

It's kind of fitting I'm doing a "what books were you forced to read at school" post because I read this post here on The Dutchess of Kickball's blog and she mentions not appreciating the "classics" you were supposed to read in high school. That pretty much was my sentiment towards the curriculum-set books I was forced to study - yuck, yuck, yuck - but what *were* these horrible books I was set?

  • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  • Romeo & Juliet - William Shakespeare
  • MacBeth - William Shakespeare
  • A Taste of Honey - Shelagh Delaney
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson (I still have school's copy!)
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
  • My Left Foot - Christy Brown

I *hated* them all, apart from Romeo & Juliet, which is one of the few Shakespeare works I like. I do *not* like The Bard, at all. I know I particularly hated Jekyll & Hyde at the time because I was forced to read about 75% of that book out loud to the rest of the class (that's one way to kill a book for me), and by the time the exams rolled round, I was sick to death of Lord of the Flies. I probbaly should re-read it to see what my opinion now is.

And then, then there was the poetry - Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage (he was given "cool points" because one of his poems was used in C4's Teachers, mentioned by English teacher, Simon (the yummy Andrew Lincoln), Sujata Bhatt, John Agard (Half Caste), Moniza Alvi, Tom Leonard (The 6 o'clock News), Grace Nichols and Henry Newbolt (Vitaï Lampada, of course) - they are the only ones I can recall now (well, it was 7-8 years ago), but I know there's more. They weren't actually that bad, but I probably hated them at the time.

And, because I did a year of English modules alongside my degree modules in first year, I've studied even more poets - the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, W B Yeats, Laurence Binyon, Seamus Heaney (Seeing Things), Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Rudyard Kipling, William Wordsworth (The-Two Part Prelude of 1799), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S Eliot (Marina, The Waste Land, Prufrock), Ezra Pound, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, John Milton (Lycidas), Ted Hughes, Charlotte Mew, William Blake (A Poison Tree), Sir Thomas Wyatt... and I'm probably forgetting lots.

And, as I went to university in Scotland, they made sure we knew our Scottish verse as well - the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Douglas Dunn (he was one of my lecturers) , Edwin Muir, William Tennant, Robert Ferguson, Robert Burns (Tam o'Shanter, To A Mouse), Robert Henryson and William Dunbar.

To be honest, I haven't ever let poetry have much of a chance, so I should dig out my anthologies and give the genre another go! I am surprised though by how many poets I have studied, and on top of all those, there were the set books. Wuthering Heights and Jekyll & Hyde came up again - this time round I liked them - as did:

  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
  • King Lear - William Shakespeare
  • Anthony & Cleopatra - William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Even though I was older with these set texts and should have had a better attitude towards them, I hated them (apart from Frankenstein). Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably the only book I've ever fallen asleep to whilst reading (the ultimate sin), and no, I still can't see the wonder of The Bard.

I think if I did an English course in ten years time, then I'd hate *those* set books. There's just something about education + books that typically springs up a dislike in me. But, maybe that's just me. I just HATE the fact you have to over-analyse books/poems/plays to "get into the mind frame of the writer". It's so subjective - how can we realistically know the creator's thought process? Must we delve, prod and poke about unnecessarily!? That's my *real* issue with set school reads.

But, what about everyone else? What books did you have set as your school reads? Did you automatically hate them because it was "forced" reading, or did you give the books/poems/plays a chance? Let me know!


  1. Hmmm, off the top of my head . . . I remember "Bridge to Terabithia", "1984", "Great Expectations" as set books. We did "King Lear" and "The Merchant of Venice" as our Shakespeare stuff - I far preferred the latter! (And I was jealous of one of the other classes who got to do "Romeo and Juliet"). Poem wise it was Rabbie Burns (obviously!) and Philip Larkin.

    I didn't really like being forced to read anything really - and I read most of the classics off my own bat before I even started high school (which is probably why I rebel against them now!). But I think the main reason I didn't like most of these things wasn't so much the reading, but the fact we were forced to DISSECT them!

  2. haha... I'm glad I'm done with school... bear with it dear!
    I rather read blogs... ;)

  3. I'm so exhausted from celebrating the election here in the US, but I had to let you know that I read your post.

    Awesome as always, and it might be a while before I answer your nifty questions.

    *goes to party some more*

  4. I did so many of the same ones as you! I remember hating Macbeth, but then I actually loved all the Shakespeare I read at uni- but still hated Macbeth so it must have been something to do with being forced to read it too young. Made me laugh that you still have the school book, I have a few myself I feel guilty about whenever I see the bar code on the spine!

  5. Wow thats alot of links for one post.

  6. It sucks how when you analyze a book to death you kind of lose sight about what it's really about! (at least for me) My school faves were The Grapes of Wrath & Death of a Salesman

  7. I remember reading Heart of Darkness for a class in University. I hated it at first, but then loved it after the discussions we had about it.

    I actually LOVED Shakespeare in highschool... I think I was the only person, but I just love him!

  8. @ Paula - I thought you'd have done Burns! Hehe! And yes, the dissection was definitely my biggest problem. WHY must we dissect!? Can't we just enjoy the books as they are!? My favourite part of English was the creative writing stuff (naturally!).

    @ LENORENEVERMORE - Oh, I'm done too - it's been 5 years now since I dissected them at uni! Yikes - 5 years! :s But yes, give my blogs anyday!

    @ Liza - Hope you did some fabbity celebrating! :D

    @ Daisy - I also have school's copy of the first Harry Potter book (which is silly, because I already had a copy at home when I "borrowed" it from school), and some other non-set text books pilfered from the library. *GUILTY LOOK*

    @ Mattt - I know - sorry! I umm'd and aaah'd whether to include them, but figured if I was reading the post, I would want to know who the poets were and would be pleased I could just click off the post to get to them!

    @ Poetica - I agree - it removes the "bookness" from it, and makes it more of a chore. Reading should be enjoyable!

    @ BloodRedRoses - Wow - I don't think I know anyone who loved Shakespeare in high school! :0)

  9. I gave you the Bookworm Award, Elle! See my blog to collect your award =)

  10. Yay, I can reply now!

    In high school and college we didn't have sets as much as books mandated by curriculum. So in senior year in high school you only read British Literature. In junior year you only read American Literature.

    The same thing goes for college.

    I didn't automatically hate the books assigned, but like you I DESPISED the over analysis of books.

    Yeah, yeah I got a degree in English, but like you I think some people take it to the extreme. It only gets worse once you go after your Master's or Ph.D. I even faked reading a book in one of my graduate classes, because I became so bored and frustrated at how everything was taken out of context. I lost all interest in the book.

    At one point the professor and students thought the river in the book was symbolic for a women's menstrual cycle.

    Give me a break!

    Sometimes a river is just a river and nothing more!

    At times it is helpful to know the mind frame of authors, because you can see where they were coming from. However, people use that as an excuse to just kill a book and analyze every word, sentence and punctuation mark.

    Sometimes I really just want to tell people, that literature isn't like science. There isn't certain basic parts you can analyze.

    I'm glad I found someone who thinks like me! It makes you all the more cooler now! :D

  11. That's what I *hated* about the English department. I was originally joint Hons English-IR, but after a year of excessive over-analysing (and a mix up with the timetable which meant I was actually unable to do that combination without doing an extra year), I was glad to switch English for Social Anthropology - the timetable mixup that prevented me from continuing English became the *best* error ever!

    I just *hate* that analysis, and then you get people who mark who you down because the answer is not "right" - i.e, it's not identical to theirs. How do they know their interpretation of Shakespeare is more accurate than mine?! They didn't know him! Yes, there are records that can help us along the way, but it's not set in stone.

    As you can probably tell, I feel quite strongly about this!

    Sometimes a river is just a river and nothing more!

    Exactly! And then there's the whole "why did they choose x word over y? What does that mean?" Maybe it doesn't mean anything!!! Have they ever thought of that!?! Maybe it just sounded nice, and wasn't a hidden message about the death of his secret love child. *rolls eyes*

    I realise I'm preaching to the converted here, Liza, but I am very glad you think the same way! :0)

  12. Willa Cather's 'Death Comes for the Archbishop'...Ahh! Just shoot me.