There is an interesting debate going on in the UK at the moment about GCSE English set texts – nice article here – where the education secretary has removed some classic American texts that have been in the set books lists for years and replacing them with English authors. There was a massive backlash at the start of this week as a couple of the books – John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men and Harper Lees To Kill A Mockingbird, are the ones that are going, with accusations that it’s because of Michael Goves personal hatred of Steinbeck (he read English at Oxford). At first, I was totally outraged, how can the government ban books, not right, rah rah, but having looked at some of the new books, I am kind of coming round to the idea. I LOVE John Steinbeck, East of Eden is my favourite book of all time and I dragged my husband to the John Steinbeck museum on our honeymoon (and saw Cannery Row – awesome!) and I do understand that these books deal with important themes; racism, unemployment, recession, poverty – all of which are still important today. And, obviously, are incredibly well written. But at the same time, I like that teenagers will be reading some real English classics – Frankenstein, Great Expectations, Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm are all on the new list. And the themes of these books are important too – identity, culture, politics. So I am feeling quite positive about the change.
This whole thing has reminded me about some of the excellent books I read at school <hmn> years ago. I have picked my top three and they are definitely all worth a read.
I’m a sucker for a good tragic romance and I was so chuffed to do Romeo and Juliet for GCSE (not sure how chuffed the rest of my class were!) It’s a really beautiful story. I find it impossible to read plays in my head though and have to read them out loud (I’m the same with poetry) so not one to read on the bus!
I read I am David in my first year at school, when I was 11. It’s about a young boy brought up in a concentration camp, who then escapes. It’s a great story, very exciting. The author is Danish so it will probably not be on the lists any more though.
My favourite school text was My Family and Other Animals. The young Gerald Durrell moves to the Greek island of Corfu with his two brothers, sister and mother. He writes about the beauty of the island, the various houses that they live in, the wildlife and flora and fauna that he discovers, interspersed with very funny snippets about his family, who are all crazy and not entirely sympathetic to his love of animals. It’s a great read that really brings Corfu to life. It would be great if this stays on the syllabus as I really enjoyed it as a teenager.