Meeting my classes for this year for the first time, I was reminded more than ever of the great and pressing need for children to read.
I’m becoming more convinced of the power of sheer enthusiasm to move children to action. On giving the reading list below to my year 11, one student said: “Miss, can you read it out and talk about the books? It makes us want to read them more.” It was partly unfortunate, and partly brilliant, that their head of year walked in just as I was explaining Holly Golightly’s real job. A book containing taboos and crossed boundaries will be readily sought.
Year 10 needed little less convincing. They are a designated “extra English” group (they have more lessons of both Maths and English a week, having been chosen from their end of year 9 levels), and so are very small. They don’t feel “extra”; but they do feel urgent – yet they have started year 10 with the right mindset and I truly hope this continues. The very lesson after my book list talk, a third had not only taken their list books from the library, they were proudly putting them on their desks for the duration of the lesson lest the opportunity to read arose (they have not yet realised it rarely does).
Year 9 may prove more challenging. Again, an “extra English” group, there are far more of them; they are a “normal sized” class (if such a thing can be said to exist). At times, they felt like a mounting wave of apathy towards reading. Not particularly boisterous, they simply haven’t yet grasped the urgency of their need to read. Paragraphs are littered with “nice”, “ok,” and “gotta.” I’ve taken to packing them up five minutes before the end to read to them from a book I have loved, but so far they seem unmoved. I will wear them down.
A few people have mentioned that the lists are helpful, and in this continued hope to help I reproduce a couple here, in the wording exactly as has been given to the students.
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Year 11: books you absolutely must read to take your mind off the impending doom of the hardest year of your academic lives
Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In under 100 pages, this book explores the life of a New York woman who lives in an unpredictable way, and who expresses her dreams beautifully.
J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye
Have you ever felt angry? Unhappy? Well, your suffering is nothing in comparison to Holden Caulfield, the angriest, unhappiest human in literature (probably).
William Golding: Lord of the Flies
A plane crash leaves a group of boys stranded on a desert island. In making their own “rules”, disastrous consequences ensue.
Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House
This is a play (so very, very short) about a woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage, remembering she still has a mind.
Arthur Miller: The Crucible
Another play: this one explores a group of girls living in a stifling, controlling society. Once they realise how they can achieve power, all hell breaks loose… Literally.
Nick Hornby: About a Boy
A man invents a son, which brings him into a new circle of friends. Key themes include: falling in love, battling hardship, and a Christmas song that won’t die.
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
If you enjoyed “Of Mice and Men” you will love this novel – longer, more painful, more tragic even than George and Lennie.
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Whatever your preconceptions of Austen, this book is simply hilarious. A (romantic) comedy of manners, including the worst proposal of marriage you will ever read.
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
I think you’re ready for the powerful and life-changing emotional charge of Tolstoy, and where better to start than a beautiful but troubled young lady?
Christopher Marlowe: Dr Faustus
Faustus wants to be more intelligent (don’t we all?) so he conjures the devil (as you do) and sells his soul for a few years of high-jinks. What could possibly go wrong?
Philip Roth: The Human Stain
Despite being completely hilarious, this book deals with (and challenges) the notion of “race” and our ideas about it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender is the Night
No book will ever match Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, but this novel follows a failing marriage and fascination with a young girl… And is scarily similar to Fitzgerald’s own life. (Read Gatsby first though. You won’t regret it.)
Raymond Carver: Will you please be quiet please?
Carver’s short stories, some fewer than ten pages long, paint interesting and troubling images, and show insight into our souls.
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
A depiction of World War I told from the German perspective. Powerful and extraordinary.
Walt Whitman: Song of Myself
Why not, if you’re a great poet, write a poem all about YOU? Whitman did, and it is brilliant.
Alex Garland: The Beach
A group of tourists create the perfect world on a beach in Thailand. What could possibly go wrong? (Spoiler: everything. This book is horrifying.)
Graham Greene: The Quiet American
A journalist living overseas becomes entangled in a knot of love and politics.
Ian Fleming: Casino Royale
Like the Bond films? Read a Bond book.
Sebastian Faulks: Engleby
Welcome to the mind of an increasingly concerning individual. Enter, marvel, leave in horror.
Ian McEwan: Atonement
A well-told story, full of misunderstandings caused by children knowing too little.
Truman Capote: In Cold Blood
A book following murderers through their lives, and their experiences facing the death penalty. Based on a true story.
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Year 13 reading list:
Useful for your exam:
Bram Stoker: Dracula
The original vampire novel. Think about how women are represented though, and what them becoming a vampire might be a metaphor for…
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
A poem, but one which will darken your soul. Truly terrifying. And what does it mean? (Please tell me.)
Matthew Lewis: The Monk
This has been called an exaggeration of every Gothic trope imaginable. It is, but it is also very entertaining, and a little disgusting.
Edgar Allen Poe: “The Tell-Tale Heart”
A very, very, very short story but well worth reading. Dark and psychological gothic text.
Robert Lewis Stevenson: “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
Most useful companion to Frankenstein, and less than 100 pages. Can you see the links?
Useful for your soul:
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray
A man wishes to never be old and to always be beautiful. This wish is granted. What could possibly go wrong? (Hint: lots.)
Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin
The intertwined stories of various New Yorkers, under the shadow of a man walking a tight-rope between two sky-scrapers.
David Lodge: The Art of Fiction
Great ideas on literature. When you finish, you can read one of Lodge’s (hilarious) novels to learn more about university life.
Donna Tartt: The Secret History
Don’t get your ideas about university life from this book, but this one will stay with you a long time.
Dave Eggers: The Circle
An oddly familiar internet company and its quest for making information freely available starts to feel a little like Orwell’s 1984.
Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman
One woman’s quest to find herself. Amusing but important also.
Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
Exploration of the impact on native inhabitants of Western “do-gooders.”