The wonderful Liz Kessler is going to tell us all about the books that some of our favourite authors fell in love with at school.
In my YA novel ‘Read Me Like A Book’, 17-year-old Ashleigh’s life is turned around by her English teacher. Previously not particularly interested in school, Ashleigh’s feelings start to change so that as well as developing a huge crush on Miss Murray, she also falls in love with literature.
Which got me to thinking. I bet many of us authors have a favourite text that we studied at school. So I decided to find out. Here are some top YA authors telling me their favourite set text from school and why.
‘Jane Eyre’. I loved the plot – her godawful childhood, the sinister woman in the attic and all of that. But above all I loved Jane – loved her spirit of defiance, loved the fact that she was small and plain but absolutely her own person and in control of her own destiny.
‘Measure for Measure’, A level English. Sitting in a classroom talking about sex and prostitution and drink and morality. Discovering that our English teacher didn’t think we’d have any qualms about sleeping with a creepy guy to save a brother’s life. Thinking about doing just that. It was like the door to the adult world opening up at last.
Mine is easy! Seamus Heaney. First studied him at GCSE, then again at A-level and again at Uni. He was the first poet I taught to my very first GCSE class and then I taught him to my A-level groups. Feel as if he has been with me for all the important parts of my life. Digging has always been my favourite of his, the last three lines in particular speak to me as a writer.
‘Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.’
My absolute favourite book from school is ‘The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham which we studied for GCSE (we didn’t do ANY Shakespeare). It’s about a post-apocalyptic society where if you don’t fit the ‘norm’ you are cast out as an ‘abomination’. I loved it so much that (confession alert) I kept the book – I still have it now. I think it spoke to me as a teenager because I was never one of the ‘in crowd’ and often felt like I didn’t belong.
Mine is ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ by JG Farrell – about a siege in a fictional Indian town in 1857. I can still sense the heat and feel the tension when I think about it. It’s brilliantly written and I’ve always wondered why few people seem to have read it, and why there has never been a film of it. It stood out from all the Shakespeare and Jane Austen on the rest of my A level syllabus. I loved the Metaphysical poets too, mainly because they were dirty.
I’m going to go for ‘The Norman Conquests’ by Alan Ayckbourn which I studied for my English Literature A Level. It’s a trilogy of plays, each one depicting a single weekend’s events from a different room in the house. It’s very British, very funny and at times very poignant. I liked that it didn’t feel like a set text and what a nice break it was from W.B. Yeats and Chaucer. I’ve had a soft spot for Alan Ayckbourn plays ever since. He captures both the mundanity and absurdity of life so perfectly.
‘Room 13’ by Robert Swindell. We read it in Year 6 and it was incredible to read a book set in Bradford and Whitby. I think that was the first time I realised books could be about me as much as they were fictional characters.
When I did my A-levels I studied ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker and I was bowled over by it. The writing is lyrical and colloquial – you can hear Celie speak, written in letters first to God and then to her sister, her voice is so clear and heartbreaking and I learned from this book – I learned about black history, lesbianism, domestic abuse and hope. This book made me cry and think. I loved it and it made me realise that all books should be able to do the same – make the reader feel and think.
Mine would be ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. I don’t say I loved everything about that book – I remember thinking that the golden-haired doll of a heroine Lucie was infuriatingly soppy and she still sets my teeth on edge! But I love the setting of Paris during the Revolution, I love the ending (which makes me cry every single time I read it, AND when I watch the film) and I also love the stand-off between the bloodthirsty Madame Defarge and the loyal Miss Pross, both of them insulting each in other in their own language and getting the gist perfectly well in spite of not understanding the words!
I had some magnificent unconventional ‘texts’. We had a wonderful English teacher called Mrs. Smedley. She brought in ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ by Paul Simon from the Graceland album that we studied (rightly) as poetry. It opened my brain up even more to the beauty of language in song. I still think one of the greatest poems ever written is ‘Ode to Billy Joe’ by Bobbie Gentry.
‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell – studied it in Y9. I’m a wildlife nut and the descriptions of the colours/sights/sounds were just entrancing. I still love it now!
And Me (Liz Kessler)
I’m going to say ‘Brideshead Revisted’. Studying that book for A Level was totally wrapped up with an incredible final year at school. It was a blissful summer and mirrored the ‘halcyon days’ of the book. Brideshead was also part of the jigsaw of books, people and events that formed the backdrop to my developing awareness of my sexuality. There are passages, lines and characters in this book which have stayed with me ever since.
So. We’ve told you ours. What’s yours…?
Tell us the best book you read for school at @maximumpopbooks!
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