Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 16, Year 5.

Books I Read at High School

I watch the American quiz show Jeopardy on cable and currently they have a Teen Tournament. I am always amazed at the teenagers’ knowledge of literature in these tournaments, and wonder if  they read a lot of the books that appear in the questions as part of the curriculum in American high schools.

I then start thinking about the books that were part of my high school curriculum way back in the seventies. The first book I can remember having to read at high school was The Great Gatsby. If ever a book failed to resonate with a reader, this was one.  The only thing I got from it was a loathing of novels about poor little rich people.
I think somewhere about the same time I read Go Ask Alice, which was about a drug addict who died, I think. As I was not planning to become a drug addict, spending too much time playing golf, it said nothing to me.   

Then I read Macbeth, I remember enjoying the violence in the film they took us to watch, but the book failed to excite my imagination. 

In year ten, a couple of decent books finally turned up. First was Lord of the Flies. Its story really resonated as I was sure if my classmates and I were trapped on a desert island, we would quickly turn against each other in a similar way to what happened in the book. I was sure I would have wound up in Piggy’s group, but I was relieved that I didn’t wear glasses.

Next we read 1984. Now this was a book that changed my life. Someone else had finally noticed that people were sheep. I already knew that Big Brother, in the form of peer group pressure, had a pretty good grip on the people around me.

But then the books deteriorate badly.  I think in year 11 I had to suffer The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony. I remember being disgusted by the homosexual elements of the novel. I was still a very na├»ve country lad at the time, the type who went to university and saw that the cinema there had free “Gay” films on. I went expecting to see a comedy.

I had to write an essay about Watcher and I chose a topic which asked whether it was all just crude sensationalism.  I agreed it was. My teacher did not, and gave me an “F”. Thinking the rat was in the cage and I might fail English, I rewrote the essay saying what I thought Big Brother wanted to hear and received a C-, which was a pass in those days.

But then, to my absolute horror, in year 12 we wound up with two very similar novels to Watcher. One was A Difficult Young Man, another poor little rich boy story.  The other was A Kind of Loving, to which my sole response was:  why does the girl eat so many oranges?

So it would seem that most of the Victorian 1970’s English curriculum novels were wasted on me.  I often wonder if that is the case with other people.  If only I had access to information on the web back then, then I could have just co-opted Big Brother’s opinion on them.

Did you struggle to find relevance or empathise with the themes of most of the novels in in your high school curriculum? Did one novel in particular, back then, resonate with you and have you thinking, I always thought that?


Patty said...

My high school reading caused me to detest the dissection and reading of fiction so much that I never touched anohter work of fiction for twenty years

Graham Clements said...

I could have gone that way Patty, but then someone shoved the Lord of the Rings into my hands at Uni.But after uni, I didn't read much for many years, until I found myself in a house without a telly and close to a very good second hand bookshop with lots of science fiction.

Chris pavey said...

Hey Graham, I'm glad you mentioned The Great Gatsby - such a horrible read! We had it as a book to read in year 10 or 11. The only other book I remember from High School was Tell Me I'm Here a book about a boy written from his mun's perspective who suffered from Schizophrenea. I remember enjoying it, but failed to finish it in the time allotted so I fluffed my way through. I also remember going back and finishing it in my own time so it must have been good! I do remember enjoying it.

The only other books I remember from High School was the Belgerade series by David Eddings. A friend told me to read them, and there began my love of Fantasy...

Graham Clements said...

Hi Chris,

Good to hear that someone else detested the Great Gatsby. I feel guilty whenever I hear or read that it is rated the best American novel ever.

I was reading action/adventure novels at high school. Wilbur Smith, Alistar MacLean.


Tracie said...

You're doing well to even remember what novels you studied at high school! For me it was the 80's in New Zealand, and it was a play called "Foreskin's Lament" by Kiwi writer Greg McGee and "Sons and Lovers" by D.H. Lawrence. The latter was interminably boring, except for when our English teacher couldn't find a video of "Sons and Lovers" so he showed us another D. H. Lawrence movie adaptation, "Lady Chatterley's Lover", instead. Even the kids who didn't take English turned up for English that day...

Anthony J. Langford said...

Great Waste of Time... most overrated novel of all time.. Americans are obsessed with it, but God knows why... It holds a mirror up to the vacuous, money obsessed side of culture...

I read Shakespeare, didnt get it and didnt see the relevance.. was too young I guess....

We had The Outsiders, which we could relate to... good book.

1984 would have been good. I think I read it off my own bat.
By my later hgh school years I was reading 3 books a week. (3 hrs a day on a bus).


(ps can you take off the 'prove your not a robot' verification? its a pain)

Graham Clements said...


LOL at the showing of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Foreskin's Lament????


I've enjoyed the movie of the Outsider's years ago. Sad ending.

I will see what I can do about removing the robot thingy, but when it wasn't there a whole lot of junk comments were being placed on my blog by robots. I find the verification a pain myself, especially when I can't work out the letters.

Tracie said...

Foreskin's Lament...yeah, it's a Kiwi thing. If I remember correctly, it was about rugby. And self-identity. Key quotation: "Whaddarya?"

Graham Clements said...

A comment on my facebook page by Amy Chapman about this post reminded me that To Kill A Mockingbird was also on my high school curriculum, in year seven I think. I do recall assigning the racist theme to America's past when reading it, which I obviously would not do now.

Graham Clements said...

On watching Jeopardy again, they mentioned One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which was also on my high school curriculum. How could I forget it? It gave me the message at high school that I better conform or else society will get back at me. So sad when the chief smothered him. But glad the chief escaped.