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 naïve 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?