#SixforSunday is hosted by Steph at A Little But A Lot. Every week there is a bookish-themed prompt to inspire 6 choices.
This month focuses on Back to School Realness and this week the prompt is Books you studied in School
Ok so these are the books I remember studying in secondary school, I know there were others but these are the ones that stand out- mostly because we studied them at exam level!
I’m The King Of The Castle- Susan Hill
When others were studying Of Mice & Men, An Inspector Calls and so forth my Y8-10 English teacher who was the living embodiment of Professor Trelawney just with an Irish accent-I kid you not, I swear whoever did the costuming for Emma Thompson KNEW this woman. EVERY LESSON began with a shrill panicked muddle of ‘GIRRRRLS!! Year 11, no Year 9! Oh yes Year 10!!’ , decided we would study this novel by Susan Hill, yes THAT Susan Hill of The Woman in Black fame.
And oh Lordy is it messed up.
Edmund Hooper is a prissy little sociopath raised by a cruel sociopathic father who has just inherited a decrepit old mansion in the middle of nowhere. The father hires a live in housekeeper who has a son Charles Kingshaw who is immediately the object of Edmund’s tyrannical bullying. That is until a thunderstorm reveals Edmund’s weaknesses and unleashes a war game of cruelty and nastiness against Kingshaw. I won’t spoil the ending but Christ it’s dark and Edmund reminded me awfully of one of the girls in my peer group.
The Inevitable Shakespeare:
Romeo & Juliet
I know it sounds odd but I always enjoyed Shakespeare. I didn’t always understand it spoken until I had read & processed it as I always had a better feel for Shakespeare written down which is why I did so well with it in exams/coursework.
My enduring memories of these include my eccentric teacher forgetting about the nude scene in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet thus running from quietly marking work at the back of the classroom with an unearthly howl, scarves and hair flowing madly like Medusa to physically block the screen.
That and when our teacher mysteriously was replaced by a fun but capable teacher, being the only student in her career to play Lady Macbeth and be found not guilty at mock trial in a classroom where EVERYONE knew the play.
Catch 22- Joseph Heller
When I began my A-Levels the new Head of English wanted to shake things up and start completely afresh- whilst the other (completely useless) A-Level teacher stuck her heels in and refused to do anything new to be fair she didn’t really do anything at all but leave questions in the board and disappear for a cup of tea in her office meaning 90% of the class failed her AS paper.
Catch 22 was one of the great teacher’s choices to shake up the English A Level by the A2 element having a theme of the futility of war (coupled with WWI War Poetry as our Poetry unit). I remember finding these lessons very difficult, not because of the book but as it really didn’t grasp the rest of the class like it did me and it really didn’t help that the majority of reading was homework meaning I was often the only one who had done the prep and so capable of answering questions.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- Louis De Bernieres
This was the book to be compared with Catch 22, the farce against the Zhivago style romance. It was an interesting choice for A level as features attempted rape, execution, suicide and more it had already by that point been heavily criticised for its heavily stereotyped depiction of Greek and Italian people and especially the presentation of Greek Partisans.
Sadly, what I remember most about this is my teacher’s inability to pronounce Doctor Iannis, and one lesson where I was the only person who had done the extraction homework but I wasn’t going to admit it in front of everyone so the teacher refused to teach the class that day. I apologised to him later personally and handed in my work and he said he knew I had done the work and it made him sad for me that the peer pressure had made me feel ashamed enough to pretend. I honestly think that was the clincher for him applying for a position elsewhere.
Oh and I remember watching the truly repugnant film version with Nicolas Cage which is a masterclass in how to waste millions on an awful adaptation.
The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood
Oh how I loved my English Teacher for this. My husband has since admitted to me that I was the only one in the class who understood this book so some let me do the heavy lifting of questions and debate in class so they could extract some basics through listening to me without looking stupid. The rest let me do the talking as it meant they didn’t have to work.
Although I got 100% on other English papers and Psychology too, THIS is the exam I was the most proud to have achieved it on. My teacher was so inspired by my own fire for the book he gave me his own handbook from university to study in my own time and it blazed in my imagination unlocking doors and thinking that would never have been possible without that book and my teacher.
Carole Ann Duffy- Mean Time
Ungh. It’s not about Carol Ann Duffy asa person, its not even her poetry, it’s the fact that I studied her for 4 years straight because other than the ‘Poems from Other Cultures’ selection most schools stuck to her or Ted Hughes, so it was Carol Anne Duffy from years 10-13 and it ruined poetry for me.
With hindsight, I can look back and appreciate the sentiments, the working class anger and visual sensuality of her poetry but a 17 year old with not much of the life experience Duffy is writing about who has HAD ENOUGH of the same poet and same poems it’s a matter of survival just gathering points needed to get the grade you want and that’s NOT what poetry is about.