Saturday, 6 December 2008


In her comment on my 'Bookish' post, Kendra has identified something which had occurred to me too - which is that an awful lot of my gaps are American authors.

To some extent this is inevitable. British schools teach British authors, American schools teach American authors. However, my own experience suggests that a lot of schools could do a better job of saying "this isn't everything - go and seek out more". And an awful lot of British people could beneficially reflect that being able to see a foreign country from your doorstep (on a clear day, if you live in the right place) does not automatically bestow cosmopolitanism. Nor does visiting said foreign country to buy cheap wine in a British supermarket. Particularly if the cheap wine is Australian.

Meanwhile, I find myself protesting that my reading is wider than that one list suggests. A very unscientific survey of the books I can see from this chair without getting up takes me to Canada (Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland), Australia (Miles Franklin, A B Facey), South Africa (Barbara Trapido), India (Vikram Seth), Singapore (Hwee Hwee Tan) and the United States (Barbara Kingsolver, Armistead Maupin, Donna Tartt, Harper Lee, Mary McCarthy, Annie Proulx, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates). I've excluded translations (which would add Japan, France, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland to the list). I've excluded authors writing about the past or countries other than their own. I've excluded all the books in other rooms, or which I've borrowed from libraries. But I'm only ever going to scratch the surface. No-one could read all the good books that have been written - but I can try to make sure that all the books I read are good.

And, apropos of school set texts, I would assume that someone educated in Britain would have had to read two plays by Shakespeare, probably a novel by Charles Dickens, a selection of War Poetry (mostly First World War) and either 'Lord of the Flies' or 'Animal Farm'. Contradictions invited. I would also love to know what the American equivalents might be.

By the way, Chris would like to it to be known that from the list that started all this off, he has read 'Brave New World' and 'Moby Dick', and is quite delighted to discover that there are books that he has read and I haven't. I point out that the missing word there is "yet".


Silas said...

I escaped Dickens entirely, attempted to read him independently, and was unable to handle the sheer verbosity.

Of course, as you know, I was also obliged to analyse Lord of the Flies twice (which is probably why I got such good marks in it at the County School).

I shall allow Kendra to tell you what the US equivalents are. However, I'm certain that the Catcher in the Rye is one of them...

Anonymous said...

I never studied Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm. Or 1984, come to that - we did Homage to Catalonia and Killing the Elephant for GCSE, and The Spire for A-level. You're right about the Shakespeare and the WWI poets, though. And I believe Kes was a GCSE constant, though I managed to escape that too. My brother did Ulysses. For GCSE!

Incidentally, I never could work out why Ibsen counted as *English* literature (A-level again).


jeanfromcornwall said...

Moving the story forward from Silas's remarks, how does anyone think it felt as the mother of three children, to have to support them through four goes at Lord of the Flies?

At least the third studier had threee previous marked essays to crib from . . .

None of them seemed to think much of it, and I am pretty sure it is one of those books they put on the list because they believe the boys will like it - violence, you see.

=Tamar said...

I feel that Moby-Dick, Watership Down, and Sherlock Holmes are worth adding to your reading list. I suggest that you read Moby-Dick like a nine-year-old reading through a volume of the encylopedia, taking whatever comes along in stride.

mooncalf said...

T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath are helpful for padding out a list of American writers. Maybe Emily Dickinson too? Could Edith Wharton or Henry James be in there too?

Vivienne said...

Sylvia Plath was an A-level set text, T S Eliot has been a companion ever since. I want to read more Edith Wharton (I've read and loved The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence), and it may well be time to try Henry James again (got on well with The Aspern Papers, Daisy Miller and What Maisie Knew, rather came to grief over The Portrait of a Lady, probably because I was 17 and didn't like ambiguity).

I'm making a list. At least classics tend to be readily available in charity shops.