Wednesday 12 August 2015


Top Five Wednesdays is hosted by Lainey over at GingerReadsLainey and you can see the complete list of Wednesday-ers here. This week's topic is 'favourite required reading', meaning the books you were required to read for school or university. As an English Literature graduate, I've had to read a lot of books for my education, some I loved and would re-read today, and some I absolutely hated at the time (though I'd be interested to see if that was because I didn't necessarily read them by choice.)

For this particular topic, I chose just five books that stood out in my memory as having some kind of impact on me; whether it was just that I enjoyed reading it or that it impacted my view of the world somehow and made me think more complexly about things. So here is my list of top five required reading, in no particular order...

01. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I imagine that this will appear on most people's lists. I won't give a summary as I'm sure you're already familiar with it. I read this for the first time at age 15, preparing to study it for my English Literature GCSE. My class read the book together, a chapter or two at a time, but I had already read the whole thing as soon as it was assigned to us. I fell in love with Lee's warm, rich prose and the deceptively slow pace of life in the town of Macomb. I related to Scout's chronicles of growing up and was introduced for one of the first times to racial issues being confronted in a novel. I had always been an avid reader, but I had never thought too deeply about the books I read. It was in those GCSE English classes and with this book that I learnt to think carefully about what I was reading, to be able to make analyses and discuss wider issues that the novel brought to light. I loved the book but I also found that I loved studying novels and more than that, that I wasn't terrible at it. So I probably have this book to thank for a lot that has happened since in terms of my literary development. Thank you, Harper Lee.

02. Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
As a young child I did enjoy poetry, I had a book called Read Me: A Poem A Day and I took intense delight in reading out each day's poem loudly and obnoxiously to my parents. But over the years that love for poetry faded in favour of the latest Jacqueline Wilson and by the time I came to study poetry at school, I was convinced that I didn't enjoy it at all and that I wasn't very good at studying it. I remained this way until university, when we read a few poems by Frank O'Hara, a poet of the New York School whose poetry was personal, observational, light-heartedly emotional and witty. As soon as I read 'Having a Coke with You', I knew this wasn't like the poetry I'd encountered in the past, and when I decided to write an essay on that and a few other of his poems I fell in love with them even more. I gradually learnt to enjoy and respect poetry more over the years and sometimes find more of a true solace in a few lines than a hefty novel. In particular, O'Hara's reading of 'Having a Coke with You' is beautiful and excellent in a way that I find hard to describe so you should just watch it for yourself:

03. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The funny thing is, I didn't actually like this first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy very much when I first read it for the Children's Literature module of my English Literature course, this was one of the only YA books we read and at the time I wasn't extremely familiar with YA, which seems crazy to me now. I found the way it was written quite strange and hard to get into, but at the end found myself wanting more. But the further two books in the trilogy weren't on the university reading list and I had too many other books to read so didn't continue with the series until this year. It has now become one of my favourite series and I'm so glad I had to read it for university as I may never have got into it otherwise.

04. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
As part of my English Literature A-Level we were required to study a classic for the exam portion and I, being 16 and a crowd-follower, moaned along with the rest of the class. I was under the very misguided impression that classics were boring and I also knew that this was my mum's favourite book so as a bratty, ungrateful teenager I was automatically averse to liking anything that she did. I mean no offense to teenagers in saying this, I'm aware that many teenagers are thoughtful and intelligent and proud of their interests but I was barely any of those things, determined to be 'cool' and failing miserably, I don't know why I bothered. Anyway, I actually found that Austen's writing wasn't boring, it was - shock horror! - funny and interesting and I completely fell in love with it. This book is important to me as it opened my eyes to the (now completely obvious) fact that it classic literature can be *gasp* extremely enjoyable. *rolls eyes at teenage self*

05. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
The Colour Purple focuses on the lives of African-American women in rural 1930s Georgia, it is an epistolary novel from the perspective of Celie, a fourteen year old girl, and follows her for over thirty years through her struggles with abuse, sexism, racism, love and illness. It is an extremely important book which I might not have read without it being assigned to me at school. Celie's story is complexly layered and deals with so many issues and I got so much out of it that what was supposed to be a 2500 word essay turned into an over 6000 one that I was devastated to have to cut down as I felt that I was exploring something that was so important and meant so much to me. Looking back on that essay now, it wasn't very good and it was definitely overwritten but it was filled with heart and my love for the book was undeniable, IS undeniable. I hope to re-read it soon and find new things to anguish over and cherish.

So that was my top five required reading books! Phew, that was a long one! I'd love to know what your favourite book you read for school was and if you've done a top five wednesday post please link to it in the comments below!

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