If books aren’t your thing….

26 Mar

If books aren’t your thing don’t read on. This little piece will end with me showing off how much I have read so far this year, which only serves to reveal that I am, essentially, an idle bastard. However I am trying to catch up on a misspent youth – not that I didn’t read but I discarded all books which, after a few lines, I deemed to be boring.

These tended to include anything suggested by teachers and, particularly most things I was compelled to read. There’s a lot of rubbish talked by those my age about how they revelled in the classics and Isn’t it awful that Middlemarch isn’t required reading for Key Stage 2 any more. How quickly we forget our youthful philistinism.

I cut my literary teeth on comics (the Victor was a favourite), Annuals (Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Charles Buchan’s Book of Sport for Boys), Enid Blyton, then Capt. W.E Johns, Richmal Crompton, Nevil Shute and only when I wanted to show off did I carry Graham Greene on the bus to school -the cover ostentatiously showing out of my blazer pocket- specifically to impress a gorgeous girl on the 406 bus whom I never had the guts to talk to.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the abridged versions of Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield fed to me at primary school – but the real magic was in Mr Upperton’s storytime readings. The class ‘got’ the voice and when he told us to read on till the end of the lesson in silence, I co-opted his voice into my head space. It’s still there. I was generally too impatient to learn that it takes patience to settle to a book and attune to its style. Too much fun to be had with bat and ball and other excitements that outweighed sitting and reading. That’s where comics came in of course. Textual soundbites; twitter-reading for 50s and 60s youngsters. They’re still around of course but not the lifeblood for youngsters they once were.

Of course it’s hard to settle to an adult book if you’re not an adult – a self-evident truth which has escaped successive generations of educators. Comics presented both adult and juvenile stories and themes in a juvenile way. Pictures helped of course, especially the brilliant cartoon dramas of World War heroes (British mostly) and villains( German and Japanese mostly)with all the speech-bubbled fun of Achtung! Donner und Blitzen! Banzai! and the rest. Biased as these tales were, comic stories were on the side of good. The good guy scored the winning goal, perseverance defeated fecklessness; working class athlete Alf Tupper always ate fish and chips before outpacing the public school toffs in front of the Queen.

The younger characters were naughty, not nasty: Dennis the Menace, Beryl the Peril, the Bash Street Gang and the rest. There was order in the comic world – and how wonderfully these comics were illustrated. The first book, that I halfway understood, where disorder and chaos prevailed was Lord of the Flies. This was at O Level and I had adult pretensions. I  could handle adult themes – I could even appear serious in class and talk about power, subversion, civilisation, sexuality and the rest without sniggering ..much. Only when Phil Newton (again) asked Ken Cripps our craggy teacher if Piggy was a homo did the class crack up.

And so I  rather stumbled my way through the early years of my journey to unlock myself through books. I have picked up pace but it’s hard to measure progress when the finishing line is beyond the horizon, infinity. I have had the gall to call myself an English teacher for many years now, too. I hope that, for all the twaddle I have had to ram down unwilling throats, I have helped to find, for some, ways of seeing and thinking and enjoying reading and writing. If not, I hope that some of the lessons, at least  were fun and not always boring.

Well most of the books beneath were not boring. I still occasionally ‘bin’ a book after a few pages, usually if it is either too clever by half or too silly by half. So I’m done with Jeffery Archer. Books 2014


3 Responses to “If books aren’t your thing….”

  1. Brian March 26, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Good to see you`re staying busy Paul! I suppose it`s the least you can do to while away the endless days of retirement………

  2. Mark White March 31, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Great idea and list.
    It’s all about the story isn’t it? When younger we want that narrative as fast as possible, there is so much else to do, images with short text are the most efficient transmission system. In later years (Senior Youth as it is called here) we have the time and concentration span to read something longer. I have just re-read Great Expectations for the nth time, it get’s better each reading.
    Do others re-read I wonder? If so what?
    My Kindle broke recently, the future looked very bleak indeed until I got hold of a replacement.

  3. Matt May 8, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi Sorro, you’ll pleased to know I bought ‘Any Human Heart’ – I shall crack on with it in the next month I should think (I’m currently on Papillon).
    I read Stoner very recently too and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I can imagine it’s 10 times better for a teacher who’s been there and seen it!


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