3 Required School Reads I Love (And 3 I Hated!)

This week school is out in the UK as schools break up for the summer holidays and I thought I would mark the occassion with this post.

Now one thing that is common in many schools across the world is the required reading. For many people this can be the start (or a growth) in the love of reading and for others it can cause a burning hatred.

During my time at school and college there were some books I loved and some I didn’t so in this post I thought I would take you through some of my favourites and not-so favourites and invite you to share yours.

Love #1: 1984

I first read 1984 when I was at sixth form studying English Literature. For the assignment which was a piece of coursework I had to choose a “classic” book from a range of genres and write a short 500 word piece of creative writing in that genre with a separate 500 word commentary about how the book inspired the piece.

I will say the assignment itself was a bit of a nightmare – especially with the very restrictive word count but I ultimately chose the dystopian genre after reading 1984 which I was hooked by.

The book is set in 1984 which was 35 years in the future from when the book was published but has a dark and foreboding atmosphere as Britain is lead by a sinister and nameless Party, whose Thought Police make sure no one thinks or feels anything or expresses individuality. Big Brother, the dictatorial leader of Oceania has a cult of personality where everyone is afraid of him and he is seen as an all-seeing, all-knowing presence in the novel. 

The story is very dark and entertaining as we learn about Winston’s life of keeping his head down, before it is disrupted by his love for Julia before the Party stamps it out of them both. It is also hugely influential in popular culture, not least with two British reality shows drawing inspiration from the book, the facing your fears of Room-101 and of course the ever-watching Big Brother. It is a really enjoyable classic and even has echoes of some truth, with the rise of surveillance in the UK.

Hate #2: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte book cover

This first “hate” is a book which I didn’t like more at the time I was reading it but I have read it since and have softened on it a little. In fact it was the first book I reviewed for this blog back in 2014 in my Blogger days (back when I had lofty ambitions for the blog so wanted to choose a proper literary book as my first choice!)

Also at school I actually didn’t read this book in it’s entirety as it was one of the options in the same assignment where I ultimately went with 1984, but what I did read put me off it for another 3 years before I did read it.

What I distinctly remember from the lesson about this book was being shown the Kate Bush song based on the book and reading the chapter where Kathy haunts Mr. Lockwood.

To be honest growing up I always found Kate Bush performances more funny and weird and reading that section out of the context of the book was a bit jarring and neither did I like it’s writing style which is common for me with books of this age.

Since reading it in full I do appreciate it a bit more and Kate Bush’s song and performance now makes sense but I still struggle with the language barrier so it isn’t a favourite of mine, though it is better than it was in my school days.

Love #2: Lord Of The Flies

For my second love I am going back to my GCSE days where I had to read William Golding’s brilliant novel Lord Of The Flies, again a book I have reviewed on here.

I do remember it was for coursework although I wish I could remember what the question was but I loved this book. I will admit the very beginning of it I wasn’t immediately taken to it as it describes children lost on a desert island after their plane crashed whilst fleeing from an atomic war.

However as the book goes on and a power struggle begins to develop between Ralph and Jack – Ralph being a more thoughtful, considered leader but Jack being envious and violent, causing the society they established to disintegrate and ultimately lead to savagery. When rereading the book to review I also loved the foreword in my edition which was by Stephen King as the book shows the children being saved by adults but it also asks the question of who would save the adults?

Hate #2: Journey’s End

Journey’s End is a 1928 play by R. C. Sherrif, set in the trenches during the First World War. I had to read the play alongside a novel, Regeneration by Pat Barker and poetry by Wilfred Owen to write an essay which I think was to do with writing about the futility of war.

I did enjoy the other two parts of the coursework quite a lot (if I could remember some more of the books I read at school I would’ve added them in here but maybe in a sequel post). However the play all that I can remember is, not a lot happens.

The vast majority of it is spent with them in the trenches and that some of the characters died but it was very difficult to get into the play and I really found it monotonous to read through. Obviously plays are meant to be performed so I do wonder what it would be like on stage to watch but as a script to read I didn’t enjoy it very much.

Love #3: The Great Gatsby

Another book I have since reviewed on this site and I read this one for my A Level coursework as well where I had to compare two American novels (and I’ll get to the other one in a second). I don’t remember the theme I had to write about though I think it was the presentation of women.

Anyway the Great Gatsby I loved and still put it as my favourite classic American novel, as my review states. Though I do remember some of the sentence structure at the beginning putting me off, it wasn’t as off putting as Wuthering Heights.

Fitzgerald’s decadent, glamorous yet sophisticated novel really brings to life 1920s New York and the world him and his wife Zelda inhabited – a world where old money meets new money and appearances were everything. Nick Caraway arrives in New York to make his money but ends up embroiled in an old love story involving his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and the titular Jay Gatsby – a love which could end up being their undoing. It’s a brilliant read and each time I’ve read it I’ve found small details which I didn’t on the previous read through.

Hate #3: The Catcher In The Rye

Now I know this is a book which some people do love and but I don’t. 

I will be honest it wasn’t always a hate and at the beginning I quite enjoyed the book as Holden Caulfield recounts a day from his life the previous Christmas, whilst in an unspecified institution in California, during the Second World War. However I came to hate it by the end and have largely forgotten what happens (that sentence came from the Wikipedia page)

The book starts in a quite interesting way from what I do remember but by the middle it got extremely depressing and I actually struggled to understand what was going on by the time I got to the finish of the novel so was definitely not an enjoyable read and perhaps reading it off the back of The Great Gatsby which I loved made it seem worse somehow (this being the other book I mentioned I had to compare with The Great Gatsby).

So there you have it, some of the books at school I enjoyed and some I didn’t – let me know down below which books you loved at school and which ones you might’ve preferred to have left out.

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