Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Book Everyone Would Like To Have Read...

... But no-one wants to read.

All hail Alan Johnson, UK Education Secretary, for he has decreed that children shall continue to struggle with the classics of the English literary cannon. Ending speculation to the contrary, Johnson stated that there is "no danger" of ditching Dickens or Eliot.

This is good news for the children of Great Britain, who will continue to be enthralled by the literary masters, but bad news for me, since I've never even cracked open one of Dickens' works and tomes such as "Jude the Obscure" and "Sons and Lovers" sit gathering dust on my shelves.

In seventeen years of studying English, I was required to read no Dickens, one Shakespeare, no Milton, none of the Brontes, one Jane Austen, no Lawrence... I'm a disgrace to the arts.

This got me thinking; which novels would kids truly engage with? I went to a state school and the chief lesson I learned was how to get through the day without being beaten senseless and thrown under a bus, so the task is difficult. Angst-filled period dramas are difficult to sell to teenage alcoholics who spend their evenings sniffing glue in bus shelters.

The initial choices are obvious: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby... Clearly, I'm not an original thinker.

So what else would I have appreciated as a nipper? I'd have loved Slaughterhouse Five, Perfume or Heart of Darkness, but I can't see them having universal appeal. Money by Martin Amis is a definite non-starter.

I'd love to suggest Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which is a sensational read - the author uses the pretensions of his narrator as an excuse to run riot with language, blowing clouds of purple prose in our faces to distract us from the distasteful narrative.

Vladimir Nabokov in Montreaux

Boy, that'd be a fun PTA meeting, wouldn't it?

Tell me, Mr. Rodent, what is this book you've given my daughter about?

If I'm being honest, I'd have to confess that as I've aged my reading habits have changed. It's commonly said that young men read fiction but tend increasingly towards history and biography as they age.

Not me, though - I like books with lots of big explosions and cool special effects.

I guess it means I'll have to grow old in a world where the common man quotes Don Quixote while I linger with only a bottle of Ice Dragon cider, forever stuck on the last level of Medal of Honour: Die, Nazi Bastards, Die!

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