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TheRejectAmidHair

Books to read before you're 21

A friend tells me that the Books Programme on Sky Arts asks each of its guests to nominate a book they think everyone should read by 21. I don't know about "everyone": not everyone has literary tastes or inclinations, after all, and it makes little sense to recommend for "everyone". But it's an intriguing question: what book do you think an intelligent and literate 21-year old should have read?

Here are the choices so far:

http://thebookshow.skyarts.co.uk/...ooks_to_read_before_youre_21.html

Some very interesting choices in there. (I particularly like Linda Grant's assumption that everyone has read Paradise Lost: what circles does she socialise in, I wonder?)

So, if you were a guest on this show, what would you receommend? I have to go away and think about this a bit.
Apple

Oh this is a no brainer for me - what immediately springs to my mind would be Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.  A truly astonishing story of one woman at a time when women were second class citizens, how she witnessed the slaughter and suffering of the first world war first hand and how she went on to university when women were not expected to do such things. Its is an inspirational story for all young women - and men.
MikeAlx

Goodbye to all that by Robert Graves. It's very accessible and gives a good insight into WWI and the huge social, technological and economic transitions that made our world what it is.

If it has to be a novel, Brave New World would be a good place to start. I think it could be argued that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a little less important since the decline of Bolshevism, whereas Huxley's book tangles with a lot of issues that are still highly relevant.
Freyda

I could not seem to find the list from that Link, Himadri, it just went round in a loop of two pages without telling me anything.

I would nominate Orwell's 1984.
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Freyda, it looks like they have removed that page. It may just be a temporary glitch.

As for my choice, I think it would be The Brothers Karamazov. This is one of a handful of books that certainly blew me away when I was a teenager, and made me realise that literature was far, far more than merely a means of whiling away a few idle hours. As I became older, I started having some doubts about this novel, but my most recent reading (last year: it was my third reading) confirmed that whatever doubts I may still entertain, it still has the power to blow me away.

I think the reasons I would recommend this to a bright young reader are as follows:

1. It demonstrates that works of literature can transcend differences of time and of culture, and that, with a little expenditure of imagination on the part of the reader, the past need not be a foreign country. (And, indeed, foreign countries need not be foreign countries either, for that matter!)

2. It demonstrates how vitally important literature can be: this novel addresses directly some of the most vital issues concerning human existence. At my first reading, it opened up for me new intellectual horizons.

3. It is tremendously dramatic and exciting. Indeed, it presents ideas as dramatic and exciting. Once again, going back to my first reading, it demonstrated for me that intellectual enquiry need not be dull or dry. Quite the opposite.

4. It is difficult. At a time when English classes in schools seem to be fobbing off even the brightest kids with books that are easy to read (and, hence, easy to teach) this book provides evidence that there is a profound enjoyment to be had from grappling with difficulty rather than avoiding it. Once a bright teenager has thrilled to The Brothers Karamazov, she or he will be unlikely to be put off other books merely on the grounds that they are "heavy going".

5. It is a book of such immediacy and vividness, it will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Evie

The link worked OK for me yesterday, and is still working for me now...

My choice would be Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

It's a novel about how things don't always work out for the best - a good lesson to learn early on - I read this when I was just 17, and it knocked me sideways, and life was never the same after that - but it was a lesson worth learning.

Also, Hardy's compassion for humanity shines through every page.  These two ideas taken in tandem set people up for a realistic but compassionate view of life.

It also shows just how beautiful the English language is, and what a skilful manipulator of that language can achieve - the prose is stunning, and it is a book that is as vivid to me now as when I first read it 30 years ago.
Freyda

MikeAlx wrote:
Goodbye to all that by Robert Graves. It's very accessible and gives a good insight into WWI and the huge social, technological and economic transitions that made our world what it is.

If it has to be a novel, Brave New World would be a good place to start. I think it could be argued that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a little less important since the decline of Bolshevism, whereas Huxley's book tangles with a lot of issues that are still highly relevant.


Somehow I didn't spot Mike's second paragraph! And I meant 'Animal Farm' anyway. How silly of me!!  Embarassed

Where is the emoticon for "brain going funny"??

Though I think the ideas of Newspeak and the Ministry of Truth in '1984' are still amazingly pertinent in our modern world.
Evie

Animal Farm is a great choice...I did read it before I was 21 (we read it at school), and it has influenced my thinking ever since.  I read it again a couple of years ago, having not read it in the intervening years, and it blew me away all over again - fabulous book.  The re-read showed me just what a brilliant novel it is.
Chibiabos83

Perish the thought that I should be considered even remotely approximate to a toad like Simon Heffer, but I think his choices of Orwell, Waugh and the King James Bible are pretty good. But Lionel Shriver: "everyone who is interested in literature and loves to read should, by the time they’re 21, have read War and Peace." Way to make me feel inadequate... I suppose there's no point reading it after 21, is there? Wink

If we're just choosing one, I think I'd predictably go for Great Expectations - read superficially, it's a gripping and enthralling story capable of making the reader laugh and cry, but it is a multi-faceted book that keeps revealing more as one peels back the layers. I can easily imagine it fostering a love of books in any number of child readers - which is presumably what it has done for the past 150 years.
Melony

Are these things we are supposed to read anyway (from college bound lists, etc.) or things we would suggest in addition to all that?  I would suggest Demian, Siddhartha, and possibly Magister Ludi - I don't think those are normally on reading lists for your people, but are books young people should read.
TheRejectAmidHair

This is not an offical reading list for any course, or anything like that. it is simply what book you would like to recommend a young person to read. certainly, your choice of a Herman Hesse novel is an interesting one - but you do need to specify which novel, and why!
John Q

Interesting article but I  am not so sure the familiar suspects are not   just giving their own favourite  book - or a book  they want everyone to know they appreciate . The King James Bible?   The History of Western Philosophy?  Paradise Lost? Yes  we are suitably impressed I am sure.     Nicholas Evans   recommends a book I recently finished,  All the Pretty Horses, a book with a good first half but then degenerates into a  rather silly violent cliché ridden western with the hero John Grady Cole being described as John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood  all rolled into one,  and all at the tender age of 16.  Give this book to a young person and they might not get much older.
So Roy Hattersley  reckons Middlemarch (really great choice for a teenager that)  is the greatest novel in the English Language. Seems to be a sub-title of that book, the greatest etc etc .  A lot of people can’t say one without the other   Roy confirms me in view  of  being rather  underwhelmed by it.
I am pretty sure   there is not a  book that has to be read before you are 21.    Prescribing a book to  young folks is not always the best way  to get them to read it, unless, as has been mentioned, it is a set text  they are obliged to read at college etc, which is not always the best way to appreciate a book.  They will find their own way, probably in an extremely circuitous manner, with many false trails, to books that mean something to them.      But sure,  just an article  to inspire some chat about books  and that is fine.  
How about books to read before you are 11 ?  I bet some  dial a quote characters  would still say War and Peace.
Melony

Hermann Hesse, ok, I'll pick just one, no wait, two....  I think young people should read Hesse because Hesse was a pacifist on a quest for the truth and most young people have a heightened sense of justice and search for the truth (ok, it's a generalization, but a seemingly true one).  These are favorite quotes:

Demian -
"Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within them."
"You've never lived what you are thinking, and that isn't good. Only the ideas we actually live are of any value."

Siddhartha -
"I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha." He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time."
See, young people are seeing the world for the first time....
TheRejectAmidHair

John Q wrote:
Interesting article but I  am not so sure the familiar suspects are not   just giving their own favourite  book - or a book  they want everyone to know they appreciate . The King James Bible?   The History of Western Philosophy?  Paradise Lost? Yes  we are suitably impressed I am sure.  


Don't you think it at least possible that these people may actually love these books, and would like them to be more widely read? I know that there are a great many books that I love, and, with no desire to impress anyone (we don't, after all, live in a society in which erudition is considered impressive), I would love to see more people getting to know them.

John Q wrote:
 So Roy Hattersley  reckons Middlemarch (really great choice for a teenager that)  is the greatest novel in the English Language... Roy confirms me in view  of  being rather  underwhelmed by it.


Well, I think it's a great choice for a teenager. And no sarcasm intended on my part.

While no novel can be designated "greatest", I certainly don't have any quarrel with Middlemarch being described as "one of the greatest". That you were underwhelmed by it seems somewhat irrelevant to Roy Hattersley's personal literary tastes and values.

John Q wrote:
I am pretty sure   there is not a  book that has to be read before you are 21.


Well, if it comes to that, there's no book that needs to be read by anyone, regardless of age. What we are talking about are the books that we think are important for intelligent, bookish youngsters (and yes, they do exist) to get to know.

John Q wrote:
   Prescribing a book to  young folks is not always the best way  to get them to read it ...


I think the point here is to recommend a book rather than to prescribe one. I discovered literature by myself as a teenager, but I think I could have benefited from some guidance.

John Q wrote:
How about books to read before you are 11 ?  I bet some  dial a quote characters  would still say War and Peace.


Nah!- that would be a crap choice for 11 year-olds! I'd go for Hamlet myself for that age group.
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Melony, and thanks or your interesting choices.

Hesse does actually seem very popular with youngerreaders. (Which is not to suggest, of course, that he cannot be admired by older readers also!) I came rather late to him, I'm afraid, and have only read Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game.
Evie

Blimey, John, you do take things literally.  Not sure it's meant to be quite as earnest as all that!

Maybe teenagers should just stick to books about American teenage vampires, but it's fun to think about what else I would recommend to them if they want a bit of variety.
Green Jay

I remember reading a lot of classic ghost and vampire stories when I was in my early teens, and my friends and I scaring myself silly with them - lots of fun. But they were by Poe, MR James etc, and I'm sure there were some anthologies called Tales of Mystery & Imagination, possibly put together because they were the source stories of the televison series that ran in the 1970s. Perhaps teens are doing just the same now...only I feel someone is making a shedload of money out of them too.

As one who has always struggled with "set books" (even books I turned out to like when they were no longer prescribed) I fear I would have been the same if people suggested a list of books to read before 21. Rather as I feel patronised and intimidated by lists of Things to Do/See Before You're Dead (great! Thanks!! Very cheerful.)

On the other hand, I am often curious to see what books others recommend because they have been strongly influenced by them.
MikeAlx

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Hesse does actually seem very popular with youngerreaders. (Which is not to suggest, of course, that he cannot be admired by older readers also!) I came rather late to him, I'm afraid, and have only read Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game.

I really enjoyed Steppenwolf, which I read in my late teens or early twenties, I think. But I loathed Siddartha!
Castorboy

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. It is full of practical hints on how to sail, set up camp, plan trips and shows how good manners to everyone especially adults gives pleasure and unexpected rewards.
John Q

Well, well,   a personal line by line (with careful omissions) analysis from the Reject.  I suppose I should be flattered.  
Sure it is possible the folks in the article were sincere  that’s why I said I am not sure, if you are going to do a refutation Reject try and do it properly.
Sure it is mainly  irrelevant  what I think of Roy Hattersley’s  literary tastes , but HELLO! …He was in the article (posted by you) making comments,   even had his picture there, that makes him fair game,  OK?    I like to digress and broaden my posts to make them interesting if I can, I find one and two line posts somewhat lazy.   And, as is clear, I was commenting mainly on something else about Middlemarch.  
You admit yourself that you found your own way into books, which was in a roundabout way the point I was making. Not to mention that I have had it up to here with ‘books to be read’   before you are...whatever.  

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:


Nah!- that would be a crap choice for 11 year-olds! I'd go for Hamlet myself for that age group.


Well  I dont think much of that choice either actually.  Still,  you might have said Flashman,  so should be grateful for small mercies I guess
Castorboy

If the Bible is allowed then so should the collected works of Shakespeare.
I remember at school the set play was Julius Caesar with those wonderful speeches. So as someone who loved history the logical next play to read was Richard 11 and on through the kings to Henry V111. Then the long poems and the Sonnets.
TheRejectAmidHair

John Q wrote:
Well, well,   a personal line by line (with careful omissions) analysis from the Reject.  I suppose I should be flattered.  
Sure it is possible the folks in the article were sincere  that’s why I said I am not sure, if you are going to do a refutation Reject try and do it properly.


John Q, I have been perfectly polite and courteous in my post addressed to you, but you respond to my courtesy with a sneering sarcasm that I find very nasty and offensive.

Beyond saying this, I do not consider your post worthy of a reply: your post is as foolish as it is rude.
Evie

Castorboy - Richard II was the first play we read at school, when I was 12 or 13, and I loved it - not sure why it appealed to an adolescent girl, but I found the character of Richard fascinating, helped by the BBC version of it with Derek Jacobi in the lead, though he is an actor I have never warmed to.  The lovely Jon Finch as Bolingbroke also made an impression - Gielgud as John of Gaunt, etc, those were the days.  We studied Julius Caesar for O level, and I loved that too - they took us to see it at Stratford, and I remember our English teacher telling us to take note of the actor playing Brutus, as he had been tipped as a future star - it was one Ben Kingsley.  I later saw him play Othello at Stratford.  I might read the history plays following the kings of England, inspired by your post - sounds a good idea.

Actually, thinking back, that's not quite true - Macbeth was our first play, so Richard II must have been in the third year, as it was then - I would have been 14.
Chibiabos83

Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play we read at school, when we were 12 and 13. So we also got Jon Finch, and a naked Francesca Annis. A lot of boys suddenly decided it was a really interesting play.
MikeAlx

It was Macbeth for me too. I remember most of the lads enjoying the general goriness of Polanski's film, and being amused that Fleance was played by one Keith Chegwin - more familiar to us from his stint on Noel Edmonds' Swap Shop.

Then we went on to Henry IV Part 1 for O-level.
Chibiabos83

I'm not sure how they got away with showing that film to us at that age. I'm sure there was no parental consent form. One of my friends got very excited when a live production came to the school a few weeks later, but was sadly disappointed when Lady Macbeth stayed clothed throughout. He turned out to be gay, so I'm not sure he'd have got a great deal out of it anyway. At my next school, we watched the Jarman film of The Tempest and my English teacher cut it off at the point where all the camp sailors appear dancing. (We would have been about 15 by this time.) I was very annoyed - it's the best bit...
TheRejectAmidHair

The two parts of Henry IV are possibly the high point of Shakespeare’s history plays – and possibly even the high point of his dramatic output. Peter Hall, amongst others, cites them as his favourite plays.

It was with the three early Henry VI plays, I think, that Shakespeare really established himself. He was still finding his feet with the first one, but the next two have about them a marvellous theatrical vigour. And he completed the series with Richard III, possibly his first great masterpiece.

He went back in history for the next series. Despite its many virtues, I have never really warmed to Richard II: I just don’t find the central character sufficiently compelling to carry the drama. But s for the two Henry IV plays – this is possibly when Shakespeare realised, perhaps to his own surprise, the extent of his own genius. He suddenly seemed to realise the extent of his own genius. This tetralogy is finished by Henry V, which seemed to go off in a different directon. I’ve never quite known what to make of this play.

In between, Shakespeare wrote King John, possibly the dullest play in the entire Shakespearean canon. And Henry VIII was a late play, and most definitely a collaboration. I am not sure that Shakespeare was a particularly good collaborator, since the play is uneven, and appears to be pulling in different directions.

Of hs Roman histories, I recently mentioned on another thread how much I loved (and continue to love) Julius Casear. And Antony and Cleopatra is a play I often nominate as my personal favourite.  Coriolanus is an odd ‘un, though!

Thoughts on them all here: http://argumentativeoldgit.wordpress.com/60-2/
Caro

I haven't read the link but have thought back to the books I read when young.  I think Wuthering Heights is more easily appreciated by young people, perhaps not for the qualities Himadri likes in it but for the appeal to the emotions it has for youth.  

Hamlet has great appeal for teenagers, at least if it is taught properly, and no doubt if it is performed well.  Don't know about coming to it cold though.

But books are personal to the reader too.  My young son really liked Persuasion, but that is because he really appreciated the moral fibre of Anne.  But he didn't enjoy Middlemarch.  The other book he talks about with pleasure is The Origin of Species.

I think young people would get a great deal out of a book like To Kill a Mockingbird.  The idealism of this book and its strong moral stance is the sort of thing young people find appealing.  

Cheers, Caro.
Melony

Mike Alx, don't be a hater on Siddhartha! Smile Just kidding.  Steppenwolf was wonderful - I actually read all of these before 21, but Magister Ludi later and I recall not being as enamoured. Hesse is so idealistic, I think that is the appeal to young people, and the paradoxes are perfect for people that age who are just beginning to awaken to the world.

I love Hamlet for 11-year-olds!  I am just getting ready to read Julius Caesar with a group of 11-year-olds and am greatly looking forward to it.

If one doesn't read things before 21, how does one measure personal growth and understanding after 21?  You read The Great Gatsby, for instance, at 14 and then re-read it at 40 and notice other things, subtleties that completely escaped the 14-year-old you. Or you notice something you loved at that age is now upon re-reading really the most craptacular thing ever written... Of course there are things to be read before 21!  So many good things!
TheRejectAmidHair

That bit about Hamlet for 11-year-olds was meant as a joke, by the way. I do feel that a work as iconic as Hamlet is more or less mandatory reading for any English-speaker interested in literature, but it is a very difficult play, and no one, I’d have thought, to start off with.

But it’s an interesting question – what should one recommend (that’s recommend, not prescribe!) to a bright youngster? Melony makes a good point that we can measure our personal growth and understanding by how we react to works of stature over the years. Sure, a 12-year-old – even a very bright 12-year-old – is likely to miss out on much of the subtleties and intricacies of something like, say, Julius Caesar. But so what? They have a whole lifetime to come back to it! And whatever they manage to take in at first reading is surely worthwhile!

I remember a programme I saw once where pianist & conductor Daniel Barenboim gave a masterclass, and then took questions from the audience. And he was asked whether he had actually understood Beethoven’s music when he was performing those sonatas of his at the precocious age of ten. Barenboim replied that of course he didn’t understand them fully at the age of ten; however, he added, he had been playing these works in public for some 60 or so years, and he still didn’t understand them fully! One never does understand fully works of such stature, but one has to start somewhere. And if a child is bright enough at least to start on the journey, then why not?
John Q

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
John Q wrote:
Well, well,   a personal line by line (with careful omissions) analysis from the Reject.  I suppose I should be flattered.  
Sure it is possible the folks in the article were sincere  that’s why I said I am not sure, if you are going to do a refutation Reject try and do it properly.


John Q, I have been perfectly polite and courteous in my post addressed to you, but you respond to my courtesy with a sneering sarcasm that I find very nasty and offensive.

Beyond saying this, I do not consider your post worthy of a reply: your post is as foolish as it is rude.


Rudeness,  Reject Amid Hair,  is going through someone else’s post   in the patronising manner that you did to mine, after I had taken the trouble to answer your original post in the most full and honest manner possible.  
As far as I was concerned you were neither polite nor courteous and your post received the reply it deserved.  But sure,  as you now typically retire to your high horse, you needn’t reply to that or this.
Evie

John, if you would like to discuss books here, please do - but there is zero tolerance when it comes to sneering at other posters.  Engage in discussion or take your attitude somewhere else - disagreements are fine, but the kind of personal insults you have indulged in here are not acceptable.
Chibiabos83

It would be a good thing if we could bear in mind that what people write can be misconstrued over the internet, and that tone of voice is not always communicated in what we write, which is where a lot of arguments and misunderstandings originate. But I hope we can put this particular spat to bed now and get back to discussing books politely...
Chibiabos83

Caro wrote:
I think young people would get a great deal out of a book like To Kill a Mockingbird.  The idealism of this book and its strong moral stance is the sort of thing young people find appealing.

Caro - good to see you, I meant to say earlier! When I read To Kill a Mockingbird at school I didn't like it, mainly for the reason mentioned earlier in the thread (or perhaps on another thread recently) that having to study prescribed books robs them of their enjoyability. And I also had a kind of resentment towards it because I'd wanted our class to study one of the other books on the list - Lord of the Flies and The Go-Between had been my favourites. But of course revisiting it in adulthood, it's a superb book and is now one of my favourites. I ought to reread all of the books I disliked at school and see if they're better than I remember.
Apple

I did not see the link either - couldn't get it to open so cannot comment on the list of books or the contributers, but I do agree with John Q when he said:
Quote:
I am pretty sure   there is not a  book that has to be read before you are 21.    Prescribing a book to  young folks is not always the best way  to get them to read it, unless, as has been mentioned, it is a set text  they are obliged to read at college etc, which is not always the best way to appreciate a book.  They will find their own way, probably in an extremely circuitous manner, with many false trails, to books that mean something to them.


And I think Chibiabos’s post confirms this very fact!

Chib Wrote:
Quote:
When I read To Kill a Mockingbird at school I didn't like it, mainly for the reason mentioned earlier in the thread (or perhaps on another thread recently) that having to study prescribed books robs them of their enjoyability. And I also had a kind of resentment towards it because I'd wanted our class to study one of the other books on the list - Lord of the Flies and The Go-Between had been my favourites. But of course revisiting it in adulthood, it's a superb book and is now one of my favourites. I ought to reread all of the books I disliked at school and see if they're better than I remember.
The reason I bring this up is because the book I chose – Testament of Youth had this very effect on someone I know, she is a fellow work mate and when I was sitting reading Testament of Youth ages ago she recognised it as a book she had read and commented on how it was an inspiring book seeing what that woman went though and witnessed when she was about her age (my workmate was awaiting her results after completing her A levels so must have been about 18/19 years old – in the age range of this discussion) but she added that despite the fact she found Vera Brittain's story inspiring she didn’t really like that book much as she was made to read it as part of some study she did on the First World War.
TheRejectAmidHair

Just to clarify, this thread is not about prescribing books.

(There is a place for prescription as well, as education in literature would not be possible without at least some degree of prescription; but this is not what this thread is about. We may want to discuss that in a different thread.)

This thread is about recommending books for young people, not prescribing them. This is the question I had asked in the first post on this thread:

Quote:
So, if you were a guest on this show, what would you receommend?


Yes, I know, I had mistyped the word "recommend", but the sense is pretty clear, I think.

The idea behind this thread is that those of us who love books (ie. all of us - otherwise we wouldn't be here!) have certain literary values that we think important to pass on to the next generation. The question of what book we'd recommend (and I emphasise once again - recommend) is an indication of those literary values of ours that we would most like to pass on.
MikeAlx

Of course, in practical reality, one would recommend books based on what one knew of the person's individual interests, reading ability, favourite authors and suchlike - but one must set aside such considerations in the interests of debate.
Evie

Partly, I suppose...but I think there are some books that transcend that.  I would recommend Animal Farm, say, to anyone, regardless of their personal interests, similarly Lord of the Flies and numerous others.
MikeAlx

Yes, but I think those are exceptions really. They both work on the 'mythic' level to make 'universal' arguments (or perhaps 'symbolic' is a better word than 'mythic'). I think this runs counter to the mainstream literary tradition from the 19th century onwards.
Evie

It is interesting that those are the two examples that came into my head, with their philosophical content!  But I think I would recommend any good literature for the sake of it, regardless of a person's interests - I would recommend anyone interested in literature to read Thomas Hardy, for example, regardless of whether I thought it was their 'thing', because I would recommend anyone to read all great literature.  Great literature transcends personal interests or experience.
Caro

But not all great literature appeals to everyone.  I will not be rushing to read any more Dostoevsky, for instance.  And your example, Evie,  of Lord of the Flies is one book that I remember with complete distaste, from school (or maybe university).  Probably one of those books I should revisit as an adult, but the thought doesn't appeal.  

And there are people who might want to try something more serious than they usually read, but wouldn't manage a long Dickens or Moby Dick, for instance.  I think you do have to tailor recommendations to people.

Cheers, Caro.
Hector

I agree Caro. I have a brother who is interested in literature (not enough to join a books messageboard, mind) and knowing his particular tastes, I would never in a million years recommend a Hardy book to him. I'm not saying he wouldn't enjoy it - just that there are plenty other books which suit his taste better and with limited reading available time, I know he wouldn't appreciate ploughing through The Mayor of Casterbridge!

Regards

Hector
TheRejectAmidHair

Yes, I agree that not all great literature appeals to everyone. Indeed, literature is not for everyone. But what I find sad is that there are many youngsters who, despite being bright, seem to grow up without developing any intellectual interest of any kind, in any subject. I do see quite a lot of that. There seems to be so little around them these days to stimulate their intellects, or to feed any intellectual curiosity they may have.

But returning to the subject of literature – if someone is studying literature, then they have to try everything out. How can they tell what they like and what they don’t if they don’t try out different things? If someone were to study physics, say, it would make little sense for them to say “I like quantum mechanics, but I don’t want to study fluid dynamics because I find it boring”. If you’re studying physics, you have to study across the entire range, and only when you have reached a sufficiently high level across the board can you specialise in the area you like best. It’s the same with any other subject, I think, including literature.

For someone not studying literature formally, then, ideally, any recommendation needs to be tailored to individual tastes; but even there, one should allow for the possibility that readers may be able to extend their tastes by trying out something new, or by applying themselves more to something that had previously passed them by. I can certainly think of many books that did not appeal to me at first acquaintance, but the appreciation of which has grown with greater understanding. This is often the case with literature of quality, where, as a consequence of the presence of depth, the qualities of the work are not always apparent merely from the surface.

I suppose I had intended this thread to indicate which of our own literary values we think are the most important, and which, therefore, we would most like to see passed on to the next generation of lovers of literature.
Apple

Himadri Wrote:
Quote:
I suppose I had intended this thread to indicate which of our own literary values we think are the most important, and which, therefore, we would most like to see passed on to the next generation of lovers of literature.
This point clarifies exactly why I chose testament of Youth, because reading what the generation who lived (or not as was the case for many) during that era and the lack of basic rights which young women take for granted today and dismiss compared to the generally cushy lives we have now. That is an important point I would like to pass on, especially as this era is now out of living memory and consigned to history books, and the account of that time through the eyes of Vera Brittain is very humbling in my opinion.

Himadri Wrote:
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Indeed, literature is not for everyone. But what I find sad is that there are many youngsters who, despite being bright, seem to grow up without developing any intellectual interest of any kind, in any subject. I do see quite a lot of that. There seems to be so little around them these days to stimulate their intellects, or to feed any intellectual curiosity they may have.
I'd definitely agree with that, the only things which seem to engage kids around here is finding ways of getting around the licensing laws, buying alcohol and getting pissed. The thing is you see its not cool to like stuff like that, pier pressure is a huge thing and when all your mates are only interested in dossing about in the park with a 2 litre bottle of cider you aint going to go along with a copy of War & Peace or whatever!

and

Himadri also Wrote:
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But returning to the subject of literature – if someone is studying literature, then they have to try everything out. How can they tell what they like and what they don’t if they don’t try out different things?
I do disagree with that though in a way as we have already established that books you are forced to read generally end up being remembered negatively.

Evie Wrote:
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I would recommend anyone interested in literature to read Thomas Hardy, for example, regardless of whether I thought it was their 'thing', because I would recommend anyone to read all great literature.  Great literature transcends personal interests or experience.
I disagree with that you have to consider someone's personal tastes and interests when making recommendations, something which you consider great might be utter crap to someone else and going back to the attitude of the youth of today, who these recommendations are aimed at - if it doesn't interest them or engage them they won't even bother as they won't see any point in it.
TheRejectAmidHair

The questions of what should or should not be taught at school, and to what extent the English literature curriculum should be prescriptive, are all interesting questions, and are subjects about which I feel strongly. But let’s discuss those issues on another thread (I’ll set one up shortly when I have a bit of time), and let’s keep this thread for more suggestions on the sort of book we’d most like to recommend to younger readers, and the literary values that we’d most like to pass on.
Mikeharvey

I have a young friend aged 24 of average reading ability who wanted to start reading after years of not doing so. Last year he asked my advice on books to get him started again. So far he's read at my suggestion:
                           Tom's Midnight Garden' (Phillipa Pearce) much enjoyed
                           The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (Alan Garner) He finished this but found it rather hard going.
                           The Diary of a Nobody (Grossmith) He adored this, found it very funny and constantly refers to it.
                            Three Men In A Boat (Jerome) Loved it.
                            Treasure Island (Stevenson) Much enjoyed
                            My Family and Other Animals (Durrell) Current read

He also read - not on my recommendation - a novel by Danielle Steele which he devoured.
Apple

Mikeharvey Wrote:
Quote:
I have a young friend aged 24 of average reading ability who wanted to start reading after years of not doing so. Last year he asked my advice on books to get him started again. So far he's read at my suggestion:
                          Tom's Midnight Garden' (Phillipa Pearce) much enjoyed
                          The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (Alan Garner) He finished this but found it rather hard going.
                          The Diary of a Nobody (Grossmith) He adored this, found it very funny and constantly refers to it.
                           Three Men In A Boat (Jerome) Loved it.
                           Treasure Island (Stevenson) Much enjoyed
                           My Family and Other Animals (Durrell) Current read

He also read - not on my recommendation - a novel by Danielle Steele which he devoured.


Tom's Midnight Garden is one of my daughters favourites! she often will re-read it.

If I was going to recommend novels to read "for fun" and for pure entertainment value and not to pass on any message or make any point for the reader to think about I'd go for:

Wuthering Heights - I won't go into great detail of why because everyone knows my opinion of this book, so the reasons why are obvious.

Three men in a boat - I chose this because it is absolutely timeless – and it proves that human nature hasn't really changed that much since Victorian times! There is not much plot to speak of - just the tale of three friends (and a dog) taking a boating trip up the Thames. It is incredibly funny and had me laughing out loud in many place.

The Harry Potter Series - Although practically every person on the planet has heard of this (unless they have been living under a rock for the last 10 years or so) and it has become practically a right of passage for every youngster to read the Harry Potter books, I would still recommend them as they are an incredible story of a young boy and his unique journey into adulthood, and they have that undeniable knack of wanting you to keep turning the pages and reading more.

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