Boy who preferred Shakespeare
Thursday 17 September 1998
According to a straw poll of GCSE pupils at William Ellis, a north London boys' comprehensive, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot have no chance next to the England footballers Tony Adams and Ian Wright, both recent co-authors of their autobiographies.
Needless to say, Wrighty does not feature on GCSE reading lists, and many parents will prefer their children to be reading Turgenev and Dickens to Hoddle and Adams.
But there is no cause for despair, yet. Though the reading list was dismissed as archaic by several respondents, figures from Shakespeare through to J D Salinger and Harper Lee still figured as preferred reading by the 15 and 16-year-olds.
However, Steven Veal said of short stories and poems by Hardy, John Wyndham and Seamus Heaney, all of which feature on the reading list: "They are complicated, they are hard to understand and you can't see any connection to real life." But he is no philistine: asked what text he would choose given the freedom of a bookshop, he picked Julius Caesar: "Shakespeare is about jealousy and love and hate and violence, and people do exactly the same kind of thing today."
The "irrelevance" of some of the GCSE texts does not reflect a generation gap, then; it is more a considered opinion. "Studying some of these books would put some people off the idea of books full stop," said Steven. "I'm sure there are people who think, `Well, these are all boring so books are boring'."
The others agreed: the age of the GCSE texts was not a problem in itself, and they knew they were studying the literature as part of a learning process, not for enjoyment. "But I thought some of the short stories were meaningless," said Keir Kennedy " - not like Shakespeare, where everything's very realistic even if the language is difficult."
The school lists have not changed much over the decades: in 1976, Shakespeare, Chaucer and Hardy featured, much as they do now. Susan Hill and Stan Barstow are among the modern texts in today's exams.
But perhaps they aren't modern enough. Salim Amevor is a voracious reader of biographies of black political figures. Gustav Wood reads for more than an hour a night, but mainly chooses science fiction. And Keir, also 15 and an Arsenal fan, is reading Tony Adams's book, as are several of his classmates.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
- 1 World Cup 2014: 20 things we learned in Brazil
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 3 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
Ian Thorpe gay: Olympic swimmer comes out in Parkinson interview
Pamplona bull run: Man who contributed to a survival guide for the festival falls foul of the raging beasts
Israel-Gaza conflict: William Hague calls for ceasefire but says Israel 'has the right to defend itself'
Supermoon 2014: When and why will the moon look bigger and brighter this summer?
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...
£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...
£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...