Education Quandary

'My school-leaver daughter plans a summer of reading for pleasure. What can I guide her towards?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This mother fears that her daughter will only read chick lit and she wants her to sample something richer. There's nothing wrong with chick lit. But why not put together a big pile of books that you think she might enjoy and leave her to pick through them at her leisure? You could include gap-year books such as Alex Garland's The Beach and William Sutcliffe's Are You Experienced?, plus some teenage classics such as Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle.

Esther Freud's Hideous Kinky and Huruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood explore childhood and student life in foreign settings. Books such as Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, which is set in Afghanistan, open up distant worlds to young readers. Back home, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity or Helen Dunmore's A Spell of Winter might grab her interest.

If your daughter is not put off by long books, she might plunge into Vikram Seth's Indian family saga, A Suitable Boy. Short stories such as Pam Houston's Cowboys Are My Weakness or Margaret Atwood's Wilderness Tips offer a change of pace. And why not mix in a biography or two? Sandra Gregory's Forget You Had A Daughter is her account of life in a Thai jail after being caught smuggling drugs. Grace Bowman's A Shape of My Own is about her battle with anorexia. You could also try travel books (Bill Bryson), thrillers (PD James) and a classic or two (Orwell, Salinger, the Brontës), plus, of course, some decent chick lit, such as anything by Marian Keyes. She will then have plenty to sample.

Readers' advice

Whoa, relax! Don't we all (pace the chattering classes' supposed summer holiday reading lists - do they really pack all those worthy hardbacks?) read something lighter on holiday? The fact that your daughter wants to carry on reading is enough for me. She'll discover "literature" in and around her chick lit. Many years ago, I taught in a school where the librarian recounted proudly how she had encouraged a very unacademic girl to progress from Mills & Boon, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer and Anya Seton to Jane Austen. I'm sure the girl still read her magazines on occasion, but she got there!
Fenella Barnes, Dorset

The book I most wish I had read at 16 or 18 is The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. It is the true story of how a model threw up her career in the space of half an hour to go looking for diamonds in the jungle. It is part adventure story, part story of spiritual awakening and part plea for human rights, love and tolerance. It was hard to put down.
Karen Rodgers, Cambridge

It may pain parents to see daughters burying themselves in nonsense, but I read plenty of trash as a teenager and got two degrees in English at top universities. A diet of fluffy literature soon reveals its own limitations. I occasionally succumb to trashy novels but soon yearn for more substantial books.
Lynsey Hopkins, Stourbridge

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Our primary school has recently bought in much- improved school dinners. The food is excellent, but, to afford it, we had to have an aggressive drive to get children signed up for it. Now, in the summer term, many have opted for packed lunches and it has cost us thousands. How can we avoid this next year?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than next Monday 19 June at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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