My life in books

LittleprinceMy favourite book as a child wasThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  When I was little I was fascinated by the pictures (snakes swallowing elephants, monstrous trees, tiny sheep…) but every time I re-read it now I understand something different from it about philosophy and faith.  I have to read it at least once a year and I always give it to babies when they’re born.  It feels appropriate!

Jane EyreMy favourite book as a teenager wasJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  It’s haunting and beautiful and definitely not just a boy meets girl story.  I always wanted a Mr Rochester rather than a Mr Darcy, but when I discovered Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea it was a revelation to me that characters – and people in real life – could have multiple lives.  Re-reading Jane Eyre now, I can’t help but be swayed by Rhys’ evocation of Caribbean lushness and a woman so condemned to being ‘other’ that there’s nothing left for her but madness.

P_s_cell_2The best beach read isProspero’s Cell by Laurence Durrell.  Especially if read on a beach in Corfu, followed by a hike to find the cliffs and cell in question!  Durrell argues very convincingly that the island in The Tempest must be either Malta or Corfu, and that Corfu is the more likely.  There’s an amazing little hermit’s cell near Kaminaki, perched on the cliffs above enormous rocks, and all the vegetation around it is knotty pines like the one Arial was trapped in.   You can easily imagine a shipwreck, a monster and a magician appearing before you.   Then, in the evening, after your hike, the best book to wind down with is My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Laurence’s brother.  It’s aimed at children but it’s hilarious, and makes it harder to take ‘Larry’ seriously.

why-study-the-bibleThe book I always have by my bed is…The Bible.  I’ve always meant to read it cover to cover, but I tend to get half way through Exodus and give up.  It’s fascinating to me, both as a spiritual and a historical text.

Mr-Pip-3.0-600x311The book that changed my life isMister Pip by Lloyd Jones.  It’s about a girl embroiled in a civil war which threatens to destroy her family and her island.  A man on the island decides that the only way to rescue the children is to educate them, but he only has one copy of one book, which is Great Expectations.  Ultimately, Matilda learns the same lessons as Pip, but in a very modern context.  It’s the only book which has ever made me burst into tears in public, when I was reading it on a train!  I also love it because it’s about teaching, and about how literature can be a salve for all of us when times are tough.  When I’ve had a long day at work it’s a brilliant reminder of what books can do for the human race, and makes me feel lucky to be able to talk about them all day.

_69322860_dictionaryMy favourite non-fiction book is…the Dictionary!

richardii460My favourite play is…Richard II by Shakespeare.  From John of Gaunt’s beautiful speech as a ‘prophet new inspir’d’ about ‘This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars’ that is the England which forms the prize and the battleground of all the History plays, to Richard’s heart-rending goodbye to his Queen before he is murdered, this is a play which looks at the character of the King and of kingship in such detail that the audience can’t help but empathise with him, even as they cheer on Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV.

421px-blake_ancient_of_daysMy favourite poet is…John Milton, for everything he ever wrote but especially Paradise Lost.  When I taught Book 9 for the first time I realised how powerful poetry can be.  If it’s possible to sympathise so whole-heartedly with Satan ‘involv’d in rising mist’, what can’t poetry do?

ulysses-james-joyce-1988-robert-motherwellThe book I was supposed to like but didn’t wasUlysses by James Joyce.  I love A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners but Ulysses was just…boring.

ShakespeareIf I could only read one book for the rest of my life it would be…The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I know it’s a cheat!

Half term shenanigans

So the iGCSE is done and dusted, the Shakespeare paper has been tackled this morning and pupils will be breathing a sigh of relief up and down the country… Not quite so for the GCSE lot, who have English Language still to go – cruelly placed as it is, just after half term.

How do you maintain that exam focus over a week of holiday?  Yes, of course, you stick to your revision timetable, and you try to remember to eat well, and, if you’re like me as a teenager, you lock yourself in your room for a few days at a time only to reveal yourself, mad-doctor-haired and more than a little smelly, desperate for a shower on about Wednesday afternoon.

crazy-professor-28436930The most important thing you can possibly do though, no matter where you are in your exams and no matter how many you still have to go, is to give yourself a day off.  A whole day. Preferably (and I know that in terms of your social life this is tantamount to suggesting you run through the school shouting the national anthem while wearing a bear costume) while turning your phone/laptop/brain-chip that connects you to your friends off.

I can hear people scoffing.  But you’ve just spent the last few weeks living, breathing and dreaming exams.  You’ve been in school every day or revising at home, you’ve sat in the same spot in the exam hall staring at the head of the same boy in front of you through hour upon hour of test and you’ve spent your break times and lunch times conferring with your friends about which bits were easy and which bits were hard, probably winding yourself and each other up about all the silly little mistakes you might have made but won’t know about for sure until results day.  You need to just…stop.  Have a day off. Spend it outdoors.  Spend it with your family but tell them they’re not allowed to mention the E or the R words.  (That’s ‘exam’ and ‘revision’ not ‘Emergency Room,’ though probably best to avoid a trip there too.)  Go to the seaside, engage in some mindless window shopping, play with your little brother, walk the dog, read a magazine, watch the news and remember the real world out there, go to the park, go swimming – do whatever it is that you used to do back in the days when you were ‘normal’ and not thinking about Geography Unit 2 when you woke up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night.

Have a day off.  Your books will be there tomorrow.  And when you’ve had a good, old-fashioned exhausting day of playing out, (which no one is ever too old for, by the way) sleep well, set your alarm for a decent time and get going on that revision.  It’ll be worth it.