Continuing our series "What Do English Teachers Read?", Ms Hart and Mrs Bell discuss their favourite books and writers.
Here is Ms Hart's response:
1. What book are you currently reading? This is Where I am by Karen Campbell. It is chilling. It is all about refugees from Somali living in Glasgow. I have to admit having to put it down at times because it is so terrifying.
2. Who is your favourite author? Why? Tough question. Can I answer this by period?! Shakespeare has to be up there, with King Lear. Such a tragic tale that really does wrench at my heart each time I read it. The best line is, ‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;/They kill us for their sport.’ (4.1.36) Genius! I am on a mad Hardy spree at the moment and am trying to read all of his works by the end of the year. I have to confess that Tess of the D’Urbervilles is my favourite but Far from the Madding Crowd has to be there too. Jane Austen. Say no more. A bit of Beckett: Waiting for Godot. This is a play that I walk away from each time none the wiser – surely this is a sign of brilliance on Beckett’s part. I’ll stop here – too many to think of!
3. What is the least interesting novel that you have read? Why? Another tough question because I don’t think that I have read a book that I have not find interesting. I normally know within the first few pages and then stop reading. I don’t have time to waste. I usually go on recommendations and read a lot of classics; they are classic for a reason.
4. If you were stranded on a desert island, what novel would you take (supposing you got a choice)? Why? OK – who set these questions? These are really hard! Erm, probably The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. It is an example of the early novel form and is really long, gothic and full of mystery (hence the title!).
5. What features do you expect to see in a good book? An unexpected ending, characters that I will empathise with, believable plot twists. It needs to be well-written … I know this sounds obvious but I cannot cope with rubbish. Poorly constructed sentences, be off with you!
6. What do you believe makes a book so special? A book is special because it often reminds you of a time in your life. So, when you re-read it it takes you back to a time past. A book transports you but you are not passive. The book only exists because the reader exists, and I think that this relationship between reader and writer is a very special one.
7. As a teenager, what kind of books did you like? Why did you find them appealing? To be honest, I wasn’t a big reader as a teenager. I was more of an artist, painting on massive canvases and creating unusual works of art. English came to me relatively late, about 17. I loved the texts that we studied at A Level and this is probably because I had a really inspirational teacher, Mr Pike. He taught me King Lear and this text remains at the top of my favourite list. I think I loved the angst of Lear. The disagreements in the family and the wicked sisters who were obsessed and overwhelmed by the power of greed. It was dark stuff that probably relates to most teenage/parent relationship (without the bloody ending).
8. What is your favourite genre of novel? I love anything pastoral … or anti. Reading Hardy this year has renewed this love and appreciation of this very interesting and complex genre.
9. What is your favourite non-fiction book? Why French Children Don’t Throw Food. All parents should read it. It explains so much about Anglophone children.
10. Have you ever thought about writing a book? If so, what style of book would you write? Yes. It is called Up The Garden Path: A Year in the Life of an Allotment Holder. It is an observational novel that tells the tales of the complex web of relationships on an allotment. Lots of mystery, twists and turns.
Mrs Bell answered as follows:
1. What book are you currently reading? I am currently reading The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker: a fascinating social history about sugar plantations and the slave trade and how it shaped the British Empire. I also have Canada by Richard Ford on the go.2. Who is your favourite author? Why? I honestly don’t have one favourite: I read so many different authors.
3. What is the least interesting novel that you have read? Why? White Teeth by Zadie Smith: it was overlong, indulgent and petered out. Most dispiriting.4. If you were stranded on a desert island, what novel would you take (supposing you got a choice)? Why? If I was allowed the Bible and Shakespeare, I would then take a really terrific anthology of poetry. Poetry really allows readers the space to thing about ideas in a very different way.
5. What features do you expect to see in a good book? A roaring story. A character that you love. A twist of expectation as you are reading it.6. What do you believe makes a book so special? A universality of feeling: like Fitzgerald said, “You’re not lonely and isolated anymore. You belong."
7. As a teenager, what kind of books did you like? Why did you find them appealing? I read anything when I was a teenager: all of my grandfather’s Jean Plaidy historical novels, my dad’s Cold War thrillers, old orange Penguin paperbacks. I re-read childhood books which still remain a favourite today, like The Secret Garden and Tom Sawyer and The Greengage Summer. Plenty of ‘lowbrow’ reading, like Stephen King and Jilly Cooper, Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. Lots of far too grown- up reading like Solzhenitsyn and Kafka which I didn’t really understand then. Turgenev’s First Love was a real favourite, as were Chekhov’s short stories. They were all appealing because I could pretend I was one of the characters in these books.
8. What is your favourite genre of novel? Everything except fantasy and science fiction. Sorry, I just can’t get on board with that genre at all.
9. What is your favourite non-fiction book? I love really good biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, such as Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick. I’m looking forward to reading All Roads Lead to France, a biography about the poet Edward Thomas, over the summer. I do have shelves of books on music and film, and photography, so maybe Eve Arnold’s People, or Mystery Train by Greil Marcus.
10. Have you ever thought about writing a book? If so what style of book would you write? For the money: a bonkbuster. For artistic endeavour: a wistful novella.
Read the responses of Ms Burden, Mrs Kirby and Mr Burkinshaw here, Mrs Mitchell and Mr Richardson here and Ms Godfree and Mr Sadden here.