10 books to read while at school

the Literary Saloon at the complete review – 21 – 31 January 2006 Archive

According to the Literary Saloon (link to posting above), the Royal Society of Literature has asked some well-known authors to recommend 10 books "that every child should read before they finish school". The posting carries some interesting links on this theme.

If anyone reads this entry, please put yours in the comments or link to your blog: I’d love to know your own recommended selection. Apparently the RSL article is not yet out, but the Daily Telgraph has revealed the choices of three authors, which I’ve reproduced below. Under that, I’ve put my own (in no particular order).

J K Rowling:
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Beatrix Potter
The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger
Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Philip Pullman:
Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson
Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kastner
The Magic Pudding, Norman Lindsay
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens
First Book of Samuel, Ch 17
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
A good collection of myths and legends
A good collection of fairy tales

Andrew Motion:
The Odyssey, Homer
Don Quixote, Cervantes
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost, John Milton
Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
Ulysses, James Joyce
The Waste Land, T S Eliot

20,000 leagues under the sea Jules Verne
Tales of Robin Hood (and/or Troy/King Arthur) Roger Lancelyn Green
Lord of the Flies William Golding
Pride and Prejudice (or Emma) Jane Austen
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy** I suppose this will have to go for Alice in Wonderland, see below. I guess FFMC will keep till later. (?)
David Copperfield and/or Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
*Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell — remove to make way for: Lion Witch and Wardrobe, C S Lewis.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I had not looked at the three authors’ lists above when I made my own list, which is based on books that were my favourites when I was at school. I think PP’s suggestion of fairy tales is essential. I wanted to include Catcher in the Rye, Birdy (William Wharton) and Nausea (J-P Sartre), but you can only have 10, and these three would be just as good or better read a bit later I suppose. Roald Dahl’s Matilda should be on my list (in my view his best book), but where is the room? Andrew Motion’s list is a bit heavy-going, I think.

I would definitely have included the brilliant and wondeful Harry Potters (I suppose book 3 if only allowed one) and His Dark Materials in my list, but I thought the books had to be "classics", or rather, not contemporary. Will try to get hold of the RSL article when it comes out to learn more, and find out more about other people’s lists.

*Note added on Wednesday 1 Feb: How could I have forgotten The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, one of my all-time favourite books as a child? Gone with the Wind will have to make way, I think, as GWTW is another one that will keep till later (I remember reading it because a girl in one of the "Chalet School" books was expelled for reading it, so I needed to find out why).

** Note added on Friday 3 Feb. I am going to give up on this "list thing". The "10 books to read at school" story has been picked up everywhere, of course. I was mortified (again) when I read an article on the phenomenon in today’s Times to realise I had omitted "Alice in Wonderland" from my list. As I’m not prepared to take a day preparing the absolute best list (considering and rejecting all the options), and can realistically spend only 2 mins putting together a list about anything, I realise I will never reach perfection and will just quit this list game. Read ’em all! And more!

5 thoughts on “10 books to read while at school

  1. Maxine, you pre-empted my question when you wrote that your list was based on books you read when you were in school. In general, when I read lists of things that every person “should” or “must” do, I say, “Why?” I wonder if the person telling me what I should or must do has done it her or himself.
    I wonder, too, if the list-maker is sighing for his wasted youth and telling me to do what he wishes he had done.
    One Passover seder, I found myself thinking what a wonderful ritual this was for children. Of course, I was decades past my own childhood when I had this thought.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home”

  2. Well, Peter, when I was at school I was so much more goal-directed and sure of myself than I am these days, at 150. Interesting, isn’t it? These days I see far too many sides of every question.
    Can’t comment on the passover, I did not grow up in any nurturing atmosphere or experience these kinds of rituals. But sounds good. What kind of person might I have been?

  3. You were an unsually single-minded child, I’d say. I suspect that if you had started this list, though, you’d have been modest enough to call it “Ten Books I Loved When I Was at School” or something similar. I just don’t think you are presumptuous enough to tell anyone what he or she “should” read!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder is More Fun Away from Home”

  4. Yes, definitely, Peter. I took care with the title of my “detective authors (female)” list. There are so many books out there, how could one ever realistically choose 10 in any category?
    Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.
    (From one of the “loyal opposition” — which is how Woody Allen qualified his negative response when asked if he believed in God.)

  5. I remember commenting to David J. Montgomery that one reason I avoided the flak he took over his best-detective list was by hedging and fudging: I refused to call my list a “best of.”
    And thanks re Thanksgiving.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder is More Fun Away from Home”

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