Today I’m going through the top 5 books which summarise my life at high school as a Teenager! I know some school systems are different, so for the benefit of my non-UK readers, high school is the school you attend from the age of 11 to the age of 16. From now on, these posts will probably get longer as the week continues, because I have more to say about each book, because I became more aware of what I was reading.
In 5th place is: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
An American classic! I hated it. In my mind, it’s about rich people doing rich-people-things and having rich-people-problems.
However, in case you find my synopsis slightly too brief and biased, here’s a slightly more detailed version I’ve pulled from Goodreads: “This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.”
We were told to read The Great Gatsby, in preparation for studying it. We never did, although we did watch the 2012 film adaptation – which did a slightly better job at making the story likeable to me. I ended up studying The Great Gatsby whilst at college anyway, so my effort wasn’t wasted (thankfully).
I couldn’t relate to any of the main characters or the settings whatsoever – the glitz didn’t dazzle me, it disgusted me. My favourite character was Tom Buchanan, despite him being a blatant racist and misogynist. Nick, Daisy and Gatsby all hid behind various facades – Tom was the only one who was real, upfront and unapologetic about it. Despite the buzz around Leonardo DiCaprio in the film adaptation, I think Joel Edgerton did an excellent job at portraying Tom.
In 4th place is: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
I remember enjoying a lot of Dahl’s books as a child – particularly Matilda and The Twits (put together, those titles sound like a wacky name for a band!). However, I was never much of a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story was alright – I enjoyed the 1971 musical adaptation, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (not so much Tim Burton’s 2005 version), but I never felt truly attached to the book.
I remember studying certain sections of the book in huge detail, as practice for creative writing and descriptions – particularly the introduction to the Chocolate Room and the Oompa Loompas. For me though, the excessive descriptions of sweets and candies made me feel queasy and I always felt Charlie was a bit… lacking. He didn’t seem to have any obvious personality traits or attitudes like the other children such as Mike or Veruca, so I always wondered why I should be “rooting” for him.
In 3rd place is: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Like The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird was another American classic novel I was told to read, and then we never actually studied. I didn’t mind so much, as I really enjoyed the story. I liked ‘Scout’ Finch a lot – she was adventurous, brave, loving – a really nice protagonist. Her father, Atticus, always reminded me of Dumbledore too – he was Scout’s teacher, leader, father figure and often spoke on more moral issues.
The only things that tripped me up was my own lack of knowledge about the historical context in which the book is set, and the amount of American terms I had never come across before in my life.
In 2nd place is: The Woman In Black by Susan Hill
I recently re-read this book, to compare how spooky it is in comparison with its film adaptations and spin-offs: The Woman In Black and The Woman In Black 2 (Angel of Death). The answer is: not very.
On re-reading the novel, I was disappointed with just how much Victorian-style “waffle” the book was filled with, and very little actual scary or paranormal content. The book was a lot shorter than I remembered too. I liked the stereotypical Gothic style of writing, and the use of descriptions, but I still felt it lacking. However, I’ve awarded it 2nd place because I genuinely enjoyed reading the book, watching the films, and thinking about the story.
It was also a shame to see how much of the original novel had been omitted or had been changed significantly, when comparing it with the 2012 film. I still found the book and the film spooky – and I’ve watched The Woman In Black multiple times because for me, it has the right level of paranormal horror without the use of obscene scenes or gruesome violence. A horror film for “the whole family”, if you like. The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death was a huge disappointment – without a novel to be based on this time, it fell into the usual tropes of horror films, the characters seemed two-dimensional and I was just not impressed.
In 1st place is: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Another American classic set in The Great Depression (a clear theme … I think I’ve just worked out the syllabus I must have been studying). Of Mice and Men is about George Milton and Lennie Small, two ranch workers who migrate across America in search of a new job and achieving the “American Dream”.
I really loved reading this book! Lennie is my favourite character, because he is loving and sweet, and evokes so much sympathy from the reader, but I could also identify with George’s snappy, bossy attitude. Lennie and George’s relationship is amazing; it just works. The use of animal imagery in the novel is really significant and of course, leads to the quote, everyone remembers: ‘“Tell me about the rabbits George.”’
I also loved the 1992 film adaptation starring Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie), who were both superb in their roles. The ending of the novel is really powerful and emotional (excuse me as I wipe away a tear). A very deserving 1st place choice – and I’m sure many of you will agree with me.
Sadly, a lot of the books I studied and mentioned on this list will no longer be studied by UK children anymore due to significant changes in the syllabus.
Read more about it here: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/25/mockingbird-mice-and-men-axed-michael-gove-gcse.
What did you think of my list? Share some opinions below! Day #4 of the My Life In Books Challenge will be uploaded at the same time tomorrow – see you then!