Monday, 23 February 2009

Culture shock

Yesterday I stumbled across – in an envelope in a box in a wardrobe, along with hundreds of letters saved by my mother – a handwritten page entitled ‘Books Read in The Last Year’. I was 11 or 12 or 13 when I wrote this page, certainly no older. Here’s the list:

HMS Ulysses – Alistair Maclean
Casebook of Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle
War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
Alexander the Great
The Jungle is Neutral – Spencer-Chapman
Ben Hur – Lew Wallace
The White South – Hammond Innes
Sands of Dunkirk – Collier
Elephant Bill
One Man and his Dog
Travels of a Donkey in the Cevennes – R. L. Sevenson
He Went with Wellington
El Cid
The Gun – C. S. Forester
The Ship – C. S. Forester
Lord Hornblower – C. S. Forester
The Commodore – C. S. Forester
(and 6 others by Forester)
King Solomon’s Mines – Rider Haggard
The Yellow God – Rider Haggard
Collected Dog Stories – Kipling
Adventures of Gerard – Conan Doyle
The Eagle of the Ninth – Sutcliffe
Courts of the Morning – Buchan
The Wooden Horse – Williams
The Three Hostages – Buchan
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Oliver Twist – Dickens
Blanket of the Dark – Buchan
The Lion
Our Mutual Friend – Dickens
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo
Julius Caesar – Shakespeare
Macbeth – Shakespeare
Henry V – Shakespeare
White Fang – Jack London
The Scarlet Plague – Jack London
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Scarlet Pimpernel – Orczy

Phew. It’s a boy’s list. It’s the list of a middle-class-early 60s-white-boy-who’s-had-a-keen-English-teacher. (James Birdsall, brother of the TW3 cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, who – James – married the handicrafts teacher, Miss McGee; and Miss Lee.) Just two women writers, and only one book that was intentionally written for ‘children’ or even ‘young adults’. But I’ll forgo the cultural essay because right now it’s more than enough that I can see the covers of many of these books (Pan Books, 2/6) and the print on the page, I can almost touch and smell them, and when I wander into the bedroom of one of my sons (aged 17; the dust gathering on early Harry Potters and the odd Philip Pullman, he hasn’t read a book for years) I’m in a time warp.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

How delightful, CB, you brainy-bright boyo, you. And Shakespeare too. That explains a thing or two about Jenny et al.

Andrew Blackman said...

That's quite a list! Must have been wonderful for you to find it again.

I was struck by how none of the books were contemporary. Perhaps I missed some - a few of the writers I hadn't heard of. But overwhelmingly they are 19th or early 20th century writers. I think children today would read new, current books (and also ones written specifically for children).

I was about to draw lots more sociological conclusions, but I suppose it's not really valid to do so based on one boy's reading list! Thanks for posting it anyway - very interesting.