Year 12 English Literature books

by | Jan 6, 2011

Prompted by a Facebook status by the wonderful writer Cassandra Golds (who also does a mean line in reposting my favourite 70s songs), I found that I was able to instantly recall my year 12 Lit reading list (not sure what the equivalent of Lit is in other states):

A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene
Wuthering Heights, Emile Bronte
John Donne
e e cummings
Antony and Cleopatra
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Ray Lawler

Because I was two years older than my contemporaries, by the time I got to year 12 I had done a lot of reading, but Literature taught me the rudiments of analysis and gave me a taste of what deep and studious reading of a text could reveal.  I loved e e cummings’ layered criticisms of The World and the joyousness of his word-plays; I loathed Summer of the Seventeeth Doll because I couldn’t relate to its middle-aged disillusionment and I found the obviousness of the language – after cummings and Shakespeare – tedious.  A shame, given it was the only Australian title on the list (and I had no problem with the disillusionment in A Burnt-Out Case).  Donne’s witty conceits amused me; the excessive, Gothic passions of Bronte were both thrilling and alien (though I was glad to finally understand what Kate Bush was singing about!)

The things I remember most from year 12 Literature were the conversations we had in class: I had never before experienced the pleasure of communal reading and discussion (I did year 11 by correspondence), and I loved the way the interrogation of characters, themes, story, and language let us all examine, dismantle and reassemble our assumptions, beliefs and reactions.  It was a taste of what was to come at university, and I was hooked.

It was also the first time that I tackled Shakespeare – in my early teens I was addicted to the Sonnets, but studying Antony and Cleopatra made me realise that Shakespeare repaid close attention: even if I didn’t understand every word, I could hear the music and get the gist.  (I mention this because there was some comment about the value of kids doing ‘difficult’ texts).

Incidentally, I read a lot from what was then on the year 11 and 12 course lists before I was in year 11 and 12, probably because they were the novels in second-hand shops: The Bell JarBrave New WorldThe Collector.  But I also developed aversions that kept me from some great work until much later: The Great Gatsby (I didn’t like the title), anything by Ernest Hemingway (overexposure), Jane Austen (I didn’t learn to love her until my 30s), Steinbeck (apart from Mice and Men), Gwen Harwood (because her name was Gwen).

What did you have to read at school – did it set off any lifelong passions (or aversions?)

Should we give kids the hard stuff, or should they be left to discover it on their own?

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