Bookface Book Challenge – Secondary Years


Bookface book challenge: “Ten books that have stayed with you in some way.” 

I’ve extended the challenge to lots of books ‘that have stayed with me in some way’ plus useless cliff-note-style biographical notes. Here are my secondary years.

*Series and Out of Print Books – I read a host of these books in my early teens. Chapters on Middle Abbey Street made a fortune out of my pocket money. Most of these books were American and set in New York and Maine. They probably started my love affair with NYC. Most importantly the OOP ones were from the late 70s/early 80s so they weren’t overly sanitised or too too PC-edited.

*What About Me? by Anonymous – My library of books is, as we speak, on a cargo ship somewhere between Ireland and Australia. I will dig it out and re-read this when it gets here. I loved, and still love this book an enormous amount. It is about a teenage girl who has a brother with Down Syndrome. The writing is raw and honest, and beautiful.

*Circle of Friends by Meave Binchy – This was the first book my Catholic mother knowingly allowed me read with le sexy time in it. She said it was ok I read it because they only referenced the sex but didn’t describe it. I felt like a rock’n’roll star when I was allowed to read this book. Then I read all of Binchy’s and Patricia Scanlon’s. I really enjoyed them. It felt like I was being allowed into the secret world of Irish women when I was all of 14. My mother was very unimpressed that my sister allowed me read Danielle Steel why she was on holidays. Very. My sister got many many demerit big sister points for not censoring my reading better.

*Wild Swans by Jung Chang – There was a sale of work in my secondary school when I was around 15. My best friend Lindsay was in charge of the book stall. I wanted to buy this book but it only cost 20p; because the shorter books were 10p. We called Mr Gallagher over, sometimes librarian and all time French teacher. We said it was too cheap; as it’s a very long book. He goes: “Lauren, will you read this whole book?”. I said: “Yes, I really want to read it”. He goes: “20p, so. Tell me what you think when you’ve finished it.” Then, I became obsessed with China, and wanted to be Chinese.

*The Playboy of The Western World by J.M. Synge – I love Synge. For his style and his turn of phrase – ‘the rusted poison did corrode his blood the way he never overed it, and died after’. He was well-revered in my hometown where we often put on this play in the Milbank Theatre – my spiritual home. I’d still love the chance to play Pegeen Mike.

*Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews – These books were mental. Can’t believe I was let read them. They went way over my head at the time.

*Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – This book is listed solely because I hated it so much, and literally threw it across the room at 17. My mam comes rushing into my bedroom and is all like: “OMGG! What happened?”. And I’m like: “I hate Jane Eyre. Hate her, hate her.” And she goes in pure Irish Mammy style: “That’s good you’re engaging with literature.” And, leaves me too it.

*All of Jane Austen – I also had a violent reaction to Jane Austen. And, pretty much all the ‘classic’ female writers. Bleugh. I couldn’t understand how these women were feminists; when they were so wet and sappy. I appreciate them more as I age though. Emily Brontë was the bomb – good bit of guts and verve in her. Emily is my idol.

*Oedipus Rex by Sophocles – I got an award for Classical Studies. The only academic award I ever got – Lindsay got them all. But she didn’t do Classics – hah. I loved all of the Greek and Roman stuff (except maybe The Peleponessian War – because it went on forever). I’m picking Oedipus as my fav, but The Medea and Prometheus Bound are hot on its tail. I much preferred The Odyssey to The Iliad.

*An Phiast I don’t know if words can express how much I hated this short story. We had to read it for the Irish Leaving Cert, but in 5th Year (Year 11) my class had 3 different Irish teachers in the space of a month. They all made us read this story, the same story, 3 times in the same month. Line by line, aloud, in class – hours of my life wasted. I wanted to shoot myself. It was the most boring story I had ever read. In any language. And the way the teachers would explain it to us like we were amoebas. Bah! I couldn’t have cared less about the meek man and his terrible marriage. I was 17. An Phiast – The Worm. The last sentence of this story is: The worm has turned. Never say that idiom to me. You have been warned.

*Soundings ed Augustine Martin – This anthology of poems deserves its own posting. TBA.

*The Complete Works of Shakespeare – After having the most boring English Lit teacher on the entire planet for Junior Cert – 3 years this woman dictated essays to us and we simply wrote them down verbatim, every single day, for 3 years – it’s a more of a surprise to me that I love Shakespeare than it ever will be to you. We read and wrote about Julius Caesar for 6 months. That was a long 6 months. I wanted everyone in Ancient Rome to die – just so I didn’t have to read it any more. I saw a stage adaptation of JC recently @adelaidefest in Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies. I loved it; even in Dutch. I am a major fan of Othello and the sonnets. In uni I was a player in a group that staged Shakespeare in Aberystwyth Castle ruins – the only way to stage Shakespeare. I often employ cadence in my writing, I owe a lot to Shakes.

*The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde – I did my Leaving Cert History Special Topic on the Oscar Wilde trials. I got to hang out in the National Library reading room on Kildare Street nerdishly gorging on Wildeisms for months. Ask me anything about ‘posing’ as a ‘somdomite’ [sic.] it’s all still singed into my memory.

*Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – This book changed my life. One of my BFFs Eoghan read this around Leaving Cert time. And kept quoting it incessantly. Because I was aware that he would spoil this book for me forever if I did not read it myself in double-time; I did. I think this is one of the best books ever written in the history of writing. It is a work of genius. You must read it. This book taught me that it’s ok to laugh at the most terrible things in life, and the world. That levity is not essentially disrespectful, and really does help get you through. It also taught me to believe in hope, when I’ve felt hopeless. It has always stayed with me. Yossarian and I are kindred spirits.

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