If you could choose one book as a mandatory read for all high school students, which book would you choose?

 

So the Amazon Kindle Fire is an amazing thing, isn’t it? I feel somewhat blasphemous writing this on my macbook, knowing that the Fire was cause of much pain for iPad sales last Christmas, but since indulging myself in January I have barely passed a full day without switching it on. In fact, my addiction is such that I probably use it to check my email and facebook more that I use my laptop. However, non-literary indiscretions aside, I purchased the Kindle Fire as a means to reignite my love of reading, and it hasn’t been a disappointment.

Truthfully, I have been a little let down that some of the books I would like to read are not available in the kindle store (can I get a petition started for LOTR, please?), but for the most part I have been able to read many books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read for fear of stepping foot in a shop. It’s a sad reflection, really, that I absolutely loathe shopping as an adult. I used to adore bookshops with a passion, and would come out armed with volumes of fiction that I would read in a matter of days. Now it’s all coffee and magazines, expensive stationary and iPhone cases and teenagers loping through the aisles searching for the bathrooms.

Purchasing the Fire was a true test of “what is my favourite book”, translated, in e-form, to “which book do I want to download first”. Those that know me won’t be surprised by the fact that after a few minutes and some clumsy finger clicks, my fresh-out-of-the-box Kindle had a brand-spanking-wonderful version of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ on it. It’s my absolute favourite, made more special by the fact that I read it whilst in high school, and it ignited a romanticism in me that I would have imagined crazy before. I even had a reading from it at my wedding.

I would dearly love to make everyone in the world read ‘Wuthering Heights’, but only if I could make them see it the way I see it, which, let’s face it, is unlikely. Any work of fiction carries the risk of personal taste and interpretation. Let’s take Joseph Keller’s modern day classic, ‘Catch 22’. I read this in high school too, and I hated it. I don’t know that I even got to the end. I thoroughly bored me – me, who read Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ when I was 10. I tossed it on my heaving bookshelf with contempt and never gave it a second thought, where it lay discarded until my sister picked it up. That very copy of ‘Catch 22’ still graces her shelf, it has travelled around the world with her, and is now bound together with electrical tape from being thumbed through and read so many times.

I think that my point on fiction has been made clear: you can’t prescribe it. Being told you have to read this book, is a sad temptation for fate to make certain you hate it.

So, back to the question, if I could make all high school students read one book, what would it be? I’m tempted to say “the dictionary” in a derisive tone, as it appears most people could benefit from the read. But I’ll give a proper response.

And here is my answer: Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.

But wait, it’s a work of fiction, isn’t it? Well, probably (although I like to imagine Eeyore really does roam gloomily through the English woods), but it’s not fiction in the same way. The one wish I have for teenagers, as I see them teetering around in their high heels and tweeting pictures of their iPhones, is that they could reconnect with their childhoods. I would love the idea of a group of teenagers united by the beautiful illustrations by E. H. Shepherd, drawing parallels between their friends and the enthusiastic Tigger or the ever-loyal and unquestioning Piglet. Rather than focusing on lust and torment, like ‘Wuthering Heights’, or the horrors of war and politics, like ‘Catch 22’, A. A. Milne focuses only on the values of friendship, imagination, and innocence. It is a book that we could all benefit from falling in love with – a book that reminds adults that we were children once, and that could possibly, very possibly, remind our children – because teenagers are still children – that they can still believe.

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