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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When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?

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Ah. A question about talking. Perhaps one of my specialties. I talk a lot, as I have previously disclosed; normally my talking is a sign of nervousness, or my deep rooted shyness, but can also be a tool I use to fill the silence. I hate silence, and not just because of Doctor Who (whovians unite, everyone else scratch their heads).

But seriously, silence is something that I crave and hate simultaneously – it’s one of the complex layers of my fascinating personality. I grew up in a loud household in the middle of fields. Basically, a cell of silence with a nucleus of very loud noise. Silence in my house meant one of two things: a) there has been a major fight, or b) you’re the only person within earshot of yourself. The latter was the most common, and the most terrifying. I had recurring nightmares of being alone in the house and burglars breaking in. But that’s a story for another time, another time with wine.

The point of my digression is simply to punctuate the point that I am not a quiet person. As the result of being “a talker”, I am positively irritated by the stereotype that people that chatter are ignorant, or that ignorant people chatter. I have found neither of these things to be true. I actually think educated people find it impossible to not express their opinion, often taking many extra minutes of everyone’s time to ensure that their entire audience is sufficiently informed. This takes a lot of speaking. I find that, mid conversation, most people that don’t understand what is being discussed just sit there baffled. Verbal diarrhea is the curse of the educated, not the uneducated.

So, moving swiftly one from that, probably pointless, assertion, the question remains: what is wrong, or right, about talking?

Today’s question seems to indicate that saying, rather than doing, is the lesser action. This actually really pisses me off (excuse my language), as a lover of literature and history. Our world has been thought out, assembled, destroyed, and salvaged by the tongues of great public speakers. Cicero, Shakespeare, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King, Jr are men whose words have changed the fabric of the modern world.

Shakespeare, it has controversially been alleged, was actually illiterate, and dictated all of his plays to actors in his troupe. In fact, many of his plays were not written down for several years. The same is true for the ever-enigmatic Homer, of Odyssey and Iliad fame, whose epic poems were sung from generation to generation, and whose very existence has been questioned. Pause and imagine it, especially if you have ever read those marvellous texts out loud: these songs were powerful enough to last thousands of years, influence almost every famous work of literature since, and even maybe give life to a man that never existed.

When Adolf Hitler took to the stage, he would wait in silence for up to an hour before speaking on some occasions. The mere anticipation of his speeches created uncontrollable frenzy in the crowds, causing people to faint even before he uttered a word. The effects of his ability to influence through his words has left a scar on society that seventy years of actions has been unable to remedy.

When Winston Churchill told the world that we will fight them on the beaches, fight them in the streets, never surrender, he projected the words with such a sense of magnificence and gravitas that everyone who heard him agreed. By that point, the prime minister was at an age where being able to physically fight on behalf of his country was not an option, but by talking to his population he was able to salvage a massively diminished and terrified army. This is not to discredit his military service in the first world war, which was also a huge testament to his character, I just personally believe that the words he spoke in the 1940s killed more enemy soldiers than the bullets he fired in the 1920s.

Finally, Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the history of the world with his incredibly famous speech. Even in the future, when I hope we have reached a point where his gender, race, or creed do not distinguish him, he will be remembered for his words. His speech, although directed to a specific group during a specific sociopolitical time, has transcended that moment and become universal. Before I even knew that much about the civil rights movement in north America, I knew Dr. King’s speech. The actions of the movement I learned about over a decade later: the protests, the riots, the tenacity and the very real fear. Even though these moments are important, and should be remembered, the movement had a voice, and it’s words went “I have a dream”.

By now I’m sure my point in clear. I want to be remembered for my words. I want to be a writer, I want for children to read my books aloud to their siblings or in their classrooms. Although I feel as though today’s question is meant to be a call to action for lazy protesters or people already remorseful that their New Years Eve diet is kaput, I think my answer is: Yes, I hope I will have said more than I have done. I want my words to matter.

In the words of the ever-poignant Belle and Sebastian:

Said the hero in the story:
“it is mightier than swords
I could kill you, sure,
but I could only make you cry with these words”

Would you break the law to save a loved one?

This question astounds me, simply because I struggle to conceive of an answer other than “of course”. Now, I’m not saying I would break EVERY law to save a loved one, or that I think it is right to break the law to save a loved one. I’m just saying I would do it. Just like jumping into a river to save a someone that is drowning – as a proficient swimmer I would know the risks associated, but every fibre of my body would throw me into that water. I couldn’t just sit and watch someone drown, I would honestly rather die trying to save them.

The idea of breaking the law to “save” a loved one is an interesting one. I’m assuming the questions is really designed around the concept of killing or hurting someone that is threatening a person that you care about, rather than, say, crossing a street illegally to tell a friend they are about to fall down a manhole. But then, acting in self defense isn’t actually a crime. So I think I’d need further clarification on exactly what thoughts – I’d be interested in other peoples opinon. What laws do you imagine having to break to save a loved one?

Beyond that, there isn’t really anything else I can say, except that I would do anything possible to save someone that I care about. I would also, I imagine, suffer from a terrible vengeful streak should the time arrive. I have no pretences of a Robin Hood style role for myself – I would probably turn myself over to the police if I were to do something like that. But if anyone did anything to take my family away from me, I would happily do the time in prison. My husband doesn’t think that I would actually think this way in that situation, but I’m pretty sure I would. He doesn’t have siblings, he doesn’t “get” it.

I think that, as a person, I would be so damaged if I stood by and watched something terrible happen without trying everything within my power to aid or resist it. The people that I love sustain who I am, and contribute to my sanity, peace of mind, and outlook on society. If someone takes that away from me, I’m a goner anyway.

Of course, I am saying all of this at a point in my life when I have no dependents (except the hubs, but I’m sure he could survive without me…. just). I know that those people fortunate enough to have children would probably approach this differently – that anything that risks jeopardising their life, freedom, or health would be an impossible option. Their choice is keeping the law to save and protect loved ones. It’s a similar responsibility.

I really am interested in other people’s responses to this question. Maybe it’s not so black and white to everyone else – I’ve been accused to incredible recklessness in my life, so maybe this choice is one that wouldn’t make sense to other people.

 

incidentally, adding tags to this post made me laugh my head off: Crime, Murder, Illegal, and Revenege were all added. I hope I’m not on some watch list now)

If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

Let’s preface this entry with a widely known small fact about me – my family are teachers. All of them. I grew up in a converted Victorian school “The Old School House” – literally, the “old school” house, not the “old school house”. That’s a common mistake. People looked at it and said “if that was the school house, where was the school”, and always said, “in the lounge, study, my bedroom and my parents bedroom”. One big schoolroom full of Victorian school children learning Victorian things. When I was a child we had some of the old school desks with the heavy wooded lids and the ink wells stacked up in the back of the shed. It was marvelous, really, to think about it now – but back then, to me, it was a very normal house.

My parents are both educated people. My dad has more letters after his name than I even remember, and my Mummy is one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, having dedicated over forty years to the sport. My wonderful twin sister spent some time teaching in Africa, and is now starting her teaching career in England. A lot of people, including myself, assumed that I’d become a teacher too. I even got accepted into one of the best education courses, but decided not to go. It wasn’t my passion at that time, and I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from someone who really wanted it.

People have said I’m a very altruistic person for the way that I think, but I don’t see it that way – I think that everyone should always encourage others to follow their passions and dreams, and by giving my spot to someone else I felt as though I was encouraging that nameless person to achieve their dreams, giving them the gift of a happy day when they found out they had been accepted, and giving countless children the gift of a truly passionate teacher for the next forty years. All children should be taught by teachers that have passion, it is the most important “secret ingredient” to learning.

So what am I passionate about? What would I teach? The natural choice, and what I was supposedto go and teach, was literature. Of course I love it, I’ve breathed it since I was three years old, and I would love to whip generations of young readers into a frenzy over favourite characters that would stay close to them always like friends. I’d also like to teach classics. I think this is residual from my experience of having a very passionate teacher – Mr Chappell – who taught me classics with such fervour that I felt it was impossible to not love the subject. I still get excited by classical topics and themes, often hearing his spry cockney accent jumping in the back of my head.

But hold on… (and here’s the REAL point of my post)… don’t we all teach something every day? Don’t our actions, words, and attitudes teach people things about ourselves, our families, our cultures? “OF COURSE” I hear you shout in unison, “Of course that is what we do!”. Yes, we are all teachers, or promoters, whichever you prefer. I would rather think of myself standing a front a room full of studious young adults than yelling about coupons over a microphone, so I’m going to choose the label TEACHER.

And what do I teach? Well, I hope that I will teach people tolerance and diversity. This is the one thing that I feel as though I need to teach to most of the people who I meet. There is so much prejudice in the world, so much ignorance and fear, it’s frightening. I was lucky to be raised in a pretty open minded household, my parents didn’t use derogatory language towards any group or country, and were well travelled. My school taught me the differences in religion, and assigned equal time to learn about each religion, including Christianity. I thought this was normal. And I was wrong,seriously wrong.

This week there has been a photograph of two male soldiers embracing after one returns from deployment, and it has rocked the internet. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but for a group of people who are educated enough to read, write, and use a computer… most people are just so cruel. Whatever happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”. We live in a world of education and knowledge, where it’s pretty safe to say that any human being can look at any other human being and say “oh look, we’re both humans, we’re made the same, we’re 99.9999999999999% genetically similar”. Why do we struggle to understand and accept people for their diversities and choices?

I look at the world and I see human beings. Some do things that others disagree with – few do terrible things to harm one or many people. I know people find it hard to forgive other people or to find reason for their actions, but it’s just not helpful to blame their race, gender, social status, sexuality, or religion. Nobody learns anything from these messages, only hate and fear.

When my children (the ones I don’t have yet) grow up I want them to say that I taught them never to hate anyone, never to judge people, and to be always thoughtful about other people’s life experiences. Sometimes, by trying to set the example and teach others something, we make ourselves better at it in the process. Like speaking French, which I can’t do anymore but the people I tutored can; I don’t want my point of view to become like my french – broken, not beautiful.

What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?

I think that to answer this question I need to think about myself a year ago. Realistically, not much have changed. I weigh the same, do the same job, drive the same car, hang out with the same people. 2011 was a static year for me (I think 2012 will be MUCH better). I think that I didn’t really aim for anything in 2011, I just allowed myself to exist as I was. I don’t feel bad about it, I think I’ve achieved a lot in my life by comparison to a lot of people, and I think I just needed a break from improving. If anything, I probably let myself slip a little.

Actually, 2011 is the first year of my life that I seriously considered seeing a psychiatrist, getting some counseling of some sort. Yeah, that was kind of a low.

However, I think I became better acquainted with myself. More honest. I’ve definitely become more willing to stand up for myself, more honest about what I want and what I think is unfair.

Today, I can stand and look in the mirror and be honest about my faults:  I need to lose about 20lbs, I’m tempestuous, prone to laziness, and messy; I can also be honest about my good points: I have great hair, I’m a very loving and loyal friend, and I really do make the best tea in the world. I can also admit when I’m wrong (well, sometimes), or when I’m hurting. I don’t have to pretend everything is okay all of the time anymore.

Maybe it’s not anything remarkable, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, all things considered. And I really do think that 2012 may be one of the great years of my life.