The dreaded school reading list

Frequent readers of this blog may have seen me say before that while I adore reading, I don’t hold a lot of love for the so-called ‘literary classics’. The kind of stuff that you have to stick on your reading list in secondary school to pass your literary exams. Well, you do in the Netherlands at least; I don’t really know how it works in other countries. As a result you might think that it would be quite hard for me to give you the next book in my 26-week-book-challenge, which is my favourite classic book.

The thing with the classics is that they are often dramas, or socio-political commentaries or other depressing stuff with sad endings, while I like my books to have happy endings. I also like epic stuff and magic and other races and prophecies and underdogs saving the world and…

Well, in short, I like Fantasy for its epicness, Romance for its happy endings and Science Fiction because it’s sort of like Fantasy really. There is a very big audience for literary classics, or even contemporary literary fiction, but I’m just not part of it. For my English reading list in secondary school I remember reading Cal (can’t remember even one thing about it other than the title), Lord of the Flies (oh God that’s one of the most nasty, depressing books I’ve ever read), Wuthering Heights (something about Heathcliff and Cathy and desolate moors, but I mainly remember that from Kate Bush’s song), Life and Loves of a She-Devil (see Cal) and… well, I could go on. Actually, I couldn’t, because I don’t remember any of the others. The best book I managed to put on my list was The Lord of the Rings. Basically, out of a list of around fifty books I had to read across three languages (English, Dutch and German), there are two which I have read more than once. One was the aforementioned Tolkien classic, and the other was Patrick Süskind’s Perfume.

So, classics are not really my cup of tea. But there are, of course, exceptions, and given what I’ve just said I like in my books, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my favourite classic book is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

I didn’t read this book for my literary reading lists, because the original is French, and I dropped French from my list of graduation subjects. The reason I read it was because my parents had this set of abridged versions of adventure classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Three Musketiers. I’m not sure I read all of those, but I did read Monte Cristo, and then when I got older I read the unabridged version.

I believe I have it as a Penguin Classic, though not the actual version pictured here. The good thing about those is all the footnotes that explain things that were commonplace back then, but may puzzle modern readers, but even if you ignore those it’s a fantastic read.

For those of you who have never read this, it it set in France, shortly before Napoleon’s escape from exile on Elba, and it tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a young man of nineteen who looks to have a rosy future ahead of him. He is about to be made captain of his own merchant ship, he is engaged to the beautiful Catalan girl Mercédès and he is well-liked by everyone. Well, almost everyone, for Mercédès has another admirer, who is so jealous of Edmond that he hatches a plan together with two other people to get Edmond out of the way forever. They make it seem like he is a Bonapartist, and for that he gets locked away in the Chateau d’If, a tiny prison island in the harbour of Marseille, from which you only escape in a coffin.

I’m not going to say much more – this is a tale of love, revenge, adventure and forgiveness, and it’s absolutely fantastic. If you’ve never read it, remedy that now, you won’t regret it.



7 thoughts on “The dreaded school reading list

  1. Tina Williams

    I felt exactly the same about school reading lists. Lord of the Flies was on mine too. We also had to read Of Mice and Men and a D H Lawrence selection of short stories which I found so depressing. The only ones I did like reading were Macbeth, as it is so dark and had such great scenes with the witches and Lady Macbeth and some of the Chaucer as its content was quite bawdy which I always appreciate! I believe that there should be far less emphasis on the literary classics at school as it can put children off reading for life unless they are avid readers out of school, which fortunately for me I was.

    I haven’t read The Count of Monte Cristo but I do like the film and the tale.

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      I agree, I believe the emphasis should be more on just getting children to read rather than getting them to read books they’ll hate. I saw someone say that books like that often aren’t appreciated until you’re a lot more mature (maybe I’d really like Lord of the Flies if I read it now!) so there’s no point in forcing teenagers to read them.
      As for Chaucer – I really do need to read the Canterbury Tales sometime!

      1. Tina Williams

        The Canterbury Tales really came alive for me when I saw an amateur theatre production. It was so tongue in cheek and the humour was so earthy – much better than trying to ubderstand the text!

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