Following the announcement that education secretary Michael Gove plans to remove authors such as Harper Lee and John Steinbeck from the English GCSE syllabus, the Guardian asked cultural figures such as Hanif Kureishi, Mary Beard, Will Self and Hilary Mantel to select the set texts that they would make mandatory.
Hilary Mantel asks; ‘Why should students be condemned to thrash to death a novel or a corpus of poetry, week after week, month after month? No novel was ever penned to puzzle and punish the young. Plays are meant to be played at. Poetry is not written for Paxmanites. Literature is a creative discipline, not just for writer but for reader. Is the exam hall its correct context?’
Philip Hensher, author of The Emperor Waltz, chose The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing, saying; ‘I don’t think we should be teaching very contemporary stuff – a novelist publishing now ought to be read for pleasure, not as an essay subject. A reader who has come across the great period of the English short story is going to have some standards when it comes to reading his or her contemporaries. And no translations.’
Alan Johnson chose Wolf Hall; ‘It’s going to be on the syllabus eventually, why not now?’
On Will Self’s prospective syllabus texts was Running Wild by JG Ballard; ‘Ballard’s novella-length account of bored and disaffected teenagers destroying their affluent homes in an orgy of violence will speak to the politically disengaged and anomic youth of today; it will also be a gateway literary drug, exciting their sensibilities to the nightmare marriage of sex, death and technology that Ballard saw as integral to the modern world.’
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