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Graham Davies

Worst and best set books

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I’m starting a new thread along the lines of the threads devoted to poems and novels that appear in another section of this forum. This one is entitled “Worst and best set books”. Looking back on my school and university days, I have come to realise that most of the books that I had to read for my A-level examinations in German and French and university examinations were absolutely awful – completely unsuitable for a 16—22 year-old and the kind of literature that I would never choose to read as a mature adult. Among these books there were a few that have left a lasting impression on me. I’m going to kick off the thread with:

Worst: Kleist’s “Michael Kohlhaas” (an A-level set text). Impossibly difficult language and a theme that I have never been able to relate to.

Best: Camus’ “La peste” (an A-level set text). Gripping story, difficult language but well worth the effort to read in the original French.

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The worst A-level book was definitely "Was dir nicht angehört" by Manfred Hausmann. I don't know how a text so shallow by such an obscure author came to be published by a British educational publishing company. I am even more surprised that a chief examiner for A-level German thought it worthy of being set as a prescribed text. I am still annoyed that one of my A-level German teachers considered it suitable for the sixth-form class of which I was a member. In my 1960s grammar school, we had no say whatsoever in which listed books were to be read.

The best book was definitely Thomas Mann's "Tonio Kröger". At the age of 17 this book proved a linguistic and intellectual challenge, but well worth the effort required. It taught me to celebrate diversity, which is at the heart of the work I now do as a special educational needs teacher. I've often regretted that I have never had the opportunity to teach this Novelle to my own A-level students when I taught sixth formers during the 1970s and 1980s.

I could go on about the prescribed French and German texts I encountered at university, but I'll leave it there for the moment.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com

Edited by David Wilson

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For me, the worst was definitely works from Grillparzer

the best poetry - probably Old High German love poems - thier simplicity appeals

Best Novel - probably Tonio Kröger, but Der Butt ran it close.

Chris

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"Tonio Kröger" - Yes, read it at university enjoyed it thoroughly, also "Der Tod in Venedig". I enjoyed German Novellen in general - short, readable and great stories. Storm's "Der Schimmelreiter" left a lasting impression - haunting story!

I enjoyed the Middle High German epics at university: "Parzival", "Tristan und Isold", "Nibelungenlied" - great yarns!

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Dear David

I clicked on your website and was interested to see that you teach at Harton College in South Shields. That was my partner's high school and he went to the big reunion there a couple of years ago. He is extremely nostalgic about South Shields and we go back every couple of years from Australia. I'm afraid I can't share his nostaligia, having been born in Huddersfiled.

As for set books - what about in English at high school and Uni? I am so glad I was introduced to DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and I adored Tristram Shandy and Pamela in the "early novels" unit, but could never take to Henry James or Melville or Scott Fitgerald, but I suppose I'm grateful that I was made to read them, which is more than what happens nowadays.

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Jean:

>you teach at Harton College in South Shields.<

The school changed its name in September 2004 to "Harton Technology College". I began teaching there in 1971 when it was "South Shields Grammar Technical School for Boys".

>That was my partner's high school and he went to the big reunion there a couple of years ago. He is extremely nostalgic about South Shields and we go back every couple of years from Australia.<

The official school website at http://www.harton-tc.co.uk/ is still a pretty modest affair, but I wonder whether he knows about ex-pupil Mike Todd's excellent and nostalgic website about the school at http://www.boyshighschool.co.uk/? He may even be in one of the photographs posted on the site!

>I'm afraid I can't share his nostaligia, having been born in Huddersfiled.<

Nothing wrong with Huddersfield. For one thing, it was the constituency of Harold Wilson, whose name came in useful in 1968-69 during my year as an English Language Assistant at the lycée d'état mixte in Thiers, France's "capitale du tourisme et de la coutellerie" in the Auvergne. Whenever I had to give my name, the invariable reaction was one of puzzlement. I soon learned to say "Wilson, comme le premier ministre britannique", which instantly elicited comprehension and a smile. So I have reason to be grateful to dear old Harold and the constituents who elected him.

David

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

Edited by David Wilson

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