You probably all remember your Leaving Cert, and in particular all the English classes that you sat through. The hours you’ve spent reading and analysing boring old texts and learning about ancient people with quills and crazy morbid obsessions. Freshers who are not studying English anymore and who are just over the exam stress probably want to never touch a novel or poetry book ever again after the torture of sixth year. I get it, I really do. Your teachers probably traumatised you, with their monotonous voices, tedious assignments and weird lingo. But have you ever thought about why you read these texts, and not others? There is actually a very simple reason. No matter how pointless you found them and how little impact they may have had on you, they are actually pretty great. I’m not joking. They really are!
The real struggle with reading literature in secondary school is being forced to speed read and write essays on texts purely for the sake of getting enough points for your dream course. The lessons are entirely based on the end exam and memorising enough quotes to please the examiner. The simple appreciation of the books and poems is not what matters in secondary education, because of the lack of time and the other priorities. But now that you are in college, and with more freedom in your choice of reading material, it could actually be a good idea to come back to these texts (or even read them for the first time) and discover why they are so loved and worshiped. In between your chemistry lectures and the stress of assignment deadlines, you might even find them inspiring or entertaining. Or at the very least see them as a good escape, as opposed to an excruciating chore.
Throughout the academic year here at The UCC Express, I will be running a short segment on books or writers that you may have heard of during your secondary school education and give you my thoughts as to why you should be reading them. Each issue will feature particular books, plays or writers that are either currently on the Leaving Cert course or that are classics frequently read in a young person’s teenage years. If you are unhappy with my choice and think that the book that I have picked is an unreadable disgrace, make sure to let me know why. Literature is not just dead words on a page, but a conversation starter!
Let’s discuss our first novel. This week, I will be discussing a book often taught in the senior cycle, and a classic of American literature, John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’. Of Mice and Men is set in California during the great depression of the 1930s and was originally published in 1937. With just a little over 100 pages, this book may not seem like much, but in reality, it is the perfect book. It is short and to the point. The writing is rather simple and none of it is unnecessary. A window into the life of a group of people unable to express themselves for various reasons, it mostly deals with the theme of loneliness and how everybody longs not for great things, but just to have somebody around to talk to. John Steinbeck’s storytelling skills are exceptional and his vision of the world and of people is precise. He was able to express so much in very little words. If its themes and poignant ending are not reason enough for you to like this book, then his narrative capability should be.
Of Mice and Men is a simple and natural read. This book will touch you like no other and will make you wish that your morning commute was just that little bit longer so that you could finish it in one sitting. And if you are not a big reader, this is an amazing book to begin with. It is filled with tension and emotions throughout, while at the same time being concise enough to be read quickly and by everyone.
This segment will be back in two weeks, albeit in a shorter format. In the next issue, we will have a look at the most productive, most intriguing, and often misunderstood American poet, Emily Dickinson, and how her poetry is not just to be appreciated by English teachers and reclusive existentialist teens.