This time I move from childhood into adolescence, with some of the writers and books I discovered then.
Like Rachel Fox, I too remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird, being part of the curriculum of growing up in Norn Ireland. Harper Lee wrote a novel that convincingly told of a youngster, Scout Finch, growing up in the South of the US and whose father Atticus had taken on what seemed like a no-hope case. The man her father is defending, Tom Robinson, is accused of raping a white girl. The themes of racial discrimination and childhood are so well drawn in this book that I remember racing through it long before our English teacher had got us to finish the book. Deeply affecting at the time, I guess, about thirteen?
In third to fifth year, about fifteen years old, there was a textbook we had in English, which I remember as being called Soundings. Try as I might, I can't locate this on t'net, probably because it's not a terribly original name, or I have it all wrong. Anyway, herein lay poets like Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ted Hughes (oh, how we tittered at Dick Straightup), Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon and many more. I still recall lines from 'The Windhover' and 'Dulce et Decorum Est,' whether I want to or not.
Just as influential was a book called Exploring English, which was an import from the South. In this I read the stories of Frank O'Connor (First Confession, Guests of The Nation), Brian Friel (The Potato Gatherers, A Man's World), Brian MacMahon (The Windows of Wonder) and Sean O'Faolain (Up the Bare Stairs).
Macbeth was a revelation, the way our English teacher showed us - in fact all three, poetry, prose and plays were well handled by Sister Olive, as I remember her. I'm not so good at quoting from Shakespeare by rote (I developed a bit of a phobia against the rote (or rot, as me Mum used to call it) way of learning), but I remember how the words turned, in Sister Olive's patient distillations, into clear drops of understanding that came alive. She has a lot to be thanked for, that lady.
The most important book, in our house at least, was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There's a myth in our house as to why we are missing one volume of this heavy reference book set. One version of it involves a bet, a drinking spree and an inability to pay for that month's edition of the series. Another version of it involves a simple loan-out that was never returned. Whichever it was, I'd often cause to curse the reasons why we hadn't got it, when the index books referred you to M-N... or was it P-Q...? These days, google is so much handier... and just as hard to interpret correctly!