Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another five writers or should that be books?

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!


Michael Farry said...

Soundings was edited by the late
Augustine Martin. There are copies on sale at, seem to be quite expensive for an old textbook.

Liz said...

Yes, I remember Soundings and Exploring English - made an impression, I still have them tucked away in an old suitcase somewhere in our attic!

There seemed to always be a travelling salesman trying to sell us the Encyclopaedia Britannica ...never got one though so the excuse of having to go to town to the libraray always worked : )
Thanks once again for triggering memories...

BarbaraS said...

Ah, Michael, so you're saying that the English fare we had in Our Lady's Grammar School Newry was completely borrowed from the south - I am really intrigued as to why... but I'd say it had a lot to do with our proximity to the border :)

Liz, if you have them tucked away somewhere, do you fancy liberating them for a week or two..?