Thursday, 21 November 2013

one day; teen angst canon

On Tuesday 12 November I finished reading One Day by David Nicholls.

I had it on the shelves, and it was bumped up the reading list by an exchange of tweets with Andy on this article from the BBC News magazine, 'Is there an 'angst canon' of books that teenagers read?'

Andy had only read a couple of them; when I went through all those mentioned I found I'd read 17 of them, but in most cases, possibly every case, not as a teenager (I had in fact only finished Jane Eyre the previous weekend). I also thought that many of them didn't live up to their reputation, but was aware that that might be because I didn't read them at 'the right time' of life. Some of the books mentioned were clearly 'core' titles, familiar, while others were mentioned in little more than passing and seemed rather tenuous to link to the theme.

One Day was one of those more modern ones mentioned. It didn't seem likely to me that it would be angsty, though it might be sad-romantic at a level, as with some of the others mentioned in the article as more popular among the girls. In fact the article said boys read angsty ones and girls read 'expanding emotion and sensibility' ones.

Anyway, I was prompted to read it, and I read it pretty quickly, and enjoyed it, as I had expected to, though I thought the very end, a partial flashback to the very first day, made the rest of the book much sadder in retrospect, deliberately or not.

Andy had read Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. I had read those - or, at least, the first volume of each. The former I enjoyed, though the set-up and themes were more familiar to me from reading sf/fantasy than they seem to have been to some people, but thought the sequels would be more of the same, so not in any great hurry to read them. The latter was okay, but not good enough to commit to - or be grabbed by - another long fantasy sequence, especially since so much of it was politicking and inter/intrafamilial relationships and treachery which were setting themselves up for long, long workings out of things which you can see are going to happen or go wrong, based on mis/non-communication and deceit, and it would have to be much more engagingly written to make me have the patience for that, and for me not to just get frustrated at people's bad choices and gullibility (which I was already doing).

I had read The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, 1984, The Bell Jar, Catch 22, Clockwork Orange, Wasp Factory, Slaughterhouse Five, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I hadn't read The Trial, Junkie (W S Burroughs), Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Handmaid's Tale, 100 Years Of Solitude, I Capture The Castle, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, three John Green books (The Fault In Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines), and One Day. (On my shelves, as well as One Day, I have I Capture The Castle and 100 Years of Solitude, in both cases bought because they're on must-read lists.)

It quoted one survey saying men liked The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye and Slaughterhouse Five, girls liked Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Handmaid's Tale, while both liked Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird and 100 Years of Solitude.

In a sequence of emails to Andy I said,
'I those + 15 others! #lapofhonour Finished Jane Eyre on Sunday! Much good they did me; would rec few - perhaps read too late?'
- and when he asked which I'd recommend:
'I'd rec Bell Jar & Mockingbird to anyone. If you like SF then 84, Orange, Brave Slaughterhouse all cut it.'
'(Slaughterhouse more WWII, those are the good bits, SF bits will put some off). I have One Day, I expect to like it. #oldromantic'
'Hated Jane Eyre, Wuthering, Catcher, Catch 22, Outsider, Fear/Loathing, Cuckoo. Mostly dullness/horrible characters.'
'Like many 'humorous classics' of previous generations, found Catch 22 simply not funny!'
'I confess 1984 more for its ideas; I did find it a little dull too...'

Only things to add, I think, are that I have a clear memory that To Kill A Mockingbird was definitely one of those I was put off from because I knew people had studied it in school (not that they'd said anything bad about it, just the fact that it was a set text - exactly the same with Lord of the Flies, which I also enjoyed when I did read it), and that I subsequently read I think all of JD Salinger's other books and thought they were great - Catcher in the Rye I just thought was dull and pointless.

Slaughterhouse Five was the only book I read in preparation for university, it having been on the first year English reading list in the sample info they sent, but it wasn't on the list when I actually went.

Wuthering Heights was the first book I wrote an essay on for first year English at university. In a way I wonder if it led to me not carrying on with English, rather than psychology, because I wrote a not very good essay, because I couldn't get past the ridiculous narrative structure, hundreds of pages of reported speech within reported speech within reported speech, as well as just hating the book in general, which got me off on a bad foot with my tutor and we never really recovered from that.