3 – Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

romeo_and_juliet_brown

In my humble opinion the text of Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story ever written. To my students it’s just the tale of two frustrated kids who would have both survived if they’d had Facebook.

I know that there is very little that can be said about Romeo and Juliet that hasn’t already been spouted by a bunch of academics as well as generations of spotty GCSE students. This play is timeless, it is still relevant in 2017 and features some of the most beautiful lines of poetry in the English language.

Some Shakespeare fanatics will argue that he wrote better plays. Maybe. I can see the appeal of Hamlet, King Lear or parts of Richard III. Real hard-core Shakespeare bods will tell me that I should have picked Henry IV, Part 1, Coriolanus or Titus Andronicus. Do you know what I say to them? Nothing because I’m too busy biting my thumb in their direction right now.

What I love about Romeo and Juliet is that it’s a Shakespeare play that’s got it all. It’s a love story. It’s a tale of friendship, loyalty, conflict and fate. Some might even argue that it’s Shakespeare’s attempt at an Elizabethan Rom-com.

Forget the city of Paris, I say honeymoon in Verona with your loved-one instead. Go to the balcony that was said to have inspired the story. You can climb the stairs and stand on it, whilst your better half stays outside and looks up longingly in your direction.

I know some of you will be quick to tell me that Romeo and Juliet doesn’t count as a book in the same way that a tomato isn’t really a vegetable. Well I say a plague o’ both your houses you whining mammet!

 

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4 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

charlieIn this era of Harry Potter mania it still seems inconceivable that children and parents read anything that didn’t contain characters called Harry, Hermione, Ron and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  But I still believe in poor, poor Charlie Bucket and the greatest journey from rags to riches of them all.

Sorry JK but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the greatest children’s book of all time and Roald Dahl one of the greatest authors.

Read that book again. You’ll thank me for it! It’s so easy to slip back into a world of Wonka bars, golden tickets, chocolate rivers, everlasting gobstoppers and singing oompa loompas.

I still remember that excitement when Charlie found a stray coin in the snow. He buys two bars. The first disappoints, but the second becomes this euphoric moment when he slowly peels back the packaging to find the final shiny golden ticket. This one moment sums up the beauty of the book. This is a book for underdogs and dreamers.

OK, I admit that I still feel sorry for Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregard. We live in a world now that struggles to compete with the allure of smartphones, video games and the possibilities of virtual reality escapism. It makes me fear for a whole generation who might end up just like Mike Teevee.

My two children are now four and two. My eldest has started reading. Each evening he works through the mock-heroic stories of Biff and Kipper but I know what he’s working towards. I know what’s coming and love that he doesn’t. He’s only a few years away and I want to tell him about it all like Grandpa Joe tells Charlie.

Do you know what? I might even go upstairs right now and wake him up, just to let him know that it really is true, “that Mr Willy Wonka is the most amazing, the most fantastic, the most extraordinary chocolate maker the world has ever seen! I thought everybody knew that.”

5 – Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

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In honour of World Book Day on Thursday, I have decided to compile a list of 5 books/novels that I would save instead of myself, if this world depended upon it.

It would ensure that these books were safe and continued to be read, whilst I exploded into tiny bits, happy in the knowledge that I did my bit for the future of mankind.

The first book I would save has to be a Steinbeck novel. I love him. I love his stories. He grew up in the Salinas valley, surrounded by the Gabilan Mountains, a few miles south of Soledad, etc… I grew up in Sutton. His characters went on epic journeys, on the brink of starvation with all of their belongings and family members stacked on the back of a rickety waggon. I used to get the 154 from Carshalton Beeches to Croydon with my free bus pass.

On a different day I might have saved `Of Mice and Men` or `East of Eden` or perhaps stuck them together with Pritt Stick to make one super book about `The Great Depression` and itinerant life in 1930s America.

What I love about Steinbeck is that he loved words and he clearly loved description. He loved dialogue and he loved characters. Yes, he could have edited his work a bit more and perhaps slimmed it down a bit, but I love his bloated and gluttonous description.

The Grapes of Wrath is both indulgent and essential. It’s like having a golden toilet in your bathroom.

If you want to know about the plot – then read the book. It won’t disappoint. The end is still the most beautiful and haunting piece of literature that I’ve ever read.

E/F

Students take a university entrance examination at a lecture hall in the Andalusian capital of Seville

You’re going to fail

and we’ve always known.

 

We never talked letters or scores

but instead, for two short years played our roles.

 

Until once upon a time

you were sat in a hall

 

and as your eyes roamed the pages

you realised that the questions were like strangers.

 

Your answer sheet was curved, a paper bird

to be freed and not weighed down with words.

 

So you rested your pen for good,

in the canyon between two worried sheets

 

And then your table was still

until your eyes begged for help, as I walked past.

 

You stayed in that room for two full hours

watching the shadows fall and try to tease each blank page

 

But the blanks were brave and stubborn.

Like your future they were unwritten, undefined.

 

You were scared to leave –  so you stayed at your desk.

But who am I to judge, too scared to ever leave mine.

 

Weapons (Reprise)

They’re weapons

your bump, symmetrical heartbeats

and the armour of your stretching skin.

 

They’re weapons

your glowing face, your growing curves

the muscles that have carried him for months.

 

They’re weapons

the kicks, the burps

the prodding feet demanding to escape.

 

And I’m silent

a mess of excitement;

scared because he’s broken your waters.

 

 

 

The First Ten

We finish each other’s

sentences and laugh,

choosing to ignore, as we always have,

the warnings of reason.

Keep a steady pace. Listen to your body.

Avoid unnecessary stress.

As if they were ever our mantras.

 

So we tired and cramped

stopping sometimes – desperate for

breath, we retched,

clung to

each other’s strength

paused when we needed to stretch

but never let go of each other’s legs.

 

 

February 14th 2017