The Reading Coach


ImageIt’s the hardest question a student can ask their English teacher because the answer you give can either start them on a journey of a lifetime or put them off for good. ‘What can I read?’ It was Lou, one of my A2 students with a place to read Geography at Oxford but with her heart increasingly consumed by a love of literature, who popped back into my classroom the other day and hurled me this question with a look of hope on her face. In the seconds that whirled before I could hazard an answer, my brain span through its repository of books read and loved, hoping to land on something it could confidently offer this young woman. ‘Classic or contemporary? Heavy or light?’ I asked. Give me a clue here! ‘What have you read?’ But Lou seemed as stumped as I was. So, I looked at her and saw a young woman about to leave home and move somewhere new, and I thought ‘Lucy Honeychurch’. Sweet, naive, wanting to please, but then she travels to Italy and starts to experience life away from her family, and her identity as a daughter, and she blossoms. ‘A Room with a View’ – a classic coming-of-age novel – what’s not to love? To balance the rosy-tinted, I threw in ‘Jude the Obscure’ as a reminder that not everyone’s talents are recognised or rewarded as they should be, and then, for fear of getting too ‘heavy’, plundered the current Women’s Fiction Prize authors who I’ve read – Zadie Smith, Barbara Bolsover, Kate Atkinson. By the time I’d finished, I’d emailed her a supplementary list, including Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and ‘One Half of a Yellow Sun’, which received a request that her mum might share the list with her Book Group that evening!
This is why I still love teaching. The ability to connect with people beyond the classroom and to pass on and share my own love of books and reading. If someone asked you what they should read, what would you say?

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