Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck
Through teaching and having been a teenager myself, there are some oiks who do everything to resist reading the books they are thrown at school. For some time, I was one of those oiks, especially in 9th year when I had an appalling English teacher called Mrs. B, who sucked the entertainment and joy out of reading through her ego of listening to her own screeching and being so out of touch with teenagers at the time. How a teacher can’t inject life into the book,The Machine Gunners, is beyond me. We weren’t an unruly bunch, a few attitudes, but we all liked reading and creating little feats of work. She, however, thought we were from Borstal. She was a bully who thought gaining respect from youth was by making them fear her. Instead, she just recieved hate through patronising students and making them feel stupid, which consequently caused students to lose their esteem and dislike reading. People make out its the curriculum, but I am pretty sure she ignored it and picked books that belonged to primary school that didn’t make us think or learn or care. I know that teaching is hard and teenagers can be brats, but if you dislike teaching that much, one should drop their chalk and gradebook and get a job elsewhere. You will only waste your own time, as well your student’s, and cause a generation to suffer. I didn’t learn, nor did fellow students, anything from her, and I still like to think of her face when I’m whacking a piñata. In fact, I sit it as a lost year.
I went into year 10, thankful that she wasn’t my teacher, but a negative view of reading. My parents had tried to regain my interest, but I was just reading Garfield and nothing else. Then came along Mr. Fenwick, or Fennick, I can’t remember, who I liked for his jokes and promoting creativity. Part of the GCSE syllabus was the book Of Mice & Men, and I remember the collective frustrated sigh of the class as he told us. But he seemed so enthusiastic, so enlivened, that he held our attention. Most of us had never heard of the book, but what we gained was a lesson into the Depression in America, race segregation, the perils of bullying, the discriminating views of people with learning difficulties and sacrificing a friendship to create less pain. These were life lessons and made the class think deeply and problems in society that inspires my own life and direction in life; trying to report on realities of the socially discriminated, whether it be street kids or asylum seekers. The book is from the 30s I think, but there were so many things that still made sense today. One of the things I learned from it is that humans learn very slowly from mistakes (or sometimes never at all) and the powerful try to keep the poor repressed.
It’s written in the cold heartedness of third person, with fact after fact but using description and prose that I see used in feature articles today, that build emotion and empathy with characters, and moving the story at a slow but enticing pace. Subconsciously, he taught me how to write, and understand what is good writing. My own personal pioneer.
Like Mark Twain, John Steinbeck wrote a lot about social issues in the US, people who swerved off the road of the American Dream. I have since read the Pearl and East of Eden (the Grapes of Wrath is on my long list to read next) which I found fascinating. In his own way, a kind of US version of Charles Dickens. His books I have found more interesting than to Kill a Mocking Bird or the other so called classic, The Great Gatsby (the latter of which I found so terribly overrated).
I understand that teachers get bored of teaching books year after year, but the British Education Minister, Michael Gove, made an enormous mistake taking American books out of the GCSE syllabus. While it is important for British kids to learn about British values and literature and history etc. such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and good ol’ Willy Shakespeare, do not block the opportunities for kids to gain knowledge from great American novels. The aforementioned British authors are on the GCSE syllabus anyway. Gaining an insight into American history and culture is healthy and interwines with our own anyway. In my opinion, Gove has made a grave error. If he really believes the GCSE syllabus is too easy, make exams harder. Otherwise, we should just accept that kids are getting smarter, and their hard work should be recognised, rather than deflating the esteems of youth, like Mrs. B.
I studied other books at college which also had a deep impact on me, such as Othello, Ovid, and BFG, but I think Of Mice & Men deserves to be on my favourites list.