Book 1: A Book I Read in School
I mentioned in a previous post here that I was going to undertake this particular reading challenge in 2017. The idea is to share books of all sorts, across 26 categories, at a rate of one per fortnight and hopefully to inspire others to read them if they haven’t already done so.
The first book of the challenge has to be ‘A book you read in school’.
I’ve chosen one of the set books from my first year at high school in Edinburgh – way back in the Dark Ages at the end of the 1960s. The book was Treasure Island by Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson.
I loved reading it. Sometimes we read a chapter aloud around the class and sometimes we were set a chapter to read as homework. We would discuss the story with each other and with our teacher, a formidable but inspiring woman. We were also split into groups and each group was set the task of dramatising a scene or two from the story and then presenting the dramatisation to the rest of the class. My group met at my house to work on this and to rehearse our play. I loved all of that.
Treasure Island was first produced in 1881/82 in serial form in Young Folks, a children’s magazine. It was described at the time of publication as being about ‘buccaneers and buried gold’ and yes, it’s a high-seas, swashbuckling, fast-paced adventure, but more than that, it’s essentially a coming-of-age story. Young hero, Jim Hawkins, is a timid child at the start. His father is dead and Jim must earn some money. During his time at sea Jim develops into a mature young man. He has to deal with deadly enemies as his pirate crew mates go in search of the treasure. He has to be self-reliant, cope with moral ambiguities and face up to greed and temptation. There’s complexity too. Little is clear cut. The villain, Long John Silver, is a vibrant and charismatic antagonist. Jim comes to a mature view regarding Silver, at one point referring to him as ‘the best man here’, and at the end he wishes him well. This all contributes to the book being an enduring classic in what we’d probably now call the YA (young adult) genre.
Of course at the time I first read it, I didn’t completely understand all the grand themes, but what I did get was that even though life was hard for Jim, he made the best of it. He went on a big adventure and had to be both brave and good. He changed, he grew up and he survived.
For young people today Treasure Island is still a good adventure story and its message of resilience, courage and self-reliance are still relevant today.
What books do you remember reading at school? What were they and did you enjoy them?
Treasure Island is available in various editions including the one linked to here which is published by Faber and is available as a hardback, paperback, ebook and audio book.