My book review of 'Reading Lessons' by Carol Atherton

by Carol Atherton
Reading Lessons
by Carol Atherton

This book wasn't what I was expecting! Written by a former English teacher, it's not so much about the memories of lessons and pupils in her 30 year career. Instead it focuses very clearly on the books she studied with her classes and what was so important about them then, and now. 

Each chapter looks at familiar novels, plays and poems as set texts and asks how we, and our society as a whole, are shaped by them.

I thought I would read this book from cover to cover but instead I found it was best enjoyed by flitting around at whim. The chapter on 'Jane Eyre' was where I turned first, and then 'Lord of the Flies' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

But, having recently read Maggie O'Farrell's novel 'The Marriage Portrait', inspired by Robert Browning's poem 'The Last Duchess', that chapter proved an irresistible draw. Not having studied the poem at school, Atherton's comments provided additional insight and appreciation of O'Farrell's novel. 

Each chapter of the book addresses a different text. There are comments about little incidents in class, or the responses she received from the students, but really Atherton is providing us with a series of short reading guides, helping us to understand these classics a little better whether we thought they were familiar to us or not.

In the Introduction and Afterword, Atherton shares more of her views on the importance of reading and studying literature.

English is the subject that helps us to shape our relationship with words and the many ways in which humans have used them, she says. 'It teaches us to experiment and question, to read between the lines. We need these skills more than ever.'

Date of this review: July 2024
Book publication date: 4th April 2024