Wednesday, 29 February 2012

World Book Day 2012

Reading has always been a part of my life. I cannot remember a time when I couldn't read, or when I didn't read, though some the literature's great works are still waiting for me. I have tried throughout my adult life to pass on this love of books and reading to my children: every Christmas I have bought them a book in the hope that it would encourage them to develop their own love of literature (though I have to admit that some of them have simply gathered dust on the shelves).

This is one reason why I welcome 'World Book Day' - the hope that it will encourage people in this visual, sound-bite age to develop a love for reading, and for reading good, engaging stories.

To mark World Book Day this year I want to recommend my favourite book to you: Jonathan Coe's 'The Rotter's Club'. I first came across the story through a BBC adaptation (whose screenplay was written by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais).

Written in 2001, it's a story set in the 1970s in Birmingham, and revolves round the lives of 3 young lads - Ben Trotter, Philip Chase & Doug Anderton - who attend King William's Grammar School, a direct-grant Grammar School, and how certain aspects of 1970s British life impacts on them - particularly the industrial strife that was endemic at the time, the mainland bombing campaigns of the IRA, the rise of the National Front and the music scene as it transitioned from prog rock to punk.

Why I particularly warm to this book is that it contains so many echoes of my childhood: I attended a direct grant school from 1972-79, not in Birmingham, but in Harrogate, and consequently grew up through the social turmoil that the novel portrays - strikes, power cuts, 3-day weeks - as well as through the musical changes. It was the time I was developing abortive romantic attachments, and marking a time of Jubilee. I find Coe's writing particularly evocative of my formative years in a way that brings the warm glow of nostalgia, but also reminds me of the darker shades those days.

Another feature of the book that always delights me is the final chapter, which consists of one sentence of 13,955 words - a stream of consciousness reflection by Ben Trotter on life, love & Cicely Boyd, the love of his life.

Coe wrote a sequel to 'The Rotter's Club' - 'The Closed Circle' - which picks up the story of the three boys, and other characters from the first book, in the 1990s, and ties up a few loose ends from the original story: it's also well worth a read.

What favourite read would you recommend?