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Reading Lessons

The books we read at school, the conversations they spark and why they matter

Carol Atherton

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Fig Tree
09 July 2024
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An English teacher's love letter to reading and teaching- an eye-opening journey through the books we read at school, the impact they made on us then and what we can take from them now.

How can a Victorian poem help teenagers understand YouTube misogyny? Can Jane Eyre encourage us to speak out? What can Lady Macbeth teach us about empathy? Should our expectations for our future be any greater than Pip's? And why is it so important to make space for these conversations in the first place?

In a career spanning almost three decades, English teacher Carol Atherton has taught generations of students texts that will be familiar to many of us from our own schooldays. But while the staples of exam syllabuses and reading lists remain largely unchanged, their significance - and their relevance - evolves with each class, as it encounters them for the first time.

Each chapter of Reading Lessons invites us to take a fresh look at these novels, plays and poems, revealing how they have shaped our beliefs, our values, and how we interact as a society. As she recalls her own development as a teacher, Atherton emphasizes the vital, undervalued role a teacher plays, illustrates how essential reading is for developing our empathy and makes a passionate case for the enduring power of literature.
Imprint:   Fig Tree
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 218mm,  Width: 144mm,  Spine: 40mm
Weight:   500g
ISBN:   9780241629482
ISBN 10:   0241629489
Pages:   400
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Carol Atherton has taught English since 1996 and is currently Head of English at a secondary school in Lincolnshire. Originally from Merseyside, she read English at Oxford before doing a PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD at the University of Nottingham. She is a Fellow of the English Association and a member of the National Association for the Teaching of English. Atherton has written for a range of publications aimed at teachers and students, and she co-authored Teaching English Literature 16-19 (Routledge, 2013). Reading Lessons is her first trade publication.

Reviews for Reading Lessons: The books we read at school, the conversations they spark and why they matter

Beautifully written, sensitive and full of warmth. This is a thoughtful book that serves as a vital point of reflection for anyone who has taught, or been taught, English literature within the system. Carol has done the important job of creating space for conversation about what we teach and why we teach it, whilst also offering genuine insights on some of the most pressing issues facing educators today. Teachers will definitely find this book to be equally thought provoking and illuminating. I did. * Jeffrey Boakye * Reading Lessons is many books in one: a fresh and frank memoir of almost three decades as a secondary school English teacher, a love letter to literature itself, and a compelling argument for why young people continue to need novels, poems and plays as the raw materials from which they can mould themselves and their wider understanding of the world. At a time when English is under attack as an academic subject, Carol Atherton’s powerful defence of it reminds us what we are in danger of losing. * Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, author of The Turning Point * Generous, humane and constantly surprising. An urgent defence of the power of literature to create empathetic, interrogative citizens * Emma Smith, author of Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers * 'Essential ... At a time when the importance of the arts in education is being eroded, Reading Lessons makes a powerful case for the study of literature. If you are in the job you are in because you loved literature at school - or even if you didn't love it so much - this book is for you' * Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller * This exhilarating report from the educational frontline shows how literature can excite – but also perplex – young readers. Indeed, it shows how the excitement and the perplexity often belong together * John Mullan, author of The Artful Dickens * Atherton must be an inspiring teacher if her marvellous book is anything to go by ... A profound and empathetic guide to the literature studied in our classrooms, full of shrewd asides from a sensitive reader ... Highly entertaining .. An engrossing book and a testament to a life well lived * The Independent, Books of the Month * Passionate readers love books like this one ... Reading Lessons is original and clever and at times very moving ... You want to force this book on [...] the educational experts and politicians who are so sure they know how schools should operate. If your children are studying English literature, they should read this. But if you love books, you will want to read it yourself. * The i * A magnificent rethinking of the books, plays and poems so many of us encountered at school and their impact on our lives ... Completely accessible, immensely interesting and thoroughly engaging ... Reading Lessons is enlightening, moving and surprisingly emotional. Filled with humanity and love, this book speaks to the very heart of who we are * My Weekly *

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