When I sat English Lit at O Level, there were three books we had to study. There was a novel, a Shakespeare play, and a book of poetry.
The novel was Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.
The Shakespeare play was Richard III
The book of poetry was the biggest load of old bollocks ever committed to print.
I was never an ideal pupil - too much of a tearaway, dismissive of things which didn't interest me. I haven't changed much.
That term didn't start too well - I had an RE teacher present me with a theological tome just before lunchtime. We called him him 'Jesus' because he sported a biblical style beard. Then after lunch, he hit me in the head with the book because I hadn't taped a protective paper binder around the cover. I was furious. When the lesson ended I pursued him into the corridor, told him he must have known there was no way I'd have time to bind that book, and told him that if he ever did anything like that again, I'd punch his fucking lights out. No questions - I'd just do him. And I could have. Bastard almost shat himself.
But my Eng Lit teacher. He was so enthusiastic. How the fuck does anybody get enthusiastic for Thomas Hardy? Dickens would have been okay, but Hardy? That guy could put a pack of Lemurs to sleep.
One sequence in the book, which twats on for about thirty pages, describes farmer Gabriel Oak going to a fair, clutching a coin, which seems to get progressively hotter in his hand. Thirty fucking pages to say that!
To my teacher though, it was every bit as exciting as the car chase scene in Bullit. His little piggy eyes glazed over as he rhapsodized about it.
I just really didn't get it. If this was literature, I just didn't want to know.
It just got worse from there. I gave up on it.
Away from school I was reading Henri Charriere's Papillon, Sven Hassel's penal batallion saga, war crime analyses by Lord Russell of Liverpool, The Scourge Of The Swastika and Knights Of The Bushido - stuff like that, sprinkled with a little Spike Milligan to lighten the mood occasionally.
Unbelievably, maybe, I'd studied Greek mythology and philosophy from the age of 11 - but never endorsed by school, just a kindly lady librarian at my local branch library.
So Thomas Hardy's rambling bollocks didn't really cut it for me.
As for Shakespeare - I respect that Shakespeare has enhanced and enriched our language probably moreso than any other individual. But is A Midsummer Night's Dream funny?
I don't think so. Shakespeare should be left alone. It's done. It had its day centuries ago. I think the Bard has earned his place as a literary icon, and a superb technician, but his plays suck. How can you enjoy something you need a reference book to translate? And when you do figure out what the hell he's banging on about - it means nothing.
Poetry? There are certain poets I enjoy, guys like Robert Service, Roger McGough, but most are just pretentious twats.
Nothing is guaranteed to make me rapidly move on more than a fucking poem. Poets should all be fucking drowned at birth.
Harsh words maybe - so what do I consider to be literature?
Anything that grabs you from the opening line. Dickens could do this. Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, it doesn't really matter. Literature is like beauty - or it ought to be - in the eye of the beholder. Whatever hooks you, involves you, transports you, sparks your imagination. Anything you read that has left a lasting impression. You shouldn't have to work at literature, It should just be there, and if it isn't, you're doing something wrong.