From the Editor - Reading between the lines of teachers' top 100

5th April 2013 at 01:00

It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone likes a list. Teachers, it seems, are no exceptions. We asked 500 of them to nominate their favourite books and the resulting compendium is a masterpiece of erudition and entertainment (pages 24-28). It could be one of the few things that Michaels Gove and Rosen agree on.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice heads our top 100, followed by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The Harry Potter series makes a modern intrusion at number three, but the Brontes, Orwell and Tolkien dominate the top 10 thereafter.

Admittedly, there is no Shakespeare - but then we asked for books, not plays - and there is no poetry, probably for the same reason. That aside, there is plenty to please devotees of canonical greats: a couple apiece from Dickens, Steinbeck and Hardy, a smattering of Salinger, Fitzgerald, Huxley, Wilde, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hugo and Eliot, as well as yet more Austen.

Modern classics are prominent, too: from Kerouac, Faulks, Ishiguro, Atwood, McEwan, Marquez, Roy and Plath. All in all, our teachers' top 100 is a pretty conservative collection. The exceptions are the elevated places awarded to children's fiction. Literary critics wouldn't cite The Hunger Games trilogy, The Gruffalo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the works of Roald Dahl in their top 100. But then, most of them probably think a child is a cultural construct.

The list is overweight in books that have been turned into films but oddly light in non-fiction. Wild Swans and My Family and Other Animals are the only biographical entries, which is a bit surprising. The list is, however, cosmopolitan: books by Latin American, Japanese, Indian, Iranian and Nigerian authors are as well regarded as the usual imports from North America.

But are these books what teachers really read, or what they think should be read? Some reflect what is mandated by the curriculum but the list contains enough Donna Tartt, Stieg Larsson and Louis de Bernieres to suggest that it is a genuine reflection of reading habits.

One teacher isn't convinced. She thinks our contributors have been coy. "They don't want to appear to lack intellectual heft," she says, and have omitted the bodice-ripping, trashy novels so many of them devour.

That's a little harsh. Wouldn't all professionals do the same? A glance around the TES newsroom reveals a few literary surprises peeking from under the mounds of reference books and official reports. A Night to Surrender, Wild and Steamy and Devil's Bride, for example - and that's just on my desk.

If anything, our top 100 neglects the good lessons to be learned from bad writing. Take the unsung genre of dire celebrity autobiography. Alan Shearer's My Story So Far teaches moderation: he celebrated winning the Premiership by creosoting his fence. Anthea Turner in Fools Rush In is a model of economy - we learn that her divorce from disc jockey Peter Powell cost #163;127.50. And then there's It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. As things turned out, it certainly wasn't.

And why stop at books? As members of one of the most trusted professions, teachers carry weight. Coming soon, your top films, plays and - why not? - your favourite wines ...

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