29th April 2005 at 01:00
The gloves are off, as the literary pet hates pour out in the TES forums, Bill Hicks writes

Ever thought of joining a book group, but been put by off by the vision of yourself on an uncomfortable sofa, glass of bad Chardonnay in hand, sandwiched by a brace of militant Tolkien fans?

Gentle reader, it's a real danger. For a safe introduction to this world, you could do worse than dip into a few of the book-related threads that are always running in the TES Staffroom.

TES forum users love books. When they're not busy slagging each other off online, at least half of our 76,000 registered users seem to be buying and consuming literature. Then they come back here to talk about it.

Flashback to March. One of the finest usernames in the business, lumpy golightly, had been out shopping, and acquired The Time Traveller's Wife.

"I accidentally bought it with my groceries in Asda. Made a change. It's usually trousers or jumpers that leap into my trolley unaided!"

Not far away, an angrily curriculum-related thread was gaining momentum.

Whether innocent or mischievous, headstonejoe's opener - "Right, time for some irreverence. Who are the literary 'sacred cows' for whom you hold the most contempt?" - hit the spot. The pent-up exasperation of dozens of Eng lit teachers at last had a vent. They vented.

Lumpy - you remember him - offered two words: "Jane Austen", and then, if he had any sense, ducked.

ElaineC opened fire with her TES-quoted demolition job: "Apart from Pride Prejudice I can't stand Jane Austen. She writes the same novel in slightly different settings about a very restricted set of people: Mills Boon for early 19th-century toffs."

Markuss sprang to Austen's defence: "I've always called her 'Jane' when thinking about her or teaching the novels, or sometimes 'dear Jane'I The only male writer I feel on those terms with is dear Geoff (Chaucer)."

ElaineC had another icon in her sights: Philip Larkin. "A dirty old man.

This opinion has been reinforced by the men (never women) I have met in English depts who are his fans. Sleazebags to the last of them."

Down they went, one by one: Trollope, Eliot ("too many ruddy words"), Conrad, Henry James, even dear William Blake (oi, leave off him, Trebizond).

So who do they like? Read ceg's topic, "What are English teachers reading", or "Great books in primary" or "The book titles game" in personal to find out. Then add your twopence worth. It's free, you know.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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