I was writing something to do with childhood books on Tuesday and had a weird flashback to being back at school.
At the start of Year 10 (or it could have been 11, I don’t remember. It was a GCSE year for sure) we had to give a book review of a book that we had chosen to read over the summer. For whatever reason I chose to read Dr Jekyell and Mr Hyde. I hated it. I hated everything about it. I hated the fact that I had to read it over my summer and so school work was a part of those 6 weeks off. I hated the way it was written. I hated how I didn’t really understand what the hell was going on for most of it. I hated the fact that it was considered a classic and therefore everybody was like ‘oh it’s good, you should give it a chance.’ Most of all I hated the fact that I would have to stand in front of an entire class of people and give a 90 second (it could have been longer, the details are fuzzy, it was almost a decade ago) oral review of this.
Which I did not finish reading. I frantically (and stealthily) Googled what happened in the book and figured that I could just blag my way through this task. Forgetting one very important thing (although it did play on the back of my mind). I am a terrible public speaker.
Truly, truly awful.
I freeze. I mumble. I talk too fast. I trip over my words. I forget how to read my notes. I get sweaty, I feel like I’m about to throw up. There is no part of it in which I feel comfortable and am good at. None.
If I were a better public speaker I probably would have been able to bullshit my way through the whole thing and raise no red flags that I hadn’t read it. But I did. And so the teacher called me out on it. And then it just got worse. I nothing to give other than I didn’t like the book. Under the pressure of it all I couldn’t even think why I didn’t like it. I just gave vague answers that were mumbled out and rushed and felt my heartbeat pulsing blood through my ears and my palms getting very sweaty.
The part that seemed to strike me the most with this random flashback was towards the end where all I really had to offer was that I didn’t like the book and my time was up, my teacher asked if I could name a book I actually did like. And I froze again. Every single book that I had ever enjoyed just left my head and I had to think frantically about what the last book I read was. I then lied and said I ‘liked this book that my dad had given me that I think was called Black Tattoo’. I was also halfway through that book. The reason I was halfway was because I didn’t like it. I didn’t really understand what was going on that one either. And I don’t think my dad did pick it up for me.
After that whole experience, where I felt kind of embarrassed and a tad humiliated (mostly at my own incompetence) I kind of never wanted to have to study a book and give a review of it publicly ever again.
Good thing I then went on to do an English Literature degree then isn’t it…?
Where I did have to do it again, but unlike in GCSEs were there was a sense of desperate importance in everything that you do, I was way more relaxed about it. In fact I had to do it several times. But it just felt like less pressure. And also by the time uni came around I was much more comfortable in the whole bullshitting thing. You say anything with enough conviction and provide evidence within the text to back it up then you’re golden. The beauty of literature is that it can be many things to many people. And look, the presentations that I did give were still a tad rushed and I still spoke down to the floor and occasionally mumbled with my sweaty palms and thumping heart. But they were a lot less daunting in that situation.
15/16 year olds judge and don’t let things go. You kind of stop doing that so much at uni and even if they are judging you, there are so many bloody people in your year that it’s easy to forget about them and actually never see them outside of a tutorial group. Don’t get that in GCSE, where people can taunt you about that shit presentation you once gave aged 15 for another solid two years…
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