Future Context and Books, Books, Books

If you are reading this, you are probably studying English A Level – congratulations! It’s one of the most interesting, wide-ranging and skill-developing subjects you can study, opening up all kinds of degree subjects and employment avenues. Numbers studying A Level English have noticeably fallen, however, in part because of a mistaken belief that STEM subjects are the only route to jobs. Read this piece on why studying English is definitely the right thing to do.

With a focus on context in many A Level exam papers, we are very conscious of how literature explores the effects of conflict and warfare. The poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon is ubiquitous, while novels such as Birdsong, Atonement, Catch-22 explore the World Wars directly or indirectly, and international conflicts are the focus of The Kiterunner and Half of a Yellow Sun, for example. We are therefore accustomed to studying how literature processes contemporary and past events. But what if literature, by voicing societal concerns, could explore not just past events, but future ones? It sounds a wild idea, but research has borne it out. Read this fascinating article (it’s quite long, but worth it) on how an examination of trends and developments in published literature can foretell rising tensions and conflicts.

We all like to spend our summers reading. Sometimes we can ambitiously buy a pile of books and then not quite get round to reading them. And so books pile up. That’s not a problem, says Harry, a former student who currently works as a solicitor, having spent some time in arts, heritage and education:

There may be several possible reasons why your bookshelf contains books you haven’t read.


You may be trying to signal your interest or expertise in a particular field.


You may be a politician being interviewed from your home office, looking to drop hints to viewers at your next policy direction.


Or may have just bought more books than you can read right now.


If you fall into this category, I’d urge you not to feel guilty at the growing stacks of unread publications piling up on your bookcase. Shelve them lovingly, use them as a backdrop for a TV interview if you must, but trust that when the time is right, you’ll find the worth in them. That is to say, the reason you bought them in the first place will crystallise. The germ of the idea inside you when you handed the bookseller your money, or clicked ‘here’ to complete your purchase, will start to flourish.


It’d be a boring world if we read every book in a linear way, cover to cover, front to back, before we allowed ourselves another; if we never had more than one on the go at a time; if we never dipped in and out. There’d be less colour in our conversations, less cross-fertilisation of our ideas.


On my bookcase at the moment are unread/partially read books about beekeeping, historical powerbrokers and the performing arts. Recently I’ve been revisiting guitar scores which I found too challenging when I first bought them, but which are now playable. Also, books on theory and composition, and my songwriting is coming on well. (No songs about beekeepers or Machiavelli have emerged yet – or even Machiavellian beekeepers – but it’s surely only a matter of time.)


So don’t feel guilty if you have a pile of unread books at home. A good idea is like nutritious food. It needs time to grow, to marinade, to cook.