Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

The idea of listing hated books does not have an immediate appeal. Why hate a piece of creation1 even if it is at the bottom end of one’s own appreciation scale? Why not just put that particular book aside and let its contents remain secure within their covers, disliked certainly—but hated?

I think the nearest I have come to loathing2 is with textbooks, and for two reasons: they were compulsory reading, and they frequently succeeded in turning all the gold of this world into lead3. I did not, and I do not, see why they had to be so dull, and I certainly resented them for it4. They5, above all else, represented the educational system of sham pearls6 being cast before real wine7. They took the wondrous facts8 and transformed these into turgid lists, interspersed with pea-soup prose9 and dismal diagram. It was as if no excitement or joy should be set before a student, in case it might stimulate him or her into original thought, or happiness. Learning from a dreary text was proof both of application and of spirit. To spare this form of rod11 was to spoil the child.

They say that textbooks for today’s pupils are better, just as they say that the schools are better. I hope they are, and that some of the more awful texts have been swept aside. I do not know which was the worst, as of course I encountered them at different ages and when differently equipped12 to object to them; but I think the largest seal of disapproval should be awarded to those enforced upon the older, more discriminating but still fettered student, such as those in their middle teens. I was then subjected to subjected to Intermediate Physics and Higher School Inorganic Chemistry, but I think abysmal pride of place should go to The Invertebrata.

Why did I dislike it so much? Well, it changed the wonder of the invertebrate world into indigestible latinised tedium. How’s this for openers as its first sentence? ‘The invertebrata have long since ceased to constitute one of the primary divisions in the scientific classification of the Animal Kingdom.’ What was the book’s title again, and how’s that for an immediate rebuff? However it never lets up: ‘This type is said to possess the caridoid facies.’, ‘The Protozoa are sundered from the rest of the Animal Kingdom…’, ‘Of the appendages or limbs of the crustacea, the first, or atennule, is a structure sui generis…’ Coupled with such porridge were occasional, but always nasty, little drawings that also sought to uninspire. It was a book to be resented, deeply, for its lack of warmth, of life, of feeling, but the fact that it was compulsory reading did, I suppose, depress one’s considerable dislike into a form of hatred. I have certainly not enjoyed collecting it from the library to refresh my memory of its particular depths, a nadir that so many others have tried to emulate but few, happily, have achieved so well.

(adapted from Patrick Marnham’s ‘So Far From God’)


1 What does phrase ‘piece of creation’ refer to?

2 Explain the meaning of ‘loathing’ in this context.

3 What does the writer mean by ‘turning all the gold of the world into lead’?

4 What does ‘it’ refer to?

5 What does ‘They’ refer to?

6 What does the writer mean by ‘sham pearls’?

7 Who are the ‘real swine’?

8 What does the writer resent happening to the ‘wondrous facts’?

9 What is meant by the phrase ‘pea-soup prose’?

10 What does the writer imply was the purpose of uninteresting texts?

11 What does ‘this form of rod’ refer to?

12 How was the writer ‘differently equipped’ to deal with textbooks at different ages?

13 In a paragraph of 60–80 words, summarise the writer’s attitude towards, and feelings about, textbooks.

Sample Answers

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