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The books we read during our school days, no matter how we felt about them at the time, stay with us.

Whether its analysing William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to exhaustion or remembering how Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck leaves us really sad, we’re still talking about them deep into adulthood.

To mark World Book Day 2021, we thought we'd share some of the books that left an indelible imprint on us at school (and, cheating slightly, at university). Which would be on your list?

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)

It may have been because we all had a soft spot for our science teacher, Mr Carr, but when I was around 10 there was no hotter property at school than a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Did we fully understand his ground-breaking theories about big bangs and black holes? I can only say in my case: absolutely not. But giving it a go did introduce me to the thrilling idea you could pick up a book about something huge and mysterious – even something as huge and mysterious as space – and learn about it on your own, providing you had a good guide. As I would learn when I was a little older, Hawking was one of the best.

Sam Parker, editor-in-chief

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Despite being an avid reader from early childhood, I was never particularly excited by English lessons at school. In comparison to the Golden Age crime novels and other pacy books I read at home, we never seemed to read anything that captured my attention – but all that changed in one Year 8 English lesson. I distinctly remember sitting in class with nothing to do, having sped through whatever it was we were meant to be reading, and my English teacher handing me a copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca to keep me occupied. I was glued to that book for a couple of days and it opened me up to a whole new genre of writing that I hadn’t encountered before, and which I still enjoy to this day.

Indira Birnie, senior marketing manager

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)

Reading Noughts & Crosses felt like a revelation after years of reading books by (mostly dead) white (mostly) men at school. Reading about the love story, and the politics, between Sephy, a Cross who lives a life of power, and Callum, a nought who is considered to be less than nothing, was extraordinary.

Malorie Blackman’s novel (now the first in the Noughts & Crosses series) wasn’t one I studied formally at school, but it was passed around the classrooms, and always on loan if you tried to search for it in the school library. And arguably, with its look at racism, class, injustice and privilege (or lack thereof), it taught us more and was more relevant than anything on the curriculum at the time.

Sarah Shaffi, managing editor

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)

I went to school in Canada, where we get probably too excited about Canadian success stories. So when Yann Martel’s Life of Pi won the 2002 Booker Prize, you’d better believe it made its way swiftly onto my grade 10 English curriculum – where a 15-year-old me absolutely gobbled it up.

If I recall correctly, reading that novel made me feel smart: the story, about a young Indian Tamil boy stranded in a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and, most notably, a tiger, felt worldly to me, and the magical realism – combined with the question at the book’s end, about the very nature of truth and belief – felt impossibly deep.

Stephen Carlick, associate editor

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

I often wonder why Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar isn’t more readily included on school syllabuses. While I remember few of the books on the curriculum fondly (there was one summer after GCSEs where we all slugged, painfully, through a certain wartime-set bildungsroman), Plath’s only novel has much, I’d say, to offer young people. It’s a book that applies a laser-like scrutiny to the expectations placed on women in the 1960s as well as mental ill-health and the taboos it induced. More than that, it captures what it is to be a girl on the cusp of womanhood they’re not sure they want to sign up to. While I originally found it something of a cliche when first given it, at 17, Esther’s story is one I found myself connecting with and returning to throughout my young womanhood.

Alice Vincent, features editor 

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

I picked up a copy of The Great Gatsby from my university library after a friend of mine who was studying it begged me to read it with her. I’d recently seen a trailer for the Baz Lerman movie and was rolling my eyes. But I signed it out, took it back to my dorm, opened it, and then realised it wasn’t actually the novel I had, it was the reading guide. So I read that anyway and then carefully picked out the actual novel a week later and instantly fell in love. I already knew the sum of its parts so why wouldn’t I?

Derek Wiltshire, marketing and communications executive

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe (1843)

Even though I always loved reading, there was only one book I studied at school that I felt genuinely connected to; Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. First published in 1843, the short story centres around an unnamed narrator who is trying to convince us of their sanity while simultaneously detailing a brutal murder they just committed. Apparently I was a very angsty teenager. For my A Level coursework, I wrote my own short story, inspired by the text. It was the most fun I ever had on a piece of homework. I even still have it at home, tucked away in all its dark, creepy, retrospectively embarrassing glory.

Francesca Pymm, social media editor

What did you think of this article? Let us know by emailing editor@penguin.co.uk.

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