'Reading Dubliners helped me understand the power of language'

Reading Dubliners helped me understand the power of language

Barry Cooper, Deputy Head, Brighton College Dubai, lists his favourite reads

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Published: Fri 17 May 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 17 May 2019, 2:00 AM

What are you reading right now?
Japanese Prints: The Collection of Vincent Van Gogh, by Louis van Tilborgh. At the recent Brighton College Arts festival, I spoke about my interest in Japanese print art and its place in the history of art. I have always been fascinated by the influences of the art form on impressionism and especially Van Gogh. The book goes through his collection of Japanese work and how it influenced Van Gogh and the wider European art scene at the end of the 19th century.
A book that changed your life?
We all have that teacher who opens our eyes. When it comes to literature, my headmaster Tony Smith introduced me to Dubliners, the James Joyce collection of stories. It was then that I truly realised the power of language, most especially when reading the final story of the collection: 'The Dead'. When he taught us the story, I distinctly remember him saying that the final paragraph was probably the finest writing in English. Twenty-three years and a 1,000 or so books later, I don't think I can disagree.
A book you think is underrated?
I am a massive science fiction fan. The 1954 work I Am Legend was a revelation to me when I read it as a boy. Set in a world where everyone has become a vampire with the exception of our hero, it is a cruel joke, an inversion of the classic monster movie mythos and, eventually, a truly tragic tale of anger and loneliness despite our hero's indefatigability. It shows what science fiction and fantasy are best for - the exploration of the edges of the human experience.
Favourite literary character?
Paul Rusesabagina is a real man who I first saw speak at the Edinburgh Literature festival when he released his book, An Ordinary Man. He was far from ordinary. Working as a house manager at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, he managed to protect 1,200 people from certain death during the Rwandan Genocide. He is the very definition of the right man in the right place at the right time, and his thought that 'Kindness is not an illusion and violence is not a rule' has stuck with me ever since.
Your favourite author quote.
'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world' - Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was talking about language in general and arguing that trying to express the inexpressible results in language losing its way. Things that make sense are limited by the language we have to express them. As an educator, this is the biggest challenge for us; we have to help our students express themselves and communicate their ideas: verbally, linguistically, mathematically, emotionally, artistically, culturally and more. I see the quote as a challenge to help children push the limits of their world back a little further every day.
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