Posts Tagged ‘reading’

6 Reasons Why Reading Literature Matters More than Ever

January 9, 2016

Obviously as a writer and English teacher I would believe and promote this statement: that reading books matters. But why more than ever you may ask?

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Well, as we also know the world has turned very dark – threats, lies, rampant untruths, offence, dissent, violence and death abound. We are bombarded with a litany of disasters every day on the news – wherever we get it – and while some might argue it is no worse than it has ever been it simply does seem to be worse. Our senses are assaulted almost minute by minute by the latest disaster, the latest atrocity.

Indeed, Ted Turner (winner of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race and the America’s Cup, but significantly here, the man who brought us CNN) has a lot to answer for in making the news a 24 hour event – giving us trash and trivia as well as doom and disaster on a never-ending loop.

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There are six compelling reasons why reading literature is more important than ever:

1.Escapism. Have you noted the rise of thrillers, fantasy, erotica and romance? They are all escapist fiction, allowing us to enter a world nothing like ours, where we can forget the rest of the world, its ugly big problems and our own worrying smaller problems. Other fiction has the same effect – we like to immerse ourselves in different worlds, escaping to the problems of others, which invariably make us feel a bit better about our own life. Series fiction is so popular because of this – we get caught up in the characters’ lives and we want to stay with them for as long as possible. (Yes, films too, and Peter Jackson understands this better than almost anyone else on the planet!)

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2.Truth. There is, to be clichéd, more truth in fiction than anywhere else. Writers of fiction are freer to tell their truth through stories and characters, than reporters and journalists. Through stories we learn the truth of relationships, of how the world works, how things don’t tie up in neat bows – think of Jay Gatsby, Gone Girl, Madame Bovary. Great Expectations tells us how foolish it is to hold onto bitterness all your life – that it kills you.

3.Knowledge. We can learn about things in fiction – how the world was – history and bits of it, how different cultures operate, how people behaved in certain eras and that some behaviours were okay then but not now. Think of Of Mice and Men, where Crooks is called the n* word repeatedly which leads to a discussion of how racism works and how language shifts and changes. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells us about the idiocy of the Holocaust. Xavier Herbert tells of the challenges and problems of life in early northern Australia in Capricornia. Hilary Mantel gave us a whole new insight into Tudor times and Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall.

pal studying

4.Thinking intelligently. Reading good literature that explores ideas and issues – like The Life of Pi, The Slap, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Kite Runner, The Satanic Verses, 1984, Lord of the Flies, etc – challenges our views of the world. Reading makes us think and consider ideas that make us feel uncomfortable, enable us to accept different views of the world – which is vitally important at the moment. Discussing ideas and searching for the evidence in the text to support our ideas enables us to think at a deeper level, it takes us from the emotional response to the considered intellectual response – which we really need at the moment. Which is why literature in schools cannot be under-rated.

5.Reading makes us better people. You may laugh, but there are several studies that show that people who read fiction – especially literary fiction, where the writing and ideas are more complex – are more empathetic, more attuned to others, and more successful in their careers and relationships.

6.Reading is a simple pleasure. Reading is one of life’s best bits. You can do it anywhere, anytime. It pleases me to travel on the trains and see the amount of people reading – novels, kindles and the papers. Reading is cheap and easy – it needs nothing special for it to work – just you and the book and a comfy space. Do it now!

Life Happens

Reading teaches us how to think, how to move beyond our own experience, how to engage with the world in a considered, thoughtful way. People who don’t read really are missing out on so many things. Parents who do not encourage – no, parents who do not MAKE their children read should be put in jail. Reading fiction – picture books as kidlets, then the various age appropriate books (see previous blogs for books for various ages) on the way to bone fide adult fiction – is not something to be brushed over or given up at the end of primary school. It is a vital experience, an essential skill for life.

Let me make this crystal clear: reading makes you a better, more rounded, educated and thoughtful person. And we desperately need more thinking people in the world today.

What are you reading these days? Are you reading or have you stopped too? (Images from Private Collection)

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A book: the best present

December 13, 2014

As the holidays loom for us all on both sides of the world I wonder how many of you are planning some lovely indulgent reading time. Perhaps in bed, as the rain howls and the snow flutters down, or on the beach, baking yourself all crispy like the Christmas turkey.

xmas pres

For several years when I was at uni wading my way through English and Psychology and reading books that were chosen by their thickness of spine I rebelled at Christmas and read and re-read Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I actually loved it. And like others was not impressed by the TV mini series that eventually followed. But for a few summers it was my un-wind and de-stress book. Indeed I took my banana lounge out into the sun, turned up the cricket on the radio and read for hours. It was bliss.

So when I went anywhere, traveling, even if only to the beach for the day, I packed a book. It seemed to me a book was an essential item. Needless to say I packed a ton of books when we went to China for three months and read my way through Schindler’s List amongst others. My poor boy had a list of classics he was expected to read given his age and greed for knowledge. I am pleased that he remains an avid reader despite his predilection for the Sciences. He was less than impressed by not getting a book for Christmas last year.

One of the best present for me, forever has been books. You will not, dear reader, be surprised by this as I am an avid reader and writer as well as seasoned English teacher. I can’t remember my first book but I know books have been part of the business of gifting all my life. I used to get an annual of some description – name completely eludes me – but it was expected and enjoyed for many years. Birthdays are also great times for books.

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What surprises and saddens me is that if I tell my students that we give books at Christmas many of them look at me in horror and amazement. A book – as a present – why? Well, clearly they would be aghast given it seems to cause them physical pain to open a book in class. To read a book outside of class wouldn’t even occur to them. It absolutely does not. What has happened to the world?

I wonder at a world where books don’t exist. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s book where a future society outlaws books and any that are found are burned. Ironically many of my students would approve of such a world. Reading for them is a sort of medieval torture, something they must be forced to do. Worryingly this attitude does not reside only amongst the bottom dwellers of our fine educational establishments but abounds amongst many of the brighter stars.

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Disclaimer here: not all students are anti-reading, not all hate books, but a worrying amount do.

I wonder why so many are profoundly anti-reading, anti-books. It’s not just the screen-generation; it’s not just the attention spans of the much derided goldfish. It has to be in the home, it has to come from parents who also don’t read, who don’t value books or quiet, or the imagination. (It’s what’s called a trans-generational effect.) Ah, and there’s the thing – too many of our young people lack an imagination. Too many have no inner worlds of their own based on some magical place they read about and appropriated for themselves. They like a book on the screen: they know the stories of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but they only know them as imagined by the producers of these films. Peter Jackson’s imagination dominates the world. How sad is that?

I am reminded of my China experience here. I’d read The English Patient not long before we visited in Shanghai and it was out on DVD. One of the exchange students offered to get it for me but I knew it was too soon between reading and viewing. I knew that the DVD would disappoint me, it would not be true to my version of the book, and worst of all, the book would be diminished for me. So, I waited, and for a number of years before I watched the film of the book. And I was not disappointed. I ended up loving both versions. I re-watch and re-read and am happy that my version is still in tact.

A Christmas book story. Last year my beloved big girl bought my beloved the first books of The Game of Thrones and the first two series on DVD. We entered into an agreement: that we would not watch the shows until the books were read. My husband was encouraged to re-boot his reading through this slightly briberous (sp!) arrangement and so we have been true. Books come first. Always.

xmas & books

Reading is not just about the imagination, about the writers and the readers. It is about many things that make us human, that reinforce our humanity.

 

Here is a brief list of why we should read and encourage those around us to do the same-

1.Reading helps your vocabulary, and understanding of grammar and expression

2.Reading fires the imagination, it enables you to think and dream

3.Reading enhances your empathy through getting into the heads and lives of characters and traveling with them

4.Reading tells you about life – its magic, its beauty and its tragedy

5.Reading tells you you’re not alone – there are others out there like you

6.Reading allows us to experience things we might not dare try in life

7.Reading enhances your ability to concentrate and focus on matters

8.Quite simply, reading makes you a better person, a more compassionate person, a person who makes the world a better place

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I know books speak to us differently and that’s as it should be. Books from different times of our lives mean more to us too, but there’s always a new book out there waiting to be discovered, devoured and shared. Make sure you share the books you love. Buy books for Christmas and keep your fingers crossed that Santa has one for you too, so you can sneak off after all the festivities and escape to another world of wonder. (images courtesy Private Collection)

Dear Parents – you need to do so much more…

September 20, 2014

We’re three weeks into the new school year and once more, dear friends, I wonder what parents actually think being a parent is all about. Let me share with you the letter I’d like to send to many of them…

Dear Parent

I am using that term loosely, perhaps essentially biologically because the rest of the parent-child deal you seem to have entirely ignored. Perhaps accidentally because you don’t really know any better, or perhaps because you don’t really care, and like the rest of the country believe it’s up to teachers to, well, teach your child about everything.

I must inform you that already your child is miles behind. They’re so far behind, they’ll probably never catch up. And you know what, it’s nothing to do with me. By the time they get to me in secondary school so much damage has been done that it is virtually impossible to correct. Yet, we are expected to. We’re expected to do your job as well as ours. We’re expected to devote our lives to your children. I wonder why you aren’t expected to do that?

And, luckily for your child, I will do my best to be their mother, their teacher, their confessor, their therapist, their social worker and anything else Ofsted, or senior management think I need to be to do my job. Fortunately for you, it’s not just me but a plethora of equally devoted, hard working teachers, whom you simply take for granted or complain about.

 

Do you want to help your child? Do you really want them to learn at school and become decent, thoughtful, functioning citizens, instead of the ignorant young lumps they are now?

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Listen well, then, because here are some practical, straight forward and useful things you can do for your child, regardless of your income or social status.

1.Buy a map of the world and stick it on your walls. If you manage to have dinner together then look at it and discuss it. Your children need to know where places are, what oceans are, how far away New Zealand is.

2.Buy a dictionary and a thesaurus – don’t just rely on computers for everything. Reading a dictionary helps your word power, your ability to spell. A thesaurus will also help word power.

3.Read to your children when they are young. They will love it and it will do wonders for your relationship with them. Read fairy stories, myths, legends, classic children’s stories. Don’t let them know the world only through movies and screens. Reading helps them in everything – spelling, grammar, expression, empathy, understanding the world and people in it. Oh, and reading helps you learn to concentrate and concentration spans still matter. And those who run the world are readers.

4.Get an atlas too – look through it, read it together, talk about the world – it’s an interesting place.

 

 

5.Take your children out – not just to Thorpe Park. Living in the UK, especially around London means history and Art and Culture are but a train/bus ride away. It’s scandalous that children living in London do not know there is a river running through it, or haven’t been to the Globe theatre or a gallery. Lots of things are cheap or free. Take your children out and let them learn about their city, their world.

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6.Eat together. Have meals at the table, eat with knives and forks from plates. Eat healthy food – meat, fish and vegetables. Talk to each other. Leave all electronic equipment turned off.

7.Teach your child manners and respect for others. This means tolerance too.

 

8.Teach your child to take responsibility for themselves – give them chores and expect them to do more than sit on their increasingly fat arses doing nothing, being waited on by all and sundry. Expecting others to give them a bloody pen!

9.Check that they’re doing homework. Challenge them, help them, expect more from them. This lets you know what they know, if they’re coping or not, when you should get more involved.

10.Talk to your child, and, very importantly, listen to them.

11.Finally, be prepared to say NO to them. Give them limits, give them rules. Don’t let them be brats. No-body likes a brat, or a bitch.

Is that too hard? Is it too much to expect that you take some responsibility for your child becoming a decent adult, someone people like, admire, want to employ and spend time with?

But you need to start at the start. When they’re young and pliable, and love you no matter what. If you leave proper parenting until they meet me it’s too late for you too. They’ll be rude, argumentative, horrible, sulky, aggressive chunks of uncoordinated hormone driven, pimple infested teen monsters.

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Perhaps you need to think harder about what being a parent really means? Perhaps you need to take your job as seriously as I take mine?

Yours

Ms Pink (Images from Private Collection)

4 Simple Steps to Happiness

July 26, 2014

It’s nice to see the amount of people doing positivity posts on FB – looking at the good things in their lives. It seems a good thing to be doing, especially at the moment when so many terrible things have been happening. It is time to count our blessings and search for simple ways to be happy. Here are a few simple steps into happiness, this lovely sunny Saturday as we embrace the summer school holidays.

Music – the impact of music on mood is widely known – from its affect on soothing babies and children to firing up head-bangers. Today I have a few songs that are guaranteed to make you happy:

Happy by Pharrell Williams (Of course!)

Waterloo by Abba

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears (drive to it)

Love is in the Air by John Paul Young (always makes me feel happy)

Beautiful Day by U2

Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins (my personal favourite song ever)

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Smells – also known for their impact on your mood. Try these out:

Freshly mown grass

Smelly dog

Chlorine from the swimming pool

Your young baby’s head

Scented candles

The world after its rained

Fresh brewed coffee – especially early in the morning

 

Do something simple but satisfying

A walk in the park – move that body, every day it makes you feel so much better

Baking for others – the smell of baking is also mood elevating

Cleaning your home so it sparkles and shines and becomes a haven of tranquillity

Completing any task – a puzzle, a task for work

Have a long bath with loads of bubbles and nice smelly stuff

Reading – of course!!

 

Appreciate what you have – so many have lost so much lately, look around you and see what you have, look at it, hold it close to your heart and treasure what you have.

Family who love you

Friends who care about you

Work that pays your bills and sustains your ‘real’ life

A safe home to enjoy

A peaceful place to live

Be aware of what you have, of how precious it is and how easy it is to find and hold happiness and positivity to your life. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.

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In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.

 

So, what might an All-Australian list look like?

Classics

For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson

 

Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter

 

Drama

radiance

The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra

 

YA

looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

 

Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)

 

What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.

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From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)

Count Your Blessings

April 5, 2014

As I sit here this morning it’s warm, the sun is doing its weak British Spring thing and there’s a smell of promise and hope in the air, as bespokes the warming and lighting that happens in Spring. So, I turn my mind not to all that is wrong in my life, to the range of things that worry and beset me but to the things that I need to count as good in my life and appreciate what I’ve got, not what’s missing or entirely screwed up.

 

I am happy I have had my beloved fluffy boy for nearly nine years, that Zanz has brought me love and joy, loyalty and comfort, peace and protection, fun and laughs. I am so happy to have had such a dog, such a prince of a dog, even if not for as long as I wanted. So I am going to make the most of his much shortened time with us, and thank the sky for him being in my life and enriching it beyond measure.

Zanz

 

I am happy I have children, who have become amazing young people. I look at them and wonder and marvel and forget the tears and tantrums, the struggles and frustrations, and know my life is infinitely richer for having them, even if my body has never quite recovered! It is not possible to imagine a life without them and I am so pleased they are in my life and will be forever. They have brought infinite joy. And I quietly, but without any urgency or rush, look forward to grandchildren.

Pal, Pi & Me

 

I am happy to be married. Amidst the disagreements, the conflict, the changing, the never ending challenge of being with one person, there is a love that has mutated and changed but remained, and remains still in the kindness and consideration we show each other. A long marriage means compromise and sacrifice, but it mostly means companionship, understanding and acceptance, and someone to talk to endlessly about the things you love most – the kinder and the woof.

Us-27Dec

 

I am happy to have friends, near and far. People to let off steam with, to be yourself with, to moan to, to laugh with, to trust and confide in. I love FB because it keeps friends in your circle, makes it so much easier to keep in touch, to stay in contact. And there’s nothing like a good chat with a mate, long distance or, even better if, in some bijou café somewhere, with wine a tapas and the day stretching before you, full of laughter and stories and wonder and amazement at the foolishness of yourself and the world.

Judy, Jen, Jac & Kim

 

I am happy that I live in a part of the world that, despite its injustices and idiocies, allows me and those I love to live in relative peace and freedom, even at increasingly exorbitant charges. I am glad we are not bound by the tyranny of fear and insanity that others live with daily, fearing for their very lives. I know it could be better, and therein lies one of life’s frustrations, but it is not as debilitating as so many other parts of the world, and for that I am grateful.

Trafalgar Sq

 

I am happy to be alive. To have survived ill health, major loss, career disruptions, disappointments and still be here, looking forward, making plans, living a hopeful life. I appreciate that I can make choices about my life, that, given a range of loose parameters, I am in charge of my life.

Jackie S

 

Finally, I am happy I am a reader, that I know the bliss of books, the pleasure of the page, the wonder of the word. I can happily spend a day, or more, lost in space and time in some other world, there on the page. I am so happy that there are writers who continue to make stories to share with us, to enrich us and challenge us and make us better people.

books & work room

What are you grateful for this weekend? Probably being a teacher, as we begin the Easter Holidays, which makes all the other rubbish we endure worthwhile! (Pictures from Private Collection)

Let’s talk about reading, baby, let’s talk about a rich life, shall we?

February 1, 2014

It’s that time of year in the UK, kiddies starting to panic about their exams, about their GCSE C grades and wanting it, but not actually being prepared to work for it. There are many serious problems in Education, too many and too depressing to consider here, but the daddy of them all of them is Reading.

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As an English teacher of extensive and considerable experience it is my considered opinion that the epidemic of non-readers is growing and will strangle the world, immuring us in illiteracy and idiocy. Forget global warming and the increasing divide between rich and poor, the divide between readers and non-readers will define the planet.

To read is to know, to understand, enjoy, think, consider, imagine, explore. To read is to be empowered. At its most basic and fundamental level reading = knowledge. And you must know by know that knowledge = power. Does anyone really think that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the guys from Google and Amazon don’t read, weren’t readers?

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It’s time to face the facts. Reading is magic. It does all sorts of tricky and scary things to you. It helps your vocabulary, it helps you understand how language works at a fundamental level – grammar and all that lovely stuff – and at the higher level of images and contradictions and challenges in ideas, and concepts. Reading takes you on a journey, to unreal places, to facts and information, to ideas that challenge and confront; to new worlds, both imagined and real. Reading is the fortress for the lonely, for the outsider, for the lost, for the vulnerable and for the smart. Reading fiction helps you understand the world, it makes you more empathic, more able to understand and read others: it helps you to be more successful in business. Oh, yes, there are studied about this.

Smart people read. They know its power. Dumb people, stupid people would rather have their fingernails pulled out than read a book. Oh, yes, it’s true. Stupid people don’t know how stupid they are, because they don’t read. Believe me, I have met too many now – students and parents who actually don’t know what a book is – other than something they had to interact with at school.

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But, more incredibly, there are schools that don’t think reading in class is a sound thing to do. Schools that think silent reading is a waste of time. I know this sounds like insane rubbish but it is true. Reading silently in class (because so many of our students do not read silently or otherwise anywhere else) does not show evidence of progress, means that some are day-dreaming, are not concentrating and simply wasting time.

These are the very schools whose results are on a knife-edge, where students can’t read for meaning or answer anything other than the most fundamental questions about the content. How can they pass an exam worth 60% (soon to be 100%), where half of that mark is based on the ability to read and understand unseen texts? Even the better students aren’t reading a wide and eclectic range of texts, a rich and varied diet of fiction that feeds them and encourages them to go onto A levels and thence to university.

But senior administrators fearful of the might of Ofsted and the madness that mandates evidence for everything cannot abide the quiet, soft, gentle world of silent reading, of a child sitting still, simply reading. Because, you must know by now, if you can’t measure something in English education then it obviously isn’t happening.

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Too many young people do not have the habit of reading. It is easy to understand, there are so many distractions, so many other easier more entertaining things to be doing, why sit quietly reading a book that will take hours or days to finish? What’s the point?

Indeed, I wonder too. Why am I beating my brains out to make fools and morons understand that reading matters, that it makes a difference. Fail your exams, have an utterly impoverished life, know nothing, at all ever.

But you know what, you aren’t in the majority. People read all the time, on the trains, on the tube, on buses and planes – they read the papers and books and e-books and you know what, these people are going to work, to jobs that earn money. Reading got them there. Reading enriches their lives and they know it. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

 

Holiday Reading – Christmas 2013

December 21, 2013

As a sharing caring type of person I think it’s only right that I share the reading highlights of my year so you can enjoy some reading of your own this festive season break, with some helpful information to guide you on your way. Whether you spend your idle hours on a beach, in the back yard, cosy in bed or around a fire, a book is always a handy companion.

My 2013 list is gleaned from this year’s reading – both new titles, and beloved old favourites.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

A bit of a modern Candide: to wit, a road trip of troubles and twists and turns, where everything turns out more than all right in the end, where the past travels alongside the present and we see Alan Karlson’s amazing adventures then and understand why he doesn’t sit still for long now. The bad guys aren’t really all that bad, and our hero, has had and continues to have a large life. A man who blows things up for a hobby and a living he ends up – a bit like Forest Gump – meeting some of the most unlikely people of history, playing a key part in the Spanish revolution, the Chinese revolution, meeting presidents and despots before landing in Bali, after his simple but daring escape from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. It is a lot of fun and a welcome alternative to the Scandi-noir infecting our bookshops and on-line retailers.

100 yr old man

 

Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel

Like many others I fell in love with Mantel and Cromwell in Wolf Hall and couldn’t wait for this book. As compelling and well written, as detailed and convincing as the first, it is un-put-down-able. I’ve always loved the Tudor period and with Mantel you DO feel as if you are there, at court, in the streets, roaming Europe. I can only agree with others: she is a master story teller, a wonderful weaver of wicked words that make the less than appealing Cromwell a man to be admired, a man I wish I’d known. Bring on the next one!

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Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This is one disturbing book with one of the most sinister characters in fiction – forget Cromwell and his Machiavellian scheming, Amy Dunne is beyond bad, she is one evil sick woman. Just be grateful she is the product of Flynn’s imagination. Having said that, the book is terribly well written: you’re sucked in by the voices, by the diary and the events and when it twists, as you know it must, you feel as if you’ve been punched. I’m not sure about the ending, it seemed to flag a little but the portrait of marriage, of how we feel about ourselves and our beloved rings terribly true.

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

One of the most lauded Young Adult fiction novel of recent years, this is a smart book, a non-sentimental exploration of teenagers with cancer and yes, there is death. It is a testament to Green that when Augustus Waters dies it is not a schmaltzy scene but one of restraint and reverence. No parent wants to even think of their child dying so bits of this book are a bit hard as a mother. Hazel-Grace our prime death-candidate tells the story and her love with Augustus. She moves from self-pity to defiance and back again and she certainly suffers, but quite stoically really. My daughter wasn’t happy with how rude she was to her parents, especially at her age, even given her condition. Augustus’ death seemed a trite contrived, perhaps a bit sudden, but the characters and the vitality of the writing are Green’s strength. A good book, but I think it’s over-hyped. However…

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan

This is the better book of the two. I fell in love with the writing and the characters – Will Grayson the first and Tiny Cooper will live with me forever. Jane is pretty good too and although Will Grayson the other began as winy self-piteous, pain in the arse (like too many kids I’ve taught) with all his ‘problems’ he does grow through his knowing the other Will Grayson and his love affair with Tiny Cooper. This is almost the definitive book about teenage love, romance and relationships – be they straight or gay. The truth in this book is in the insights about being and becoming, the conflicts and contradictions within us that we can’t really explain to ourselves let alone others. I love that the central relationship is the friendship between Will Grayson and the amazing – truly one of the best characters in fiction – Tiny Cooper who is gay, a massively huge football player who is so out there on all levels that you have to love him. This is a great book, insightful, exceptionally well crafted and satisfying. Read it now.

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

I gave up YA series at the end of Harry Potter when I couldn’t face the final in her epic series. The over-written indulgent pedestrian story finally did me in. But I have returned to stories of ordinary kids with extra-ordinary powers with the Percy Jackson books. I’m on my third this Christmas. They’re fun, they’re well written, albeit not in the same class as John Green, but the plotting is sound, the characters good and you’re taken along on a good enjoyable romp through modern America, home of the new centre of the world and so Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, of course. But the conceit works and it’s fun, if you know your Greek Myths to hunt the Gods and Goddesses, spotting the monsters in their modern guise. I think it’s a bit naff that our modern heroes – half gods, half mortals – are the ADHD, OCD troubled kiddies in our midst. I can only guess that my antipathy to that is being a cynical old teacher and the idea that labels give us excuses and now labels make us special. Still Riordan is/was a teacher and he’s got many things right and the sales to prove it. Accuracy note from my very own Pallas-Athena – the goddess was a virgin Goddess so she really wasn’t in the business of shagging around and having little Halflings of her own…

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And you could do worse that read Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, or John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.

So to this Christmas

I have begun The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and will see how that goes. I like the opening, atmospheric, good characters, strong writing. But a bit big and heavy in my hands, sad to say.

I’ve also returned to Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville, having been inspired by a lovely piece of writing by a dear friend of mine I have returned to this book from the past: a Vogel winner (Oz new writing prize) from the 1980s and am pleased to say that it is standing the test of time very well. Which sadly, Howard’s Way by EM Forster did not.

I have two Percy Jackson’s – The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth – for the lighter, quick reading moments. And I’m waiting for the Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pacol to be on Amazon so I can sink my teeth into that.

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So, make sure that as well as indulging in lovely food and wine and good company you indulge yourself with a good book or two. Reading really is one of life’s best simple pleasures. (Images courtesy Google Images)

A reading list for starters…

September 14, 2013

Some years ago E.D Hirsch made his recommendations about what US kiddies should know and we all know Gove is following a similar route with his new curriculums, prescribing what students must know by certain ages. Let me be less prescriptive and suggest a reading list – by no means exhaustive – of the novels and stories children should read on their way through school. And you should catch up on as well!

A good starting point for reading what is considered good quality are the short lists for the various literary prizes, eg The Booker, Miles Franklin, Pulitzer and YA prizes. Go to past years and see what’s there. The internet proliferates with lists of 50 best of… so check them out too.

Let’s remember why reading is important

1.Reading teaches us about language, about syntax, vocabulary, sentence structures and text cohesion – it is invaluable in learning how to write effectively. A good reader becomes a good writer. When language (or grammar) skills are taught explicitly the child already has something to hook the new learning into, something to contextualise the knowledge so it makes sense and is ‘absorbed’ into the growing skill base.

2.Reading teaches us about the world – we learn facts, we learn about places and events, we learn about who we are and how we operate in the world. This is as true of fiction as it is of non-fiction, of factual texts.

3.Reading teaches us about how to be human. There is a lovely body of evidence that shows that the fiction readers amongst us are more in tune with others, more empathetic and able to understand other people, their emotions and motivations.

4.Reading also helps develop concentration, the ability to focus on one task for an extended time, which we all need to do, especially students in school and given the alarmingly range of short snappy distractions in this modern world we need a way to develop concentration skills. Twenty-thirty minutes a day is not a lot of time but it may be the best use of half an hour there is!!

5.Reading is also an immensely pleasurable task – personal, private, portable, cheap. A life without reading really is an impoverished life, regardless of all the above reasons.

 

A beginning non-comprehensive reading list:

Early Years – Pre-school & Primary

The caveat being that you MUST read to your child every day. And then you MUST listen to them when they begin to read. Reading together is the act that shows both love and the importance of reading to you both. I would suggest that you buy books as presents – always one for birthdays and Christmas. This simple act builds reading and books into young people’s lives as a natural and normal thing.

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Myths and Legends from across the world – Greek and Roman, Arthurian, Aboriginal, Chinese, etc. There are a range of versions from picture books through to the originals – begin gently

Bible stories – again children’s versions, Moses, The Ark, Exodus, Jesus and his miracles, etc

Spot books – a family favourite

Picture books – many coming out all the time – look for areas of interest and presentation of content and illustrations

Enid Blyton – The Far Away Tree is still lovely

Winnie the Pooh

Paddington Bear

The Wind in the Willows

Peter Pan

Alice in Wonderland & other Lewis Carroll works, do not forget Jabberwocky

Ogden Nash poetry

Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie, The Magic Pudding (Australia)

Goosebumps series – wonderful for learning how to read independently

A Wizard of Earthsea

Chronicles of Narnia

The Hobbit

The Jungle Book

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stephenson

 

Middle Years – 12-15

Some of this list will be taught in school as part of the English curriculum. This list and the one for 16+ will be wholly dependent on your child and their ability and interest. But what I am stressing here is more of the classics than much modern stuff – which isn’t to say that The Hunger Games and Alex Rider books aren’t worth reading, just that you need to keep an eye out for quality, so your child has a rich reading experience.

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One Dickens – Oliver or Great Expectations

Harry Potter, much as I hate to admit it – they are now loaded with cultural and social references – but go to The Lord of the Rings for the original references!

Shakespeare – poetry, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet

Lord of the Flies – a bit dated now but worth a read

To Kill a Mockingbird

Animal Farm and 1984 – you cannot escape Orwell and these are essential to understanding our modern world and how we fit in it

Brave New World – worth a look

Some Agatha Christie – the original queen of crime – Murder in Mesopotamia

Some Hemingway

Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath

 

Later Years – 16+

This really is classics land and only a sample of what is possible – many writers have a range of texts to choose from. But these texts – novels, short stories and poems will inform the rest of your reading and connect you to a range of experiences, times, cultures and societies and that’s what reading is meant to do!

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Frankenstein

Dracula

Robinson Crusoe

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Pride and Prejudice

A Clockwork Orange

The Romantic Poets – Keats, Byron, Shelley

Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Cesar

 

Classic Poetry

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L’Morte D’Arthur

The Canterbury Tales

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Under Milk Wood

The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock

 

Classic European Novels

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Candide

All Quiet on the Western Front – if you are going to read a war novel then this is it – or see below – Catch 22??

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovick

Anna Karenina or War and Peace

The Brothers Karimazov

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Les Miserables

Madame Bovary

Don Quixote

 

Classic American Novels

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Catch 22 – perhaps the best anti-war novel ever written

Catcher in the Rye

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

On the Road

Moby Dick

The Last of the Mohicans

The Sound and the Fury

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn – there must be some Mark Twain!

The Great Gatsby

Maus, Night – Eli Weisel

+ Edgar Allan Poe short stories

+ Margaret Atwood, who is Canadian, lest we forget that country!

 

African Literature*

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Things Fall Apart

Doris Lessing – novels and stories, especially Through the Tunnel

 

South American Literature*

100 years

100 Hundred Years of Solitude

Like Water for Chocolate

House of the Spirits

*I know I have just ignored the countries for the sake of the continents but please forgive and/or add more books!

 

Classic Australian Novels

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Schindler’s List, Thomas Kenneally

Bliss and Illywhacker, Peter Carey

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

The Well, Elizabeth Jolley

Lillian’s Story, Kate Grenville

For Love Alone, Christina Stead

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Gould’s Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White

See also: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2011/01/11/50-must-read-australian-novels-as-voted-by-you-in-2010/

 

Classic Indian Novels

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A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Midnight’s Children and any other Salman Rushdie

+ VS Naipaul

 

Chinese Literature

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The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston

Wild Swans

1000 Paper Cranes

 

There is so much more than this – it is just a start. Yes, I have read most of these and the ones I haven’t read are on my bookshelf and my to read list. There are many wonderful modern novels and stories out there too, don’t ignore them. Remember this is a list to enable you to better enjoy and understand what you do read. Popular culture is full of references to stories and people from literature. Where would we be without George Orwell and Big Brother???
What would you add? (Book cover images courtesy Google Images)

The ideal holiday – 40 Days and 40 Nights

July 22, 2012

I will be away from the world of work and electronica for 40 days and 40 nights. Indeed I am hopeful that the link to Noah is not portentous, as I’ve really had enough of the rain this English ‘summer’.

Yes, dear reader, it’s time for the long summer holiday, the time of the year when everyone wishes they were still as school, or uni, or a teacher!

40 days is a goodly amount of time. It was the time of flood in the bible that wiped out sin and unicorns, not to mention dragons, and other evil stuff.

40 days is the time of Lent, when Moses went up Mount Sinai and hung out with God without eating or drinking any food. And most people think they suffer by giving up chocolate.

40 Days and 40 Nights is also a 2002 movie about Josh Hartnett giving up sex after a nasty break up with his girlfriend – apparently he fails dismally and has loads of sex, but fails to get over the aforementioned g-friend. Don’t worry about this.

My 40 days will be a mix of abstinence and indulgence, as really, the ideal holiday should be.

 

I shall abstain from

Anything to do with work – no emails, no reading, no preparation, no evil thoughts sneaking in to waylay me

Public Transport  (once I get to France) – not one bus, or train or tube, just my own Jag and lots of walking

Anything to do with the Olympics – being not there will be a huge relief, especially as my world of public transport, ie London Bridge, will be severely disrupted

Electronic communications – we are without internet and the wonderful web of world-widedness so I will not be emailing, surfing, tweeting or blogging. So dear, reader you will have to make the most of this last post until September. Re-read some of my older stuff, it’s pretty enjoyable too.

 

I shall indulge in

Sleeping – especially sleeping in and afternoon naps and other assorted bed-time activities having been apart from beloved for 33 days

Wine and cheese – well I am in France and the cheese is wonderfully runny, pungent and economical. The wine is abundant, cheap and as I’m in Champagne how can I not support the local endeavours?

Walks in the gorgeous countryside and trips to the local lake for picnics and a spot of fishing

Reading – loads of study stuff plus the odd recreational read

Writing – of course, it’s me isn’t it – what else would I really indulge in? I shall write 2 chapters for my exegesis and play a bit with my crime story

Playing games with beloved and baby girl – lots of Scrabble and Trinomimos, a bit of Articulate, but no Monopoly whatsoever, ever-ever!

Trips into the town nearest our village – little shopping sorties, bread from the boulangerie, coffee at the café, dinner at our favourite restaurant.

Doing nothing – in the sun, in the countryside, sitting, just being – chatting aimlessly for hours, feeling no need to do a thing!

Have a lovely break if you are off and away. Being away from your normal life is a wondrous way to recharge and revive your life. Don’t feel compelled to do anything other than what you (and your family and friends – no need to be completely selfish) want to do.

So, tis to the Eurostar, bright and early and away. Travel well, my friends, I’ll be in touch in a while. (Images courtesy Google Images & Private Collection)