Monday, May 28, 2007

Books are Sexy.

Well, if only they were! Because, according to the latest reports in the UK, young males (11-14) are still not reading, or rather: still not able to read. There is something ironical, therefore, in the latest well-meaning, yet as ever misguided attempt by the government to promote reading. GIVE THE SCHOOLS A BOOKLIST TO INSPIRE READING. Of course, bearing in mind that the audience probably can’t read the booklist, let alone the books, I wouldn’t expect a raising of standards anytime soon.

The press has cast a derogatory eye upon this latest venture, noticing that some old favourites appear: is this list anything more than a call for a return to classic novels and the moral, educative qualities of literature? Good boys should read good books. The government has tried to sex up reading in the past. It gave primary schools some very nice posters of famous footballers reading. (Not that anyone believed these footballers did any such thing!) And it got wealthy, inarticulate footballers to talk to youngsters about the importance of reading. (Not that many teachers were convinced that yob culture and greed would bring about a revolution in literary criticism…and it didn’t). So, what of this booklist and the chance to choose 20 free books for reading, approximately one book for every 15 boys?

Well, here is a real opportunity for engaging with the intimacy of literature! 15 boys, all sitting around sharing one book…preferably, Billy Elliott…which is one inclusion. And here are some more scintillating choices:

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything…what?

Jeremy Clarkson, I Know You Got Soul…a book about machines, with fascinating trivia! Top Gear reading by an embarrassing chauvanist.
Robinson Crusoe…?

King Solomon’s Mines…?

Treasure Island…?


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The Hobbit…?

Roadl Dahl…Boy, Going Solo?

Ricky Gervais, Flanimals of the Deep? A lot of non-literary flannel!

Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony…let’s start with a derivative fourth novel rather than the height of the series: Artemis Fowl!

Dave Pikey, Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People…. please make up your own indelicate comment on this!

Garth Nix, Lady Friday…wouldn’t it help if the reader started with Mr Monday, the first in the series?

The booklist reflects much what is wrong with teaching in primary and secondary schools at the moment. About 86% of the books recommended for boys in the list are by male authors. Selection rests upon a lie that boys prefer to read male authors. Too many of the books pander to stupid humour and boys-own-fantasy, avoiding emotion. Here is another lie: boys do not want books which foster an inner-life. The list includes Nix’s One Beastly Beast, but omits Sabriel, an emotional, supernatural, feminist tale that has had 11 years old males (in primary school) fascinated! Only 1% of the books are by black authors, even though black males are a significant part of the reading reform issue—and powerful authors, such as Malorie Blackman, are totally excluded. Benjamin Zephaniah gets a piece of whimsical poetry included, but not his provocative Refugee Boy! Quite simply, the booklist avoids any attempt at multiculturalism or race issues: it derives in its entirety from the fictional world of librarians and politicians. There is a world beyond the UK too--one to which many boys are affiliated--not that you would really know that from this latest booklist for the Governmental Bookclub (which meets every first Wednesday of the month at an Academy near you, or at Eton).

Quite simply, is there any wonder that real males do not want to engage with the pleasure of the text?


Id it is said...

Reminds me of the 'Reading First' initiative that was launched in the US a few years ago. Needless to say it failed. Throwing money and/or carnal stimulation at kids in order to kindle an interest in reading! Where on earth are these decision makers who come up with these ridiculous ideas? At Eton, perhaps, or then a Harvard or Princeton if they happen to be in my part of the world.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Growing up, the more a certain book was pushed on me, the less I was to enjoy it. Set them free in a bookstore or library let them find what interests them. Never underestimate the good sense of adolescents. Are you familiar with many of the graphic novels on the market. The high lit quality is amazing in many of them. But, I am not familiar with any by people of color per se.

Unsane said...

This is another problem with "child centred" education. It caters to the immaturity of the child (at least as projected through adult eyes). Yet that child will one day become an adult -- or will he?

eshuneutics said...

id it is, about a decade ago when the UK overhauled its English policy, teachers asked for a prescribed curriculum of literature; and the idea was frowned on. Now, we have backdoor attempts to promote valid texts at primary and secondary level. These are often terrible, having no relevance to the modern UK reader (pupil OR teacher). There is no awareness that reading is such a private activity.

bronzebuckaroo, the trouble is that library cutbacks and uninteresting bookstores...the want of cash...make reading, for the individual, an elitist activity in the UK. It is contradictory that the world of children's lit is so good, yet the level of interaction with it is so bad.

unsane, the business of dumbing down exists very much in this booklist...even the Guinness Book of Records gets a recommendation. The culture of reading is dying because it isn't visual enough in the 10-14 year period, then when adolescents find that they want to read for personal reasons they do not have the skills to do so.

Unsane said...

But the dumbing down also has to do with current commodity culture and an uninspired deference to it -- SMS, video games, The Internet. And it has to do with the idea of the student as the client who runs their own education. And what does the student know but what they are already immersed in?

Are You Outside the Lines? said...

I really enjoy getting the perspective from across the pond. And thanks for your thoughtful post chez moi.

eshuneutics said...

Hello, outside the lines. Thanks for your comment: I will keep up on reading your thoughts!

Hathor said...

I fail to understand why it is not possible to teach a 4, 5 and 6 year old how to read. That's where the emphasis should be.
Some children like to read only for information, like my son. I did too until I became an adult, then I began to read novels.
I do think that most of those books listed should be on school reading list. I not saying those books should be the most of the list, but there has to be some link between culture and generations. I often find myself speaking of events or making allusions which no one seems familiar; just being many years older than the average blogger.

eshuneutics said...

Your point about culture and generations is an interesting one. A clear example would be the Bible. A considerable amount of understanding is lost today because UK culture is out of touch with resonances within literature. (I notice this myself when reading Marechera, for example: I miss his nuances again and again because I have lost my connection to Biblical echoes...mind you, because I once had them I know where to go to recover them). A lot passes young readers by today because they do not have the cultural grasp/historical grasp, as you say. The National Curriculum requires 11 year olds to study Shakespeare...they don't...they read some modern story about Macbeth (say)...decide that it is "crap" and not as good as Goosebumps and leave Shakespeare for life. The problem with this list is that it is driven by some cultural idea of what a boy should be and what the enemy is: "the feminisation of literature." Such hokum!

WATER said...

Well speaking from Derrick L. Briggs voice because I am Derrick...I want to THANK for writing such a wonderful blog...It hasn't been easy to get my brothers to read but it's working...

Thanks Again,

eshuneutics said...

CONGRATULATIONS on your bookclub and the importance you give to words and reading. GOOD LUCK with your new ventures, DLB.