Monday, 25 March 2013

Fruitless Fiction

Although I've always been a keen reader, I appreciate not everyone is like me. As a kid my parents tried to encourage me to read the classics and repeatedly suggested I try Paul Gallico's novella, The Snow Goose – a book I've still never made it through (as someone who seriously dislikes snow, I'm blaming the inclusion of the word in the title for its lack of appeal).

There are so many books released every year and a huge back catalogue of literary greats, making it virtually impossible to read all the so-called “classics”, keep up with my favourite authors and check out any new talent. I generally punish myself by reading weighty books I “should” and then treat myself afterwards by tucking into a novel whose blurb genuinely excites me. More often than not, I end up enjoying the more hard-going scholarly fiction just as much as the more contemporary works but every now and again, I battle through a book that has little or no appeal. Casting my memory back over the 33 years I've been an avid reader, I can only name two books that have defeated me and remain unfinished - Dickens' Tale Of Two Cities and Benjamin Disraeli's Sybil. I'd like to think that as an A-level student, I was perhaps too young to understand either and stubbornly intend on reading both books in their entirety one day.

Since first starting teaching over a decade ago, I've come across many students who hate reading lessons and can't seem to engage with works of fiction. Even during independent reading sessions when pupils are allowed to bring in their own material or choose from school library stock, many struggle to find a book that doesn't “bore” them. Having regularly noted this rather depressing trend, I'm of the belief that any time spent reading should be encouraged, however non-literary the material (magazines, newspapers, websites...).

A spokeswoman for the website, seemed to echo my belief in a recent Metro “story” but I was pretty disgusted by the results of the survey summarised in the article. After trawling through literary forums and websites, researchers put together a list of 100 “essential” books from their findings. Some of the usual suspects make up the list (Tolkien's The Hobbit, Orwell's 1984, Dickens' Great Expectations, Stoker's Dracula, Alcott's Little Women...) and there are also some more contemporary entries that truly deserve their inclusion (Yann Martel's Life of Pi, Audrey Niffenegger's Time Traveller's Wife, Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones...). Alongside the worthy, are some frankly shocking titles, including Tulisa Contostavlos' Honest: My Story So Far, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, Piers Morgan's The Inside and Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Undoubtedly pre-empting a backlash, a representative of bookmarkyourlibrary commented on the results; Elisabeth Robinson said: “No doubt literary aficionados will object to the likes of titles by Katie Price and Russell Brand appearing in the list. But our view is that as long as people are picking up books and reading that has to be a positive thing.” As previously stated, I of course agree with this sentiment but what angers me about the list is the way it has been marketed as “essential”. Definitions of “essential” include “absolutely necessary” and “extremely important” - certainly not words I'd ever use to describe Fifty Shades of Grey and Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals!

In my absence over the next week and a half, I'll leave you with the link to this “essential” list to peruse:

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