Thursday, September 06, 2007

The green light

At Bookslut, Colleen Mondor on the problem with high-school English classes. She's reviewing a handful of young-adult novels that seem likely to instigate or cultivate a love of literature, including one about Jane Austen that sounds rather good... and really everyone should read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin!


  1. Love love love Cassandra's Sister! It's a really fast read so you would be through it in a couple of hours at most; but it's such a delightful way of looking inside Jane Austen's life. I already gave my copy to a niece or I would send it your way. (She was very excited as she has been intimidated by the idea of reading Austen, but this looked like a good way to start - which pretty much proved my point!)

    Do check it out for some light reading though.


  2. I remember in my last year of school being set the assignment: Write about why you think literature should be studied in school. I was outraged because we had been squandering time on books I could perfectly well have read on my own; I thought we should be reading Shakespeare. So I wrote an essay along these lines and got a C. I thought: Right, that's the last time I ever say what I think in an essay for you. You think I can't write for a good grade? Ha.

    Years later I got into a discussion with a friend who had had similar views. His class at school had been assigned Catcher in the Rye, which he loathed; he begged to be allowed to read Lord Jim, instead, and was told this would be all right.

    I think the problem is, 'young adult' is a misleading term. A teenager is not someone who is intellectually or morally inferior to anyone old enough to vote, drink or drive - s/he is someone with a fixed biological age, and an intellectual age that may be well in advance of that of, say, the President of the United States.

    If I wanted teenagers to engage with strong works of art, I think I might introduce them to work which did not depend on facility with texts -- people read at widely differing speeds, but everyone sees a 2-hour film in 2 hours. (I notice that the teaching of literature in schools seems to engender in many a lifelong hatred of literary fiction, even among people who never read it -- whereas we really see no comparable cohort of people who loathe "art" films.)