Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading not essays

When I was at home for the weekend my mum announced that she always thinking that it's a shame I didn't do English A-Level. "But you never liked writing essays did you" she suddenly said at the dinner table - just after my dad had attempted to increase the intelligence level of our wittering by asking what the best book we'd read so far this year was.

Me - "It wasn't because I didn't like writing essays, it was because I couldn't stand the way that 1984 got ruined for me when I did it for GCSE and I didn't want that to happen with something else."

Mum - "Rubbish. Don't you love talking over a book with someone and discovering new layers of the story and the characters. It's wonderful."

There speaks a woman with a first class degree (honours) in English. (Done through the OU too, so while she was bringing us up).

I conceded that I do like talking through books with people, but that it was probably a combination of my English teacher and the fact that we didn't look at the text that way (have to extract the maximum juice for your essays, not ENJOY discussing it) that put me off doing English for A-Level.

(I actually got quite lucky with the conversation as she then didn't go into her "I wish you'd done the IB" speech, when I would have had to throw things at her).

I read books that catch my attention. Sometimes they're recommended to me by people, or there's a link from another book that makes me hunt down something obscure. Sometimes it's just pure chance. I only read Animal Farm and 1984 all those years ago (I was about 9) because they happened to be on the bottom shelves of the bookcase next to the sofa. Animal Farm had a bright cover and I liked reading it, so I read the other book there by that author. I did read some random stuff off my parents bookshelves by cover choice - strangely the black covered "classics" never got picked up.

Anyway, this whole post came about because I started reading one of my newest batch of library books last night - The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. I picked that up because Mark had recommended it but since it also states on the back that it is "in the tradition of Nancy Mitford and I Capture the Castle" I would probably have picked it up at some point. I found a brilliant bit in it last night that summed it all up perfectly.


"I had been looking forward to the English course, but soon found the endless dissection and analysis of the books utterly destructive. I wanted to read, but not to write about what I had read. Shakespeare was the greatest trial. I had adored watching The Merchant of Venice and The Winter's Tale, but had no interest at all in talking about the minutiae of the text."


That's it! I can read something and enjoy it, maybe write a review of it for work and wiffle about it on here. What I can't do is go "why did the writer choose those words in that passage?", "why was she writing in the kitchen sink?", "what is the significance of the dog being called Heloise?". ARRRGGGHHH!!!

I have tried rereading 1984 a couple of times, but I just can't get into it anymore. I can hear Mrs Jemmerson's voice in my head as I try to read about Winston in his flat and the magic of the words gets chewed up and lost. Maybe it's a subconscious reason I avoid the classics so I don't get into a discussion of exactly what the author meant by this or that.

Every now and again I think of doing an OU English course, thinking that I was pretty good at writing essays (I was, I just never got the hang of the endless rewriting) and that I'd end up reading some interesting and important things. Then I hear Mrs Jemmerson in my head and shudder, flicking back to the science degrees instead.


BTW, I haven't read a single one of my new library books yet, been too busy. I am about halfway through Special Topics in Calamity Physics (I have to keep stopping to let it settle in my head) and, as stated above, started The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets last night. It's this having time off work thing, I have lots of other things to do at home and so lose my guaranteed (lunch) hour a day of reading time.

Best books of the year so far: Anthony and mum passed on answering, Emily said the new Tamora Pierce, I went with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and dad chose The Tenderness of Wolves which won this years Costa Prize.


Ooh, and that 100 again post was my 500th post on this blog. That's rather scary.

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