This week a statistic was given claiming that 10% of people in the UK have no books. Really? Not even something technical, about cooking, or a car manual?
Well, so the Aviva insurance company say.
I have friends who don’t own books, but most of them have kindles. Some other friends keep their books under the stairs, or tidied away in cupboards. There’s no reason why we should all be the same, and yet…stories.
We can’t live without them, can we? Do you know anyone who will not tell you the story of what they did, an hour, day, week, month or year ago?
To not own a book does not necessarily mean an absence of fiction. Stories come in so many media that we are surrounded by them. 85% of 8 – 15 year-olds own a game console. Most games are interactive stories.
On Sunday morning I was listening to Will Self’s,A Point of View, broadcast on Radio 4. He was talking about ‘Teaching to the Test’. Amongst other worries he had about how education works, he discussed the teaching of literature. Children are no longer expected to read whole texts – so they, the children, claim. Teachers give them summaries of a novel and tell them which sections will contain the best quotes.
One of my nieces did this with Wuthering Heights, a few years ago, and recently another niece did the same with Jane Eyre. I tried to persuade both that it was worth reading the whole novel from beginning to end. ‘There’s no need,’ they said. Both were/are attending good schools, one a comprehensive and one a grammar, so I can’t blame a single teacher. Which means this must be the system.
Somewhere though, if we trace this system back, was there a teacher with simmering resentments against books? I can’t think that anyone with a love of literature would have created a system that seems designed to belittle the joys of immersing one’s self in a fictional world. We don’t have to love all books, but surely we need to be exposed to full novels when we are young.
To be taught that all we ever need is a summary, is to reduce story. Wuthering Heights unfolds through a series of questionable narrators, leading us to form judgements about actions and consequences. We get to know and understand what, how and why they respond to their situations as they do. I didn’t ‘love’ Jane Eyre, but by the end of the novel, I understood her world, and I believe my world was a little broader for having done so.
Show us how to read whole books, and we’ll go on to read more, and more widely. We’ll read with and against the flow of society.
Dumb the reading process down, and you reduce our ability to explore. If the Bronte’s seem too out-dated for modern minds, why not set some texts that young adults can identify with? Don’t, for goodness sake, spoil the immersive experience of discovering the gothic and other wonders of our past. Leave them alone. Eventually a keen reader will stumble upon them somehow.
For women, one or the other of the Bronte novels usually seems to speak to us: only to us. How can that be possible with a book that was written in 1840s? You’d have to read the whole thing to work that out.