‘Hey, Cath, I’ve got to tell you about this,’ said Kay, as I stepped into the kitchen last night. ‘We’ve been reading An Inspector Calls, and half-way through our teacher stopped us and made us watch a video of the ending, and she completely spoiled it, because it made the ending rubbish. I was SO disappointed: I was really looking forward to finding out what happened, and she gave us a stupid version. Can you believe it? We actually get to read something I like, and then she has to ruin it.’
I hung my coat on the back of a chair and took my place at the table. ‘That’s rough.’
‘I know. But I’m still going to read it to the end, because they completely got it wrong, and I know what should have happened. Besides, it’s a set book, so we have to.’
‘Good. It is a great play, isn’t it? Perhaps you should go and see a theatre version now, and get another perspective.’
‘That’s what I want to do.’
It’s lovely getting an unexpected gift.
Throughout the last three years Kay has been responding to my hopeful questions about how she’s finding her English classes with a range of negatives, dismissing some of my long-term favourites as ‘boring’ or ‘silly’. In combination with similar reports from some of my other nieces, I’d begun to wonder if my old favourites were going to become part of a specialist reading list rather than a pleasurable one.
As my gran used to say, every dog has it’s day. Maybe it is harder for children of the digital age to relate to descriptions of lives lived in the early industrial age, and classic literature will move forwards to the 1940s or later.
I’ve frequently thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t grow up with the same reading lists that earlier generations had. Authors fall out of fashion, but they rarely disappear completely. There have been a lot of pre-Victorian novels I’ve failed to complete, and I can’t think of one that I regret, so far – I’m always prepared to be persuaded on that, of course.
In a previous post I’ve worried whether the latest methods for teaching literature in secondary schools are damaging reading patterns, but Kay’s joy in the Priestly text came from an immediate engagement with the story. Her disappointment was because someone else had imposed their interpretation on her. She wanted to understand the character developments and motivations on her own terms.
That’s what reading is about, isn’t it?