Saturday, 25 July 2015

You know those lists of things you must

do or go to or see or hear or read? The "100" sort of list that you look through and think, "I haven't heard or seen or been or read..." any of those?
Lucy Coats complained over on Facebook that there had been one of those sort of lists in the Guardian with respect to children's books which should be read. She complained (quite correctly) that the content was old-fashioned.
I was going to make some disgruntled miaous about something else this morning but I won't. Instead I was reminded of a conversation I had some time ago. It was with someone on my regular pedalling  route to the shopping centre. 
I stopped to speak to him because his mother was ill and I wanted inquire if she was any better. Did she, I asked, want anything to read. He shrugged and told me, "I haven't opened a book since I left school."
Oh. Right. He is about my age. I doubt he was exaggerating - at least to the point where he won't have read a book. His wife was a teacher. She was the one who read the bed time stories. 
"Why?" I asked.
"Not interested."
There was not much I could say to that. 
"You know all that stuff we had to read? It was so boring."
He was never in the academic stream. There were still technical (secondary modern type) high schools around when he was that age. He would not have had Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Dickens or any of the other "classics". He would have had the "modern" literature which was considered to be simpler. Perhaps it was. I don't know. I "did" the classics. "Doing" them just about killed them for me. When I left school and began teacher training I had to choose from a range of subjects in my first year. I assumed I was going to do English. I wanted to write - or rather, go on writing. I thought doing English was going to be the right thing to do. 
Fortunately for me one of Australia's leading poets, a family friend, told me otherwise. She advised me to do History instead. For once in my life I took advice. She was right. The English course was filled with things I had already read. I would be required to think about them in a certain way - not in the way a writer needs to think. The course was old fashioned in the extreme. I know that now. It had much less to offer than the equivalent course at the university. 
I knew I would get to university when I could afford to go but it wasn't right then.
And when I did get to university I did psychology instead. It probably taught me just as much about people as doing English. I also read widely. Our poet friend kept sending me suggestions. Other people I met offered more suggestions. 
I didn't read them all. I still haven't read them all. I started some books and did not finish them. They didn't interest me. 
All of that has taught me something though. I have a TBR (to be read) pile. If I come to a book on it and it doesn't grab me immediately I will "skim" further. If it still doesn't grab me then I will cease reading it. 
I will cease reading a book which does not interest me simply because there are so many books I want to read, or think I want to read. I don't need lists of one hundred classics. I don't have to read War and Peace or anything else. 
I am much more grateful for people like Lucy Coats who will enthuse about a book that I might otherwise have missed. 
It is individual books which matter - not lists.

1 comment:

Frances said...

Right. I haven't read the list. But I veer towards the old fashioned. Colin Thiele et al. Or go back further to RLS.
Not to mention the category of "Young Adult" fiction, which to me explains, by its dumbing down of usage, the fact that so many young have such a limited vocabulary.
Once, when young left childish books they went to adult. As they should. Now that category exploits them. In my opinion.