Some quirky links I found during a sleepless night:
1. Literary conspiracy theories. Some of these are really good. J.K. Rowling doesn’t exist. Shh. Don’t tell anyone! Also, murder in the Bronte household, who wrote Will Shakespeare’s plays, and other theories about reality that are stranger than fiction. The best bit is that one of the theories was published as fiction after it was turned down as a lit crit non-fiction offering. No one takes your theory seriously? Turn it into a novel. Excellent.
2. Readers don’t fit in at school sometimes. You don’t say. I’m a reader. I didn’t fit in at school. I read under the desk and sometimes was caught and sometimes not. Most of my teachers were sympathetic to my reading habit, but they did try to encourage me to not only have my nose stuck in a book. And they encouraged me to read broadly. And the librarian did suggest books if I remember correctly. Of course I was burning through the local public library and the school library at the same time. I think I liked the public library better. Better selection.
3. Finally, defending fantasy vs classics. I think people should read classics. It is part of our literary heritage. The people who write YA fantasy books with dragons often reference other older literature. That happens. We should all read widely. But never ever leave out books with dragons. That is a terrible idea.
I am currently reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. It is brilliant. I am collecting lines I love. It is taking a long time because I’m also teaching and so have to read textbooks. Oh and Potter on audio. I’m at the end of book 6. There is still a bit to go in Book 6, but the big scene has happened. Now I can maybe sleep tonight and not lie awake, then get up and find all kinds of interesting blog posts about reading.
2. In the category Books You Should Read, an interview with Karen Swallow Prior. I’ve been eyeing Prior’s Booked. Maybe I’ll add it to my Christmas list. In the interview, Prior names 5 books she thinks all Christians in America should read.
3. Finally, for today anyway, an interesting US map of books by setting. Read your way around the USA. There was some Canadian discussion of this on the Globe and Mail site for Canada Day this year. I think the Globe did regions, not provinces. But we could do provinces. What’s the most famous book set in each of the Canadian provinces and territories? There’s a Friday Challenge for you!
Last weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada. I went to camp to staff a senior high/college age retreat weekend. This is something I’ve been doing for many years. At camp on this weekend, campers and staff are encouraged to sit with a variety of people. In attempting this, I ended up having a variety of conversations about books over meals. I also talked about books at other times on the weekend. I knew many of the campers at the weekend because they’d participated in the camp’s leader-in-training program, which I direct. From our interactions before last weekend, most of the campers knew I like to read. So we talked books. (When I write this blog, former LITs are often the audience I have in mind.) Here are a few snippets of the conversations about books that stick in my mind.
One day at lunch, we discussed recent non-required reading. The Physics Student and I talked about 1984, which we’d both read for the first time this year. The Physics Student’s cousin told us not to spoil the book for her, so we talked in non-specific terms about how we didn’t like the ending. The Physic Student’s sister was appalled that I had not read 1984 before this year. The Chess Master recommended a series about a thief and Attolia, though he couldn’t remember the author. He read the third book in the series first and recommended I try the same thing. I found the first two books at a used bookshop today, so I’ll be starting with number one, The Thief.
The Physics Student’s sister and I talked about books while many people carved pumpkins. She is working through one of those top 100 books you should read lists, and talked about her experience reading Catch-22. We then discussed book lists and how we don’t like everything on those top-100 lists. She doesn’t like Pride and Prejudice; I’ve read P&P 7 times at least. I flee from Wuthering Heights; she’s read it multiple times. I’m almost convinced to try WH but not quite. And Catch-22 is on my list but sort of in the background at the moment.
At the turkey dinner, required reading was the topic on the table. I was sitting with high-schoolers and they were reading Life of Pi and The White Tiger. I was impressed by the fact that English teachers seem to be updating reading lists regularly, and with the Tiger theme in the reading at two different schools. I’ve read Life of Pi but not White Tiger. I may have to reconsider WT.
Conversations change what I decide to read. Does talking about books change what you decide to read?
(The book I kept recommending last weekend was a recent read: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.)
Loads of people talk about why on earth we should read fiction and not feel it to be a waste of time. Neil Gaiman recently claimed that our future depends on reading imaginative fiction. I found a particularly interesting tidbit about science fiction in the middle of the text of this speech. Here it is:
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Read Science Fiction. It is good for you. Also other kinds of fiction are good for you, but the Chinese government especially recommends Science Fiction.
Yes, I’ve read Munro’s stories, not all of them, but enough to know I like them. You should now go read them too. Nobel Prize people, that is must read stuff. Must Read Stuff that is written by a Canadian Woman. Run out and get an original collection. Then read it.
I’ve previously written about my dream home library. That post linked to a set of photos of home libraries to drool over. Today I found another list of libraries, this one a fictional set. I also figured out where the current dream library in my head comes from — “My Fair Lady” the movie! Aha! It is Henry Higgins’s library. What do you model your dream library on?
Last week I linked to the New York Public Library 100 best children’s books list. This week, its a list from the UK from an organization called Booktrust. Of course the UK list has a different flavour, plus they’ve organized the list by four age groups with 25 books in each category. I think the last age category has been interpreted rather broadly and tends toward young adult (if not adult) books rather than children’s books. Still and all I got 21 books out of their 100. It helps that I lived in the UK for a year before I was 14.
A few of my fb friends have mentioned they just aren’t that into fiction. I am astonished by this as I cannot imagine life without fiction. Well I can, a little. I gave up fiction one year for lent. That was a long 40 days. But generally, I cannot imagine life without fiction. I’ve always got at least one novel on the go. If you doubt me, look around on this blog.
As I thought about the tribe of “I don’t get fiction” I wondered if there was a correlation between those people and their Myers-Briggs type. In Myers-Briggs terms, I am an INTP, often called “The Theorist” thus it is appropriate for me to have a theory about people-who-don’t-get-fiction. My theory is that those people may often be “S” or Sensing types. Sensing types tend to be more tuned into the real world of the senses vs. iNtuitive types who tend to live more inside their heads. To test this theory, I need people willing to reveal at least a tiny piece of themselves in the following poll. Let’s see if it works. (There is an online-not-certified-as-correct-use-at-own-risk version of an MBTI test here.)
I asked my fb friends if they read biographies and the answers ranged from “No, why bother?” to “Yes, that is what I always read, fiction is not real.” (I paraphrase slightly.) Many of my fiction-loving friends said they seldom read biographies. My enthusiastic-teacher friend read a lot of biographies last year, both of really good people (example Mother Teresa) and really bad people (example Eva Braun). Biographies mentioned as worthy of reading by this non-scientifically selected panel were John Adams by David McCollough, anything by Charlotte Gray, Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Take My Hands by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, and, on the to be read pile, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Of this list, I’ve read Take My Hands. I liked Dr. Ida by Wilson better, but both about medical work in India in the mid-twentieth century if that kind of thing interests you. I can’t comment on the others, but am interested in Gray’s new book called The Massey Murder. It has a kind of Alias Grace flavour, but a different murder is involved.
I read biographies and memoir and letters and diaries of people that interest me, usually for what they’ve done in their lives. For example, I’ve got the three giant volumes of C.S. Lewis’s Collected Letters on my shelf. I’ve also got Alister McGrath’s biography of Lewis in my to-be-read pile. I’ve read Lewis’s conversion memoir, Surprised by Joy. It is interesting that a lot of biographies of Lewis discount SBJ as inaccurate. Memory and memoir are funny things. I read about the life of C.S. Lewis because he was an academic who wrote a lot, and I admire his writing. I’ve also read a memoir by Richard Feynman, and have a biography of Feynman on my shelf. Feynman was a physicist who worked on the A-Bomb during World War 2, and later taught at CalTech. I’ve studied physics and engineering and so this interests me. It probably doesn’t interest you.
As a teacher, I’ve been interested in biographies and education for a while. I haven’t really done much with that, but there is a research project forming in the back of my mind. Memoir has become a part of teaching — reflecting on one’s own experience to pass on nuggets of wisdom to others. Are there other ways that life stories are involved in teaching? What about actual biographies, researched books about the lives of others? Published journals and diaries? Published letters? How do these feed into learning? Interesting questions. Any thoughts?