Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How reading can save the world

Just mashing up two current news stories - Gove banning* books from the secondary school curriculum that haven't been written in the UK - and the rather terrifying swing to the right we've seen with UKIP taking the majority of the votes in the European elections last week -  and I have a suggestion.

A reading list to save the world.

Yes, it's a grandiose claim, but frankly I never feel better about life than when I'm quietly ensconced somewhere with a cup of tea and a book, so what are the chances this feel-good route to zen might be equally applicable to the rest of this nation?

High, I reckon.

But seriously - we know that what we read affects how we understand and feel about other people.

Perhaps if we read more by writers from Europe and her border neighbours (as a start - the rest of the world next up on the hit list) it would revolutionise our understanding of how we fit into the great mystery that is the European Union?

It's hard to hate, or call people stupid, or call them names when you've read their history, you've championed their heroism, fallen in love with their poetry and cried at their tragedy.

So let's not stop at taking the American novelists off the reading list (and as John Steinbeck's biggest fan, trust me it pains me to say that...).

Let's take the books written by the British off the curriculum.

How might the following reading list alter the world view of our students, who will become our workers and our leaders:

  • Hans Fallada - Alone in Berlin
  • Bruno Schultz - The Street of Crocodiles and other stories
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard - A Death in the Family
  • Francoise Sagan - Bonjour Tristesse
  • John-Paul Satre - Iron in the Soul
  • Yuri Andrukhovych - The Muscoviad
  • Jachym Topol - Devil’s Workshop
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Primo Levi - If not now, when?
  • Haruki Murakami - Sputnik Sweetheart
  • Jorge Luis Borges - Labyrinths

It's a random rag tag of books, by writers from various places (European and beyond).  Not better, nor worse than any other list, just made up of a selection I grabbed from my bookshelves. And I agree my approach is very Matthew Arnold - the Victorian prescriptive 'improving' nature of reading. But I think it would be wonderful if our school system helped us work towards proving the hypothesis that the pen is mightier than the sword....

And so to bed. To read, obviously.

*So it turns out Michael Gove hasn't banned any books from the curriculum - in fact he wants to 'broaden' the books that kids read at GCSE.  That the prescriptive nature of this broadening may in some circles be interpreted as 'double speak'.  Let's hope Orwell's 1984 continues to be squeezed into the free choice selection of the curriculum (as Gove himself apparently hopes it will)....

1 comment:

  1. I had two thoughts upon reading this. Firstly, curiosity as to whether students learning foreign languages would be required to read English authors translated into those languages in order that this patriotism might be better engendered and secondly, if I hadn't read Atwood I wouldn't be thinking that we're sometimes worryingly reminiscent of the Republic of Gilead in the bureaucratic jingoism. Actually, on that note, there'd be some issues with the Bible, wouldn't there?!!