How's That Novel Coming

I was reminded of this by the New York Times book blog Paper Cuts, and had to share. I find it… uncomfortable.

…and a Merry Christmas to you too :laughing:

If you really want to feel uncomfortable about something – vic, do yourself a favor and do not read this more than four feet from the Jameson – consider Caleb Crain’s essay in the current New Yorker:

I suppose there’ll still be menial jobs for a few wordsmiths, but…


Tried to access the “This” link in the opening post, only to be told by YouTube that This video has been removed due to terms of use violation !! What on earth was in it?

The Crain piece is unsettling (and general knowledge of history is just as appalling - a lot of kids today don’t even seem to know what century World War 2 was fought in, never mind what it was all about). But it’s not surprising. The market has always gone for Quick & Easy, and reading of any depth makes you work. But not everyone yearns for the lowest common denominator.

I am encouraged by the fact that some children - even today, when all their entertainment is handed to them pre-digested - just, quite simply, love to read. I’m a teacher in a music school (harp) so I come into contact with a lot of them, and with some, you cannot separate them from their books, whatever the enticement. Their mums tell me that little Janie or Susie is so easy to mind, all you have to do is park her somewhere with a book and she’s quiet for hours (even though there’s a computer and a TV sitting nearby). I know that feeling because I was that sort of kid, and I am now that sort of adult. It stays with you. I can spot the little bookworms a mile off, and they ARE out there.

The love of reading is a gift, which not everyone shares, and though it’s getting rarer as the mind is bombarded with more and more techno-wizardry competing to divert it, I don’t think it will ever die out - even if paper books mutate into e-readers - any more than synthesisers and sophisticated recording studios have killed off the love of playing a real hands-on instrument (which is also far from quick & easy). The secret relationship that the human mind and its images form with the written word is more powerful and enduring than we give it credit for. So keep writing. They need you out there, and always will.

I went into teaching thinking I could inspire young minds with the wonders of reading and writing. Naive, to say the least. As Bonnie says, there are some children, still, who love to read… At the end of last year I bought all the children in my class a book as a parting gift. It was brilliant to see some of the boys enthusiastically reading a compendium of SF stories or adventure stories. But sadly there is self-perpetuating problem here. TV and movies and computer games (all of which I love) have pushed many away from books and print. It’s not their fault; they are poor, never learned to read brilliantly and work in jobs that exhaust them. Of course that’s a gross generalisation. But if children aren’t encouraged to read by parents - if parents don’t share reading with them when they are young - they sort of miss the boat. My own young son (4 in Feb) loves books, and he can’t even read properly yet. But I have sat down with him (and now his younger sister) every night since he was born and read at least one story book with him. Yet sadly, the 10 year-olds I teach - even the ones who like books - simply cannot believe that a book could ever be better than a film: “But you can see a film.” It’s as though their imagination is disintegrating. Honestly. Because they weren’t exposed to stories from a young age (I have taught 8 year-olds who do not properly know the story of Red Riding Hood or Jack and the Beanstalk), they have real problems thinking of new things for themselves. Of course, I teach in a school that feeds a fairly poor housing estate, and if I were to teach in a school with a more middle-class intake the story would be quite different, but I think this is where reading is deteriorating the most. The educated will always read. The problem lies in making sure reading doesn’t just become the province of the educated. (I am reminded of a despicable advertisement that is on the radio at the moment over here, which claims that “Universities are opening up: it’s now easier than ever to afford to go to university”. Except that when I went to university, YOU GOT A GRANT, so you didn’t get in debt so the bloody advert is a LIE because it used to be much bloody easier.)

Oh look, I’ve been at the red wine again. Well, it’s not New Year yet, so the resolution hasn’t kicked in.


Reading is not dead. for proof I offer my kids. The 11 year old boy is starting Tolkien’s Hobitt, and the 13 year girl has started in on Dickens (at least she says she has the books that are missing from the shelf). We have a tough time keeping enough material on hand as I don’t want to make them re-read a book (if they choose to because they like it that is different).

Before you start saying “your kids are different” I would like to provide a summation of anecdotal evidence from the librarians of 2 public elementary schools. Essentially they are seeing more students check out more books and are seeing fewer damages. That last point is important: the kids RESPECT the books. To me this shows that the value of the printed word is still recognized.

While I still have little hope for the future, I do find it reassuring that reading still seems to still have life in my little portion of the world.

So get busy, my kids will run out of books soon. I hold you all responsible to provide them more reading material.




Oh look, I’ve been at the red wine again. Well, it’s not New Year yet, so the resolution hasn’t kicked in.[end quote]

Thats not red wine talking, pal, thats passion; thats a teacher. Thats what makes a good teacher,[i]A Good Teacher[/i].

I`ve seen it in my wife and my daughter, for many years.

Keep hold of those feelings Keith, treasure them. They`re important!

You only need, one, underprivileged kid to respond to your enthusiasm, and benefit from it, for it all to be worthwhile :laughing:
Take care

My children are 3 and 6. My six year old is now in year 1 at school, and she loves reading. I no longer read bedtime stories to them, as DD1 want’s to do all the reading herself. And she can tackle any book that is in their library. Of course some words require help, but after finding out what it is, she remembers it by sight afterwards. I have seen some of her classmates in action, and I know that her reading is streets above their’s, and I think that the main reason is that she’s been immersed in books since she was born. Bedtime isn’t complete without stories.

Right now it’s nearly 9am, and we’ve been downstairs since before 8. While I was cleaning the kitchen (the fun things mum’s do in the early hours) they wanted to watch a new dvd that we were given when we bought tickets to see a movie yesterday. But I said no, and so instead they are role playing with the dolls house.

I think many parents don’t say no. They let the tv entertain their children when they are too busy to. Or they think that their children NEED entertaining, when in fact their children should be learning to use their own imagination and entertain themselves.

When I was a child, my parents didn’t fill my school holidays with activities throughout the day. They did organise day camps for tennis, or playing with friends, but they didn’t need to cater for each hour of any day that we were at home with time on our hands. We filled our own days. And for me, a lot of that would be time spent up a tree with a book in my hands. Or sprawled on the carpet with my nose glued to a book. Or building hidey holes and tree houses - for reading books in.

With any luck, my daughters will have the same love of reading, and they’ll have plenty of time to do it, since I am so horribly draconian about the television!

Statics about general literacy and reading are a bit depressing.

One aspect of not reading which I haven’t noticed being discussed is this: people I’ve known who don’t read (not because they can’t but because they just can’t be bothered), are often the ones most likely to say “I’m bored” at regular intervals. I’ve realised, as an inveterate reader, that one thing I never, ever am, is bored.

Unless I’m waiting for a bus without a book or my i-pod (which almost never happens).

Another thing about books is their therapeutic value. I consider myself lucky to have had literacy as part of my education, a mother who loved reading, a family who told stories around the hearth. Books saved my sanity, too - as a painfully shy, overweight boy who was bullied at school (things have changed for the better since, though), I could escape into books.

Books have taught me things about life, they’ve entertained me, and convinced me that writing was the thing I most wanted to do with life.

Non-readers: I feel sorry that you’re missing out on something so great.

I didn’t read anything much for a long time other than school-imposed books until my last year of high school.

I read when I was young and learning to read, but I borrowed the least books of anyone in my class in primary school (they kept statistics). And in high school I read what I had to and nothing more.

I duxed my school and blitzed English, so it wasn’t a difficulty issue. At that time I just hadn’t found any books that interested me.

Since I finished school though, and I haven’t been forced to read the dreaded “themed” book (I still hate reading novels that deal with racism… I know it is a serious issue etc. but I just can’t stand it in a book), I have found that reading can be enjoyable again.

And now I read on the train going to work everyday, and get through probably a book a week.

So I guess sometimes it just depends whether kids find books that interest them, as well as straight literacy levels.

Why do you dislike books about racism so much? If that`s not a personal question.

I doubt if any good can come from forcing kids to read. Inculcation of good habits is easier if acquisition is enjoyable. Nothing more than a gentle cajoling/encouragement, whilst making the resources easily accessible is probably the most effective way to go.

It helps, however (or at least I would imagine it to be so), if kids see their parents reading, and enjoying it.

Take care

Rant warning…

I couldn’t agree more. My wife and i took a different approach from the public systems here and provided the first 5 years of school at home. The micro humans had a terrible time learning to read but we never pushed it, we just waited until…

One day my Daughter went to a friends house (more of a horse farm really) and came back wanting to know more about horses. We went to the library and took out 3 books about horses. Not nice story books, but books on breeds, care and riding. By the end of the day she could read.

For my son it was me reading him the stories of King Arthur (personal favorite of mine). He wanted to know more so we went to the library and checked out books on castles, historical knights, and medieval life. Less then 48 hours and he was on his own.

Since then we have had nothing but trouble getting them into bed. “Dad, this is a perfect time to read!” is a hard argument to fight.

My wife and I adopted our method based on some historical accounts of early American education and how some small villages educated their youth when they couldn’t afford a local schoolmaster.

My opinion is that the educational status of every first world country will continue to slide until we stop looking at education as a commodity that can be mass produced in factories. Kids are not cast from the same materials or the same mold. The system frustrates the students, teachers and parents by disallowing customization to meet the mental, physical and social needs of the participants. While I recognize that this is “impractical” in the current educational systems I believe that this is the reason we see ever deteriorating performance globally. You can’t fit a round kid into a small box then expect them to thrive.

Because I know there are several teachers whose heads are on the verge of explosion let me point out that the issue is the system. My experience is that the teachers are as frustrated by the state of affairs as the parents.


If I had to choose which to wipe off the face of the earth, books or movies, it would definitely be movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big movie buff, but books are just so much more powerful. You watch a movie, but you experience a book.

My kids love to read already, and they can’t even read. All three of them, even the not-quite-2-year-old, will sit on the couch and pretend to read books. Of course they like books with pictures in them, and my daughter will make up stories of her own based on the pictures. The brain develops so much better when it has to work, to make things up on its own, than when everything is just fed to it.

Throughout high school, they always tried to choose books of “value” to study (i.e. books with important themes). The problem with almost all of the books we studied were that they were:

  1. Message books, rather than books telling a good, interesting and complex story… you could always tell that the writer deliberately concentrated on these “issues” so it could get into schools (and thus sell more copies to each new school year).

  2. The books typically targeted the lowest common denominator, which to me meant they were patronising, simplistic, and cliched.

  3. The books were almost all about kids that had trouble fitting in due to superficial differences - usually race, but an occasional homeless kid or fat kid. There were never unique individuals… just average stereotypes of white Australia, and average stereotypes of the black sheep.

  4. They were all written without the slightest fleck of humour…they all took themselves extremely seriously.

  5. As we were “studying” them, we had to read them multiple times (at least once at a very slow pace as we read it in class), and analyse them to within an inch of their death (even a good book is ruined for you if you do this too often in a short period of time… certainly the movie GATACA, which I didn’t mind at first, got similar treatment and now I won’t watch it).

As a result, I am suspicious of anything that could be termed a “themed” book, with relatively few exceptions. I don’t mind books that have these issues in them, so long as they are background, and not the focus of the story.

I’ve done enough reading about superficial group differences that make it harder for individuals to fit in. I know racism is a widespread problem in society, and I am concerned with the way it is rearing its ugly head in Australia now more than any other time in the last twenty years or so.

But books with that as its central focus I just find monotonous and boring.

Give me interesting and vivid characters, show me what goes on inside their head, add an interesting story line that avoids the usual cliches of its genre/style.

I can get depressed by that other crap reading a newspaper.


I know what you mean, Matt, but from a slightly different angle. One of the things I have to teach here in China is a course called “Intensive Reading” to second-year English majors. It’s a totally schizophrenic course, which seems to have originated in the close study of the text in terms of structures, lexis, style and so on, and I teach it like that.

But the whole course has been hijacked by the selection of texts on the basis of the quasi-moral or psychological message that is being put forward. So we have passage after passage of psycho-babble, and interminable pages of tripe about things like “Why historians disagree” … virtually none of them well-written. And then this is followed by what I call “EFL questions” … one of my favourites … in a totally un-riveting story about a man throwing a suitcase out of a train window … was “Was there anyone in the carriage with Mr H-R? What was he like?” Why ask the first if you’re going to ask the second without pause?

And then there are passages which are included as examples of humour, which totally by-pass the students. Jerome K. Jerome travelling with a fragrant cheese; or a scene from Alan Aykbourne’s “The man of the moment”, which is so steeped in Essex-culture, that when I asked my Canadian colleague how he had got on teaching it, he replied, “I told them this was a good example of British humour, which I don’t really understand.”

Out of three years’ teaching, including a change of course-book, I reckon I have found one gem, a short story called “Waiting for the police” by one J. Jefferson Farjeon. It’s a 5-page textbook example (pun not intended) of how to write a mystery story with a twist in the tail … including a character who seems like the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Hitchcock could have taken it and made a good film of it … one of his “one room” thrillers.

A couple of years back, I was asked to help write a new Intensive Reading textbook … I suggested Saki’s “The mouse” as one text, but the response I got was “What is the moral this story is trying to teach?”

Ah well, it’s their country, their students … I continue to try to get elements of good English through to them, and try to find some aspect of each text with which to try and inspire them to read English, as opposed to (often dubious) translations into Chinese of English works.


A Happy and Successful New Year to Everyone!

Thanks for your comprehensive answer to my question.

I`m just being nosey, so, please feel free to tell me to mind my own business.

What kind of books do you read on the train to work? Are you a genre junkie or are you possessed of an eclectic taste in reading matter?

Is it the reading process itself that you enjoy; the material you read, or is it a combination of both? Or perhaps you read on the train, just to pass the time.

Ironically, it was the side effect of a certain drug, that turned me in to genre junkie, NPI, honest :wink: But I am striving diligently towards eclecticism.

Take care

Currently I am reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, due to comments made by Keith in a different thread. I had read Kafka on the Shore and although it was OK, it left me mostly unsatisfied at the end. But Keith was suggesting his other books were better, so I thought I’d try one more before dismissing him.

The first book that really got me interested in reading again was The Brush-off by Shane Maloney (Melbourne Crime Writer). That was about the first time I discovered that books could marry politics, humour, and an engaging story-line. I have read all of his books since.

I still read some crime novels, although I have always hated procedurals (I will only read crime novels that don’t involve police or CSI poeple as their leads, and rarely read PIs). I’m more interested into the “amateur thrown in at the deep end” situation, I guess.

I don’t think I’ve ever completed a single fantasy or science fiction novel. I’m still looking for a good one because I think reading a few bad books (and I personally include LOTR in that list) has caused me to unfairly judge an entire genre where there must be some witty and intelligent specimens. But I want to find one that commits me to 300 pages, not 6 books of 800 pages each. I don’t like sagas, I like snapshots.

I have probably now moved onto more ‘literary’ novels (although I hate that term, as far as I am concerned they are all literary). Easiest way to answer your question is to give you a list of some of the authors I have either enjoyed or read recently:

  • Eliot Perlman (Australian author: Three Dollars, Seven Types of Ambiguity)
  • Ian McEwan
  • Julian Barnes (History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters… I have tried Arthur and George and didn’t like it)
  • Tim Winton (Australian writer: The Riders, The Turning, never tried Cloudstreet because it is on too many school book lists)
  • Mark Haddon (Curious Incident and his new one)
  • DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little and his 2nd one).
  • The Life of Pi was a good book
  • Mister Pip, I have forgotten the author.
  • Satanic Verse by Salman Rushdie

Those are the first few that spring to mind, but I am sure I am doing some books I really enjoyed an injustice by not remembering them. I usually try to read the Booker Prize winners each year, provided they look interesting. I read some short stories by Edgar Allan Poe once, which I enjoyed, but I haven’t tried too many other classics, although I intend to one day (Wuthering Heights was about the only book I liked which I read at school).

I sometimes read some non-fiction books that interest me too.

As for why I read - I enjoy the material, I guess. The hard part for reading on the train for me is having to read in small chunks. My preferred method is still to read the book cover to cover in a day, even if that means finishing at 5am. Now I do it more slowly on the train because a) train rides are boring; and b) I otherwise wouldn’t have the time to do something I enjoy.


What books do I like to read…


I like some Sci-Fi, westerns, mystery, drama, and a little horror.

I like James Rollins, Terry Goodkind, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Louis L’amour, and Jeffery Deaver to name a few.

I like anything I find engrossing and entertaining and I think people should read every chance they get. Reading allows one to immerse themselves and yet still control certain aspects of a story by using one’s own imagination instead of having to be delivered one’s interpretation of a story from a only one view (ie. directors view say on a movie.)

Reading also allows you to unfold the story at a pace suitable for you with unlimited rewinds and fast forwards and even cross referencing in between. Anyone who reads already understands the vast options and abilities one gets from reading a story than say watching the movie. Those that are avid readers do not need to be convinced. Those that don’t read choose so by choice and in the end tend to view life in limited fashions, always looking for the easy path or cliff notes to life.

Reading defines a person.

If you are an avid reader then you are a leader in life, taking control and directing things even if only in your imagination.

One who just watches the movie or plays the video game is not a leader but just a passenger on someone else’s tale or adventure.

Bah, let me grip the old dead oak and riffle through the pages. I want to unfold the story the way I think it should appear, even if I am getting my cues from the author. Rather than sit as a passenger watching the TV screen thinking to myself, “I thought he would be taller…”


I find modern science fiction to be less than engaging, (ya know, if you are going to promise sense-of-wonder, you had better deliver…) so I’m going back and reading classics lately.

Philip K. Dick specializes in alienation and the nature of reality. The Man in the High Castle still resonates with me, and I was nine when I read it. That work is a great place to start, because he loves to blow the mind with stretchy concepts, and some of his are more difficult. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a classic that became the movie Blade Runner, but sufficiently changed that it won’t ruin the novel.

Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human is incredible and highly readable. He has a marvelous lyrical style and such humanity in his writing. His novella, It, (not to be confused with Stephen King’s large tome) is well worth tracking down, an extraordinary piece of writing with real characters in a short space.

Harlan Ellison writes short stories almost exclusively (though I actually read his one novel, which wasn’t science fiction…) and has won more awards than anyone for them. I suggest getting a collection and read them one at a time, for maximum impact. He is one of the best at delineating the way emotions play out under stress of radically changed circumstances. And a lovely, wildman sort of stylist.

Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is an amazing work in four volumes that has everything; intriguing language, fascinating characters, and HUGE themes. Commit to it, and you will be changed by the end.

The original novel by Frank Herbert, Dune, is pratically a textbook on creating a new world and putting a messiah in it.

These will get you started out right :slight_smile:

I read when I was young and learning to read, but I borrowed the least books of anyone in my class in primary school (they kept statistics). And in high school I read what I had to and nothing more.