Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Moby Dick”

Readicide

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I have long-held a disdain for the way reading and books are presented in schools. At a time when kids are trying to be cool by gaming, watching the right TV shows, seeing cool movies, Snap-chatting themselves half-naked, and sleeping until noon, schools try to suck all the fun out of reading.

Up until high school kids are more likely to read regularly for pleasure. At high school this rate declines markedly, and doesn’t really recover until retirement (if at all, as I’d argue that the older people making up those Pew survey numbers grew up in an age before internet, decent TV, and gaming). Not only are teens exposed to more other potential entertainment sources, they also find less enjoyment in reading. Something happens in high school. Something terrible. We assign them standardised texts to read!

In his book, ReadicideKelly Gallagher explains why the American system has been failing kids and how to fix it. I think many of the points apply to any nation that utilises an emphasis on standardised testing for schools. Below is a summary presentation that you can navigate to by clicking on the image. Worth a look for any fellow book nerds and/or parents.

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I don’t actually agree with everything in the overview, namely the idea that classics are classics for a reason. You have to remember that the reason a book becomes a classic is often chance, or because some person reckons it should be, not because it is always good. Plenty of good books have undoubtably been lost in obscurity and thus to history. An example of a book now regarded as a classic that was almost lost to history is Moby Dick. It faded into obscurity after its release and was pretty much forgotten until one literary critic – Carl Van Doren – revived the novel 70 years after its publication. So one guy reckoned it was good, others nodded and agreed with him, and so that means it’s a classic.*

The idea that kids should be reading classics or literary “masterpieces” is part of the problem, in my opinion. This is very much a top down decree of what is important by people who have made a career out of lecturing others on what is important…. to them. Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it will inspire kids to be lifelong readers.

Now, that isn’t to say that those “important” books aren’t worth reading. But it is to say that there is a stark difference between what a literary critic or scholar deems good, and what a kid who just read Harry Potter for the first time deems good. School curriculums would be better off without trying to bash kids over the heads with books they are unlikely to enjoy.

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*Yes, I’m being overly simplistic.

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Why are books abandoned?

Goodreads survey

This is a great breakdown of why readers give up on reading and which books are the biggest culprits. I largely agree with most of the sentiments and books listed. It is very interesting to me that “slow and boring” is the #1 reason people abandon a book. Not just #1, it is number two and three as well, as the next reason had less than half the polling. I’ll offer a few comments on each part of the infographic.

Top Five most abandoned:

Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – This is no surprise really. I’ve heard it is a particularly dark book and the remark that people were expecting it to be more like Harry Potter shows that no-one read the blurb.

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James – Who’d have thought that Twilight fan-fiction would be poorly written?

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – When you have a trilogy that could have been edited down to a single book there are bound to be a few readers, like me, who think this ‘thriller’ is slow going.

I haven’t read or heard of anything to do with the other two on the list.

Top Five most abandoned classics:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – When people don’t get it then of course they will abandon it. One of the rejection letters for Catch-22 said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – I can see why some people wouldn’t like this book. While I loved it, there are unnecessary characters, events, chapters, scenes, language use… Okay, it’s long and waffly.

Ulysses by James Joyce – At a thousand pages, unless you like an abridged, tiny text, 600 page version, this was never going to be an easy read.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – I read this when I was in primary school. It made my brain hurt. Very hard to read and spent a long time between the interesting scenes.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Great doorstop, selfish drivel to read.

Reasons for and against abandoning:

It really doesn’t surprise me that the reason most people give up reading a book is that it is boring and slow (46.4%). What does surprise me is that the reason people keep reading a book is not because people are enjoying the book but that they like to finish a book regardless (36.6%). Clearly too many people are reading books that they don’t like. Given the popular books, like the already mentioned Stieg Larsson and EL James, it shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read instruction manuals with more action than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I remember working out roughly how many more books I could read in my life. I have averaged reading roughly 100 books per year for the last few years. Now excluding a major accident or the zombie apocalypse, I should be able to continue this average until I die peacefully in my car travelling the wrong way down the freeway at age 90. That means I can only read another 5,500 books in my life! There are more than 8,500 books published every year in Australia, so my chances of reading all the great books I’d like to are slim. We really don’t have time to waste on bad books.

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