Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tim Parks on “reading upward”

The novelist and writer Tim Parks writes about what he calls “reading upward,” a belief about reading habits that is dear to many people who teach literature. Parks represents this belief like so: “‘Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.’”

In the teaching world, the idea of reading upward often leads to a preoccupation with gateway books. The way to get “them” interested in, say, Charles Dickens, is to start with, say, J. K. Rowling. Uh, no. There are such things as gateway books, books that open up new territory: I’ve described my first acquaintance with Charles Bukowski’s poetry in just that way. But the way to get interested in, say, Dickens is by reading Dickens. There is no other first step needed.

[When speaking of students, many teachers use the pronouns they and them without an antecedent: “I put them into small groups.” (Put who into small groups?) I prefer to say “my students.” And I prefer to think of the class itself as a small group.]

comments: 2

The Crow said...

Re: they, them - the words suggest a separateness, a distancing of one from another. "My students" on the other hand, suggests belonging, togetherness, companionship, comrades in the same endeavor. One point of view marginalizes, the other is inclusive. I like your approach.

The old "us versus them" combative mindset.

Michael Leddy said...

I owe my awareness here to my contemporary-politics teacher back in high school, Mr. Kornblit. He cautioned us many times to be wary of people who referred to “they” and “them.”