Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Classics

From the TES

Education secretary Nicky Morgan is to ask publishers to cut the prices of classic English novels for secondary schools, in a bid to ensure more teenagers have access to the books.

Ms Morgan is expected to make the request as part of a “rallying cry” to improve literacy, in a speech at Charles Dickens Primary School in Southwark, South London, today.

She will say that all children should have access to “our nation’s vast literary heritage” and that cheaper access to novels by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Emily Brontë would encourage schools to buy in more of the texts.

Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte are already available for a low cost. If you've got an e-reader or computer, you can get them for nothing. Their works entered the public domain long ago, and you can get them from places like Project Gutenberg, or sometimes Amazon, for £0.

If you want a paperback, it's about £2 a book, which is basically production and a little profit. And it's "little profit" because anyone can print and sell these books. There's no monopoly publisher. So, competition drives down the price. I doubt that this government scheme will be much cheaper.

This does then raise the thorny question of whether kids would want to read Dickens rather than The Hunger Games or Discworld books.

21 comments:

Lola said...

That rather belongs under the heading of 'FFS'.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Why do people bother with literature in the first place when they could be reading proper history or science books? Or car repair manuals, or whatever else is useful.

Kj said...

Very utilitarian Mr. Wadsworth :)

Lola said...

Why, Mr. W. In three 'words'. P. G. Woodhouse.

DBC Reed said...

People bother with literature because it is ,in fact quite useful. We use language every day but I can honestly say I have never used algebra, trigonometry or physics once in a long and disastrously varied existence.It is helpful to read authors who can really use the language rather than politicians and economists (once, more usefully, called political economists)who perpetuate untruths e.g. bank "lending" the Government's "borrowing" requirement.
Having said that, I can't see the importance of these three authors: Dickens' books are not considered literature; Wuthering Heights is a monster to teach, not helped by the fudging of the issue that Heathcliff is supposed to be black or racially exotic; Austen's concern with big landed property is too oblique (though Picketty bases all his argument about the 18th Century English economy on her, in want of his usual statistical information-in his hands Austen delivers Marxist class analysis.IMO The Great Gatsby is a Marxist classic . There is a whole American tradition of Georgist authors BTW.)
I'm with TS and Lola: Hunger Games; Discworld; PG Wodehouse, anything kids would read voluntarily.If they want to improve literacy, they should reform the spelling system, the way they decimalised the currency.WTF was the advantage in having £.s.d? What is the advantage of spelling "bread" with an "a": it was originally spelt phonetically?

Bayard said...

DBCR, agreed, although I still use trig and algebra occasionally (usually when trying to solve a setting out problem). Dickens, I find, is on the whole boring, unless you can read very fast (Barnaby Rudge I found to be an exception), ditto Austen. Far too many of Dickens's characters are rentiers of one sort or another.

IMHO, the best books for kids to read are historical novels. There are plenty of good ones out there and you get to learn history at the same time as enjoying a good read.

You can't reform English spelling, it's far too irregular, you'd have to start again from scratch, like, e.g. unspell.blogspot.com/

A K Haart said...

Secondary schools might be better off with short stories such as those from Chekhov or de Maupassant. Very cheap and in my view more readable than Austen, Dickens or Brontë.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, p g Wodehouse is something you and I read for fun, it's not very high brow or anything.

The Stigler said...

Mark,

I'm a terrible reader, but the thing with great literature is that if often contains great wisdom. Moby Dick is about a bloke chasing a whale, but at a deeper level, it's about what vengeance does to people, how people become obsessive about it.

I also believe that books should be an interesting read. I remember disliking 1984 because while Orwell is very good at painting a world, there's a really weak narrative running through it. I think Terry Gilliam's Brazil is an improvement on it by turning it into black comedy.

I'm convinced that Dickens is just one of those groupthink things in Britain, where you're not supposed to say that he isn't that great. If his stories were any good, people in Hollywood or Japan or Bollywood would be pinching the plots and making movies based on them. As it is, A Christmas Carol is about the only one where this happens.

Lola said...

MW. PGW is very well written indeed. FWIW I was introduced to Raymond Chandler by a school English comprehension exercise when I was about 14. The text book had a section of The Big Sleep. It covered the bit from where Marlowe is staking out Geiger's book store, how he follows Geiger to the house to the point where he sees the gun flash. Of course they'd edited out all the good bits - Geiger was a pornographer and homosexual and his driver was his friend. They edited out the bit about the liquor and they had sure edited out the bit where he breaks into Geiger house and finds Carmen sitting naked and drugged in front of Geiger's camera.
The thing is, directly after that comprehension exercise I went straight to the library and drew out the book.

TS I reckon Dickens has an awful lot to answer for in misrepresenting the 19th Century...

The Stigler said...

Mark,

"L, p g Wodehouse is something you and I read for fun, it's not very high brow or anything."

But it's still good or great literature. There's always a sense out there amongst any sort of snobs that art of any sort should not be fun or easy. It's sort of like the Protestant Work Ethic or Labour Theory of Value. If it's not really hard, it's not worthy.

I'm not for a second saying you're like that, but that that's how some people are, and their whole thing is about a sort of macho posturing.

A classic should just be a great book that's stood the test of time. It should be a readable book. You should be wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next. We can debate what else a classic should be, but if it fails those tests, it fails as a book.

Mark Wadsworth said...

For clarification, I read a lot of PGW vbooks when I was younger and thought they were great, and I am sure that I would still enjoy them now. I use "highbrow" as a negative attribute.

Derek said...

Not a good idea forcing children to read adult books too early anyway. Case in point, I found Dickens' books to be boring when I had to read them as a teenager for school in the 1970s. Couldn't finish them. However when I read them as an adult in the 1990s, they were page-turners. Were they rewritten during the 1980s? Seems unlikely.

Pablo said...

the thing with great literature is that if often contains great wisdom
I find it extraordinary that MW doesn't know this!

Mark Wadsworth said...

P, I too find this statement extraordinary as I never said anything of the sort.

My point was that books about science or history or exploration or indeed car repair manuals contain great wisdom.

Lola said...

MW. Agreed. They are all very 'Zen'...

The Stigler said...

Mark,

"My point was that books about science or history or exploration or indeed car repair manuals contain great wisdom."

This can also be true. There's a guy called Martin Fowler who writes books about software development who gets quite philosophical.

Pablo said...

books about science or history or exploration or indeed car repair manuals contain great wisdom

They may provide very useful information but wisdom is of a different order. (One may be stuffed full of info. yet be quite stupid.)

Bayard said...

"books about science or history or exploration or indeed car repair manuals contain great wisdom"

I'm sure they can, but I not sure that they always do.

Mark Wadsworth said...

P, B, we are getting way off the topic, which is the fact that one copyright has expired, the text belongs to everybody for free.

As to the point that many factual books are not very informative, of course they aren't, but neither is most 'literature'. We could say the same for TV programmes or films, some are rubbish, some are very illuminating.

Bayard said...

Mark, getting back onto topic, looking at the part of the article you posted, ISTM that there is a cosy little scam going on between the schools and the publishers where schools are still paying net book agreement prices for out-of-copyright classics, paying, say, £7.99 instead of £1.00.