Thursday, January 27, 2011

All good things must end

When I was a child, I had my own planet, named Jobnye.  In several brown-paper-covered notebooks, I chronicled the features of Jobnye: its monetary system (complete with samples of its coins, tin foil wrapped over cardboard circles), its political system (complete with samples of Vote 1 posters), and photographs of its princes (my two cats, Socksey and Stripey.  Guess what they looked like?!), as well regularly mentioning its sister planet, Nobnye, belonging to my best friend Nobblinees.  There were lyrics to its top ten (parodies of our choir songs, largely) and a few abortive novel beginnnings, starring Noblinees, myself and my cats.  The notebooks featured the very latest stationery accoutrements (glitter glue) and copyright notices.  I even created a version of the queenly domain in my Jobnye palace in my room at Dad's place (except I didn't tell him what it was, and he dismantled it on one of the weekends I wasn't there).  I seem to remember it featured hanging skulls covered in vaseline (why?  I can't remember), amongst other treasures.

I've been on holidays for the past month.  I intended to write for most of it, but mostly I've been thinking about writing more than sitting at the computer.  Normally I would decry such a state of affairs, but it's been necessary.  I've been in the midst of all sorts of flux for the past year or so, and my thinking has been less than clear and/or satisfying about a number of areas. (And watching the floods drench the east coast of Australia has been a salutary reminder of how quickly any of our lives can be up-ended when you least expect it).  I've come to the conclusion, with writing at least, that I need to occupy my own planet again.  Less Twitter-lurking and Facebooking and more time staring out the window at my humble dominions.  More connection to the pleasures of forging my own coin.  And mostly, just making it up as I go along.

At ease.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Year 12 English Literature books

Prompted by a Facebook status by the wonderful writer Cassandra Golds (who also does a mean line in reposting my favourite 70s songs), I found that I was able to instantly recall my year 12 Lit reading list (not sure what the equivalent of Lit is in other states):

A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene
Wuthering Heights, Emile Bronte
John Donne
e e cummings
Antony and Cleopatra
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Ray Lawler

Because I was two years older than my contemporaries, by the time I got to year 12 I had done a lot of reading, but Literature taught me the rudiments of analysis and gave me a taste of what deep and studious reading of a text could reveal.  I loved e e cummings' layered criticisms of The World and the joyousness of his word-plays; I loathed Summer of the Seventeeth Doll because I couldn't relate to its middle-aged disillusionment and I found the obviousness of the language - after cummings and Shakespeare - tedious.  A shame, given it was the only Australian title on the list (and I had no problem with the disillusionment in A Burnt-Out Case).  Donne's witty conceits amused me; the excessive, Gothic passions of Bronte were both thrilling and alien (though I was glad to finally understand what Kate Bush was singing about!)

The things I remember most from year 12 Literature were the conversations we had in class: I had never before experienced the pleasure of communal reading and discussion (I did year 11 by correspondence), and I loved the way the interrogation of characters, themes, story, and language let us all examine, dismantle and reassemble our assumptions, beliefs and reactions.  It was a taste of what was to come at university, and I was hooked.   

It was also the first time that I tackled Shakespeare - in my early teens I was addicted to the Sonnets, but studying Antony and Cleopatra made me realise that Shakespeare repaid close attention: even if I didn't understand every word, I could hear the music and get the gist.  (I mention this because there was some comment about the value of kids doing 'difficult' texts).

Incidentally, I read a lot from what was then on the year 11 and 12 course lists before I was in year 11 and 12, probably because they were the novels in second-hand shops: The Bell Jar, Brave New World, The Collector.  But I also developed aversions that kept me from some great work until much later: The Great Gatsby (I didn't like the title), anything by Ernest Hemingway (overexposure), Jane Austen (I didn't learn to love her until my 30s), Steinbeck (apart from Mice and Men), Gwen Harwood (because her name was Gwen).

What did you have to read at school - did it set off any lifelong passions (or aversions?)

Should we give kids the hard stuff, or should they be left to discover it on their own?