Friday, December 16, 2011

On Holiday

Ah, I love the holiday season. If only for the excuse to watch Muppets doing Christmas carols, like this. (Yes, Animal is my favourite Muppet.)

I'll be away from all things academic for a couple of weeks, although I'm sure I'll still be reading fairy tales and thinking about glass slippers. Academics are never quite on holiday.

I did see the double bill of Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman at the Wheeler Centre event last night. It was brilliant. I won't do a blow by blow account, but I did have one 'can I just duck under the chair?' moment when someone asked Gaiman how he felt about academic critique and his books being taught. I know most authors don't really like their books being taught and I do completely understand that. If I had a book, I'm almost certain I wouldn't like it being taught.

It's true that many students are turned off books by having to 'study' them. I was one such student. Although I did discover a love of Andrew Marvell through high school English, I also came to the conclusion I really hated The Catcher in the Rye. I regularly hear students talk about the books that school and university have ruined for them.

It's scary being a teacher of English Literature. You want students to love the books you teach, but you know that can't always happen. After all, even if you recommend a book to a friend, there's no guarantee they'll love it. Still, you sort of have to study books in English Literature, don't you? And although authors often say they prefer people to find their books 'naturally,' I think schools and universities can be places where you can discover authors 'naturally,' so to speak.

Happily, I've heard from many students who have discovered authors through my classes and have become great fans, going on to read all the authors' books. I have heard from students who had difficulty wrestling copies of their class texts back from a parent or partner in order to study for the test or write their essay. I have even had the occasional email about how a student stayed up all night reading a book and how the book made them happy (incidentally, that was, at least on one occasion, Gaiman's Stardust). So while I know that I have inevitably ruined books for some students, I know other students have discovered new books to love through my classes. That makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

Last night did, however, make me stop and reflect upon how we, as teachers and academics, can work to better overcome the stigma of ruining books for our students. I don't have a ready response yet, but I will be thinking about it further... after the holiday.

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