If you can read this headline, you can read a novel. Here’s how to ignore your phone and just do it



Fewer people are reading novels for pleasure than in the past.
from shutterstock.com

Judith Seaboyer, The University of Queensland

Public anxiety about the capacity of digital-age children and young adults to read anything longer than a screen grab has come to feel like moral panic. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest we must take such unease seriously.

In 2016, the US National Endowment for the Arts reported the proportion of American adults who read at least one novel in 2015 had dropped to 43.1% from 56.9% in 1982.

In 2018, a US academic reported that in 1980, 60% of 18-year-old school students read a book, newspaper or magazine every day that wasn’t assigned for school. By 2016, the number had plummeted to 16%.

Those same 12th graders reported spending “six hours a day texting, on social media and online”.




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American literacy expert and neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf describes the threat screen reading poses to our capacity for “the slower cognitive processes such as critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy that are all part of deep reading”.

She asks:

Will the mix of continuously stimulating distractions of children’s attention and immediate access to multiple sources of information give young readers less incentive either to build their own storehouses of knowledge or to think critically for themselves?

But rather than taking up defensive positions on either side of the digital-analogue reading divide, Wolf encourages us to embrace both. As parents and teachers we can help our children develop a bi-literate reading brain. There are several ways we can do this.

Reading pathways

Reading is a learned skill that requires the development of particular neural networks. And different reading platforms encourage the development of different aspects of those networks.

Screen-reading children, immersed from toddlerhood in the pleasures and instant gratification of skimming, clicking and linking, develop cognitive skills that make them adept power browsers, good at the useful ability to scan for information and analyse data.




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But Wolf suggests this kind of reading “can short-circuit the development of the slower, more cognitively demanding comprehension processes that go into the formation of deep reading and deep thinking.”

Unless the cognitive skills required for deep reading are similarly developed and nurtured, new generations of readers – distracted by the ready availability of digital information – may not learn to venture beyond the shallows of the reading experience.

We can help children gain a love of reading on paper from an early age.
from shutterstock.com

Along with others concerned with early childhood education Wolf advises encouraging paper literacy from infancy. She doesn’t recommend forbidding devices. Instead we should regularly turn them off and make the time and space to read books on paper with children.

We can model our own reading practices by setting aside our own smart phones to lose ourselves in a book.




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But how can secondary and tertiary teachers help inexperienced readers? The problem is likely to be aliteracy, meaning students can read but they choose not to because they don’t see it to be important for learning. And because they haven’t read much, it’s hard work. The problem can seem intractable. But it can be done.

Turn off the phone and read

My first venture into helping tertiary students read better was a 2011-2013 cross-university government-funded project that set out to foster what we termed “reading resilience”. We found if students were persuaded to prioritise reading as they did a test or an essay, they would invest the time to get into the zone that is the other world of the text.

We complemented complex texts with a guide that encouraged students to think critically as they read and to keep going when the language seemed impenetrable, the narrative incomprehensible (or dull) and the length endless. Or when the siren call of the smart phone became irresistible.

They experimented with switching off their devices for blocks of two hours while they simply read. And they did read.

Students prioritised this difficult work because we rewarded pre-class reading with marks. Some classes uploaded one-page, carefully argued responses; others answered complex feedback-rich quizzes.

Can you ignore your phone for two hours and keep reading?
from shutterstock.com

I surveyed a large first-year introduction to literary studies at the University of Queensland in 2013 before testing a version of the same “reading resilience” course in 2014. The rise in reading rates was exponential.

The number of students who completed all ten primary texts (including the poem Beowulf and Toni Morrison’s Beloved) more than tripled, and the number who completed the ten accompanying secondary texts (selected chapters from an introduction to literary theory and criticism) went up by more than six times.

Reported student satisfaction for this course from 2008 to 2012 had ranged between 64% and 75%. Once reading resilience was introduced, many complained about the reading load yet the level of overall satisfaction jumped to 86%.

We can all do it

It’s not just readers raised in a digital-age who have difficulty with long-form text. Have you have lost the skill of deep reading? Are you finding it increasingly difficult to stay with, say, a literary novel? You are not alone.

Wolf, who despite having two degrees in literature, confesses to the shocking discovery that recently she found herself struggling to stick with a beloved Herman Hesse novel.




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We too can switch off our devices and set aside a space and time to revitalise the neural pathways that once made us immersive readers.

As Wolf argues, the skills of “deep reading” that involve “slower, more time-consuming cognitive processes […] are vital for contemplative life”. Deep readers are likely to be more thoughtful members of the community at a time when good citizenship may never have been more important.The Conversation

Judith Seaboyer, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Curious Kids: why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick?



Looking out the window instead might stop you feeling sick, but that doesn’t work for everyone.
Vadiar/Shutterstock, CC BY

Wayne Wilson, The University of Queensland

Why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick? – Jane, aged 10, from Coburg North, Australia.

Hi Jane, your question about why reading in the back seat makes you feel sick is a very good one. The answer has to do with our eyes, our ears and our brain.

Reading in the back seat can make you feel sick because your eyes and ears are having an argument that your brain is trying to settle!




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When you’re reading in the back seat, your eyes see that your book is still. Your eyes then tell your brain you are still.

But your ears feel the car is moving. Your ears then tell your brain you’re moving.

How can your ears tell you’re moving?

Your ears don’t just hear, they help with your balance too.

Your ear has three main parts:

  • the outer ear is the bit you can see on the side of someone’s head
  • the middle ear is your eardrum and some tiny bones and muscles
  • the inner ear is the part of your ear that can help with your balance.
The ear includes more than what you see on the outside.
sanjayart/Shutterstock

Your inner ear contains cells that have hairs sticking out the top. Scientists call these “hair cells”.

Some of these hair cells help us to hear. When sound hits those hair cells, the hairs move and the cells send signals to the brain. Our brains use those signals to hear.

Other hair cells help us to keep our balance. When the car we’re sitting in moves, that movement makes the hairs on those hair cells move too, and they send different signals to the brain. Our brain uses those different signals to tell we’re moving.

Why doesn’t the brain like this?

Some people’s brains don’t like it when their eyes say they’re still but their ears say they’re moving.

When eyes and ears argue like this, the brain can think that something dangerous might be about to happen.

If this happens, the brain can get the body ready to fight or run away (scientists call this the “fight or flight” response).

The conflict between our eyes and ears make the brain think something dangerous might happen.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

One of the things the brain can do is take blood away from the stomach to give to the muscles.

Giving blood to the muscles can help us to fight or run away. But taking blood away from the stomach can make us feel sick.

What can you do about it?

If reading in the back seat makes you feel sick, you might need to settle the argument between your eyes and your ears.

One way to do this is to stop reading and to look out the car window. This could help your eyes to tell your brain that you’re moving as you see the world whizz by, and your ears to tell your brain that you are moving as you feel the car moving.




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But this suggestion won’t work for everyone. Some people will still feel sick when they ride in a car, even if they aren’t reading.

This is because while our eyes and our ears help us to balance, so do our skin and our muscles. This creates many opportunities for arguments that our brain has to settle!


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.auThe Conversation

Wayne Wilson, Associate Professor in Audiology, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘A woman ahead of her time’: remembering the Australian writer Charmian Clift, 50 years on



Anna McGahan as Charmian Clift in Sue Smith’s play Hydra. Long overshadowed by her husband George Johnston, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Clift’s life and work.
Jeff Busby/Queensland Theatre

Tanya Dalziell, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Curtin University

Fifty years after her death, Australian writer Charmian Clift is experiencing a renaissance. Born in 1923, Clift co-authored three novels with her husband George Johnston, wrote two under her own name, produced two travel memoirs, and had weekly column widely syndicated to major Australia papers during the the 1960s.

Clift has long been overshadowed by the legacy of Johnston, whose novel My Brother Jack is considered an Australian classic. Her novels and memoirs are sadly out of print, yet she is increasingly recognised for her important place in Australian culture.

Charmian Clift, pictured on the front cover of her memoir, Peel Me a Lotus.
Hutchinson, 1959

In 2018 she, along with Johnston, was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in recognition of her work as a columnist. She is also being reimagined in fiction, as the subject of A Theatre of Dreamers (2020), a forthcoming novel by English author, Polly Samson, and in Tamar Hodes’ The Water and the Wine (2018).

The revival of interest in Clift is more than a collective nostalgia or feminist correction of the historical record, although both are relevant. Many of her readers from the 60s still remember her newspaper column, and the impact that it had on their view of Australia’s place in the world, with great affection.

Younger generations, particularly women, have also been exposed to Clift’s clear and passionate voice after the columns were published in several volumes in the years following her death. That Clift and her writing continue to resonate with contemporary Australia tells us something about both her and the nation.

The Hydra years

Much of the renewed interest in Clift is focused not only on her writing, but also on the near decade that she and Johnston lived on the Greek Island of Hydra. In late 2015, artist Mark Schaller’s Melbourne exhibition, Homage to Hydra, featured paintings depicting Clift and Johnston’s island lives, with several featuring other residents from Hydra’s international population of writers and artists, including Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.

The same year, Melbourne musicians Chris Fatouros and Spiros Falieros debuted Hydra: Songs and Tales of Bohemia, marrying Cohen’s songs to a narrative about Clift and Johnston’s time on Hydra.




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In 2018, our book, Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, told in detail of the fabled decade of Clift’s life as a bohemian expatriate.

To date in 2019, Sue Smith’s play, Hydra, has been staged in Brisbane and Adelaide, casting Clift in ways that resonate sympathetically with the concerns of contemporary audiences. As Smith writes in her script’s introduction:

Charmian was a woman ahead of her time. We see this in the choices she made both in her personal life, whether it be scandalising the Greek locals by wearing trousers and drinking in bars, to insisting upon her personal and sexual freedom and, of course, through her work.




Read more:
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‘Charm is her greatest creation’

Modern readers might respond to Clift the writer, but the focus on her years on Hydra suggests there is also great interest in her charismatic personality and tempestuous life with Johnson, as their dream of a cheap and sun-soaked creative island life slowly soured.

While researching the couple’s lives on Hydra, we came across a suggestive, eye-witness diary entry by a fellow writer, New Zealander Redmond Wallis, written in 1960.

Charm is her greatest creation, Charmian Clift, the great Australian woman novelist. Charmian is very curious. She is, potentially at least, a better writer than George but she has and is deliberately creating a picture of herself … which one feels she hopes will appear in her biography some day.

The head of a literary coterie, beautiful, brilliant, compassionate but still the mother of 3 children, running a house. Sweating blood against almost impossible difficulties – a husband inclined to unfounded jealousy, the heat, creative problems, the children, the problems foisted on her by other people … and yet producing great art.

Wallis’s observations are accurate, and prophetic, in noting Clift’s capacity for self-mythologising and her belief that both she and her Hydra idyll would be remembered. Nearly four decades after Clift returned from Greece to Australia amid the acclaim for My Brother Jack, she did become the subject of an excellent biography, Nadia Wheatley’s The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2001).

Nadia Wheatley’s biography of Clift.
Goodreads

But there were also failures amongst the success. The vision she and Johnston shared for a writing life on Hydra floundered amid poverty, alcoholism and illness. Their return to Australia in 1964 was an unlikely triumph for Johnston following the success of My Brother Jack, but Clift did not return with the same profile.

Wheatley also traced another of Clift’s great disappointments – her failure to complete her long-dreamt of autobiographical novel The End of the Morning, a struggle that was the subject of Susan Johnson’s 2004 novel, The Broken Book.

Clift did, however, leave an autobiography of sorts, in her newspaper articles. These often focused on domestic circumstances and everyday thoughts – ranging from conscription, to the rise of the Greek military junta after she left Hydra, to the changing social circumstances in Australia, and her daughter’s engagement.

These articles might not have always reflected the experiences of her readers – not everyone invited Sidney Nolan over for drinks – but Clift’s first-person narratives of a life lived with great passion and a sceptical eye to the consequences, garnered a large readership.

These readers responded to an incisive intellect with a vision of a culturally enriched Australia. She understood well the need for the country to outgrow its entrenched conservatism in order to realise its potential; and she emerged as a generous spirit who realised that the dreams and passions that drove her life were found everywhere in Australian suburbs.

Clift’s death reported by The Canberra Times in July, 1969.

Wallis’s detection of Clift’s hubris and narcissism paints her as a potentially tragic figure. It was a fate she perhaps fulfilled, when Johnston eventually wrote of Clift’s infidelities on Hydra. Clift took her own life on July 8 1969, an event that curtailed her voice while leaving behind a legacy of loyal and grieving readers.

A natural cosmopolitan

Clift’s is one of the voices – and one of the most important female voices – that rose above the crowd during the post-war period, as the western world unknowingly girded itself for the social revolution that was to come.

Through her columns she advocated for a bolder, more outward looking future, and as someone who was naturally cosmopolitan she was avidly interested in seeing Australia become more open to the world and better integrated into the Asia-Pacific.

She didn’t always get it right (an essay decrying the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones stands out!), but she helped navigate the path to a more broad-minded and inclusive vision of Australia.

Over the years Clift has emerged as someone who was not only modern, but also engaged in that most post-modern of activities, self-creation. For while Wallis scorned Clift’s self-mythologising at the time, it might now be recognised as the finest gift of the creative artist – to re-make oneself in the image of a world yet to be made. It was her gift to her readers and Australia.The Conversation

Tanya Dalziell, Associate Professor, English and Literary Studies, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Associate Professor, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Summer reads: When you can’t travel, let a book transport you



If you can’t get to Venice, Italy, allow a book translated from Italian to transport you there.
Tom Podmore/Unsplash

Amy McLay Paterson, Thompson Rivers University

I don’t understand beach reads. And I’m not the only one. There’s no universal consensus about the category, though the marketing tends to revolve around those books popularly considered disposable, unserious, or at the very least, books “you don’t mind getting wet.”

Last year, I toted Anna Karenina along with me — it got soaked, and I abandoned it in an AirBnB in Dubrovnik, Croatia, after I’d finished reading it. It lasted nearly the whole trip and left a gaping, souvenir-sized hole in my suitcase; it was perfect. So as much as I’d like to dissolve the beach read label entirely, I must also admit I have a type: I want a meaty, absorbing book that takes me further into a vacation by connecting with the cultures that produced it. I want a book that can’t be disposed of, one that will take me somewhere entirely new.

What I really want is to decouple the notion of summer reading as a lifestyle marker of class or gender. If the “pursuit of intellectual betterment” feels inaccessible or off-putting, I would like to propose at least the pursuit of expanding our emotional connections.

In a cultural climate where the limits of empathy are increasingly under a microscope, forging cross-cultural connections feels like a pressing task. Much has been made of the relationship between fiction reading and empathy, but what happens when the limits of our worldview are bounded by the English language? While linguistic diversity is growing in Canada, the majority of Canadians still speak only English at home, and comparatively few books are translated into English. If, as José Ortega y Gasset proposes, reading in translation should transport the reader into the language — and therefore the perspective — of the author, then reading translated works may be one of the best ways to expand empathy beyond the boundaries of language.

I’m not going abroad this summer, at least not physically. I’ll be staying in Canada, with only my books to pull me to other times and places. While in recent years, I’ve focused on keeping up with new releases, this year I’m fixated on atmosphere and transportation, in a mix of old favourites and new-to-me classics from around the world.

Italy

‘Arturo’s Island,’ 1957.
Arnoldo Mondadori Editore

I won’t tell you to read Elena Ferrante, because you’ve probably heard that before. Instead, I will be delving into the work of Elsa Morante, a possible inspiration for Ferrante’s pseudonym. Arturo’s Island, originally published in English in 1959, has been published in a new translation by Ann Goldstein (translator of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels). The novel promises a mix of the remote island setting steeped in Morante’s preoccupation with social issues and the spectre of war.


Poland

‘Flights,’ 2018.
Riverhead Books

One of my favourite themes in European literature is that of movement and fluidity, the running sense of unity of purpose amidst myriad diverse pockets of culture. The ubiquity of trains and boats support transcontinental journeys by characters who switch language mid-conversation. Last year’s Man Booker International winner, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk takes traveling and travelers as the subject of its interconnected musings, making it an ideal choice for the vacation headspace. This year’s winner, Celestial Bodies from Oman’s Jokha Alharthi, has an English edition but has not yet been published in Canada.


Croatia

‘Baba Yaba Laid an Egg’ 2009.
Canongate Books

In my opinion, no contemplation of Pan-European lore can be complete without Dubravka Ugrešic’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. Once labeled a witch herself and driven into exile from Croatia, Ugrešic’s take on Baba Yaga explores the shifting nature of popular folklore.


Nigeria

‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ 2006.
Knopf

Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a translation, but it will take you to a place that only briefly existed: Biafra, a West African state founded in 1967. While the brutality of recent war may not make a particularly appetizing subject for vacation, Adichie contrasts the brutality with sumptuous descriptions of pre-war food and luxury, giving her vision of Biafra the aura of a lost dream. Adichie has referred to the war as a shadow over her childhood.


Norway

‘Kristen Lavransdatter,’ 2005.
Penguin Books

There are no beaches in Kristen Lavransdatter and many more Christmases than summers, but if you start Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s oeuvre now, it may take you until winter to finish it. Set in Medieval Norway, the book follows the titular Kristen from childhood until death, focusing on her tumultuous love affair and marriage to Erlend Nikulaussøn. Tiina Nunnally’s translation, focusing on plain, stripped-down language, presents a change in philosophy from the first English translation that cut large portions of the text and enforced stiff, archaic language absent from the original Norwegian.


Argentina

‘Fever Dream,’ 2017.
Riverhead Books

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is slight in length but packs a heavy punch in both atmosphere and psychological investment. The story of a vacation gone terribly wrong, the novel’s Spanish title closely translates to “rescue distance,” a recurring concept instantly familiar to parents of young children and terrifying as it becomes repeatedly destabilized. Fever Dream is so unsettling that I sometimes hesitate to recommend it, but I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn back to its tantalizing surrealism.


Canada

‘Secwépemc People, Land and Laws,’ 2017.
McGill-Queen’s University Press

I’ve spent much of my life moving around, and as a recent settler on unceded Secwepemc territory, I want to learn more about the land I live on. In a summer steeped in fiction, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws by Marianne and Ronald Ignace is the only history on my list, but in many ways it feels similar to the others, reaching out to add a new dimension to a place in which I’m still mostly an outsider. For better or for worse, Kamloops feels the most like itself in summer, the climate wants to have its stories told. It can feel intimidating to contemplate a 10,000 year history I know nothing about, but also comforting and necessary to reach back and hear the tales of the land I now call home.The Conversation

Amy McLay Paterson, Assessment and User Experience Librarian, Thompson Rivers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

10 ways to get the most out of silent reading in schools



Children need time and space to enjoy the books they choose to read in schools.
Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

Margaret Kristin Merga, Edith Cowan University

Reading aloud can help young children learn about new words and how to sound them. There’s great value too in providing opportunities for children to enjoy regular silent reading, which is sustained reading of materials they select for pleasure.

But not all schools consistently offer this opportunity for all of their students. We regularly hear from teachers and teacher librarians who are concerned about the state of silent reading in schools.




Read more:
Read aloud to your children to boost their vocabulary


They’re worried students don’t have enough opportunity to enjoy sustained reading in school. This is important, as many children do not read at home.

For some young people, silent reading at school is the only reading for pleasure they experience.

Silent reading silenced

Research suggests silent reading opportunities at school are often cancelled and may dwindle as students move through the years of schooling.

Where silent reading opportunities still exist, we’re often told that the way it is being implemented is not reflective of best practice. This can make the experience less useful for students and even unpleasant.

Yet regular reading can improve a student’s reading achievement. Reading books, and fiction books in particular, can improve their reading and literacy skills.

Opportunity matters too, as the amount we read determines the benefits we get from reading. Regular reading can help with other subjects, such as maths.

So, what should silent reading look like?

Silent reading in school should be fun.
Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

Here are ten important things we need to do to make the most of silent reading in our schools.

1. Enjoyment is the focus

Enjoyment of reading is associated with both reading achievement and regular reading.

If we want young people to choose to read more to experience the benefits of reading, then silent reading needs to be about pleasure and not just testing.

2. Students choose the books

Young people should not be prevented from choosing popular or high-interest books that are deemed too challenging. Books that are a bit too hard could motivate students to higher levels of achievement.

Students have reported enjoying and even being inspired by reading books that were challenging for them, such as J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.

Silent reading of text books or required course materials should not be confused with silent reading for pleasure.

3. The space is right

Like adults, children may struggle to read in a noisy or uncomfortable space.

Schools need to provide space that is comfortable for students to enjoy their silent reading.

Children need space to enjoy silent reading.
Shutterstock/weedezign

4. Opportunities to chat (before or after)

Discussion about books can give students recommendations about other books and even enhance reading comprehension.

But silent reading should be silent so all students can focus on reading.

5. Inspired by keen readers

If students see their teachers and teacher librarians as keen readers this can play a powerful role in encouraging avid and sustained reading.

School principals can also be powerful reading models, with their support of silent reading shaping school culture.

6. Students have access to a library

Even when schools have libraries the research shows students may be given less access to them during class time as they move through the years of schooling.

Not all students are given class time to select reading materials from the library.

All students should be encouraged to access the school library.
Shutterstock/mattomedia Werbeagentur

7. It happens often

This is particularly important for struggling readers who may find it hard to remember what they are reading if opportunities for silent reading are infrequent.

These students may also find it difficult to get absorbed in a book if time to read is too brief.

8. Paper books are available

Reading comprehension is typically stronger when reading on paper rather than a screen.

Screen-based book reading is not preferred by most young people, and can be associated with infrequent reading. Students can find reading on devices distracting.

9. There is a school library and a teacher librarian

Teacher librarians can be particularly important in engaging struggling readers beyond the early years of schooling. They may find it hard to find a book that interests them but which is also not too hard to read.

Librarians are also good at matching students with books based on movies they like, or computer games they enjoy.

10. We need to make the school culture a reading culture

Reading engagement is typically neglected in plans to foster reading achievement in Australian schools.

Practices such as silent reading should feature in the literacy planning documents of all schools.

Allowing students to read for pleasure at school is a big step toward turning our school cultures into reading cultures. Students need opportunities to read, as regular reading can both build and sustain literacy skills.

Reading should be part of the culture of a school.
Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia



Read more:
There’s a reason your child wants to read the same book over and over again


Unfortunately, literacy skills can begin to slide if reading is not maintained.

We need people to continue to read beyond the point of learning to read independently, though research suggests this message may not be received by all young people.

Where children do understand reading is important, they may be nearly twice as likely to read every day. So silent reading is important enough to be a regular part of our school day.


This article was co-authored by Claire Gibson, a librarian who’s studying a master in education by research at Edith Cowan University.The Conversation

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

David Copperfield on screen: Charles Dickens’ masterpiece is a celebration of everyday heroes



Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Beth Palmer, University of Surrey

Charles Dickens’ great masterpiece David Copperfield begins with uncertainty:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

With those few words the author gives us one of the most memorable lines to be found in 19th-century fiction and gets us thinking about who or what a hero might be.

A new film version of the novel is about to open in cinemas in the UK after being premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019 and opening the 63rd BFI London Film Festival the following month to glowing reviews. Written by Armando Ianucci and Simon Blackwell, the movie stars Dev Patel in the title role, who – as producer Kevin Loader told The Guardian, is one of those “actors who are capable of embodying the character as perfectly as possible, regardless of their ethnicity”.

The young Copperfield certainly shows some heroic promise: he’s an orphan – which is often a good start for a Victorian hero – and he manages to walk from London to Dover alone as a young boy to extricate himself from a life of dull labour. But he also lacks a certain amount of agency: Copperfield is buffeted around by chance and coincidence, relying on the hospitality and generosity of those he meets. So the strange and eccentric characters he encounters also operate as heroes to him.

We could argue, in fact, that the book meditates on the necessity of everyday heroism in a world that is often cruel and unfair. Copperfield witnesses these acts of generosity from early on in his life. When he visits Daniel Peggotty (his beloved nurse’s brother) Copperfield openly admires his heroism in offering a home to his orphaned nephew and niece and to the morbidly depressed widow, Mrs Gummidge.

Copperfield soon has cause to rely on this sort of heroism himself – when he too is orphaned, set to work, and then runs away to throw himself on the mercy of his aunt. His aunt, the eccentric Betsey Trotwood, adopts Copperfield, having already taken on the care of the troubled but amiable Mr Dick, who had been destined for life in an asylum when emotionally traumatised by an undisclosed event in his past.

Star-studded: Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber.
Lionsgate

And of course, we must admire the ultimate heroism shown by Ham who drowns attempting to rescue the shipwrecked Steerforth – seducer of Ham’s beloved Little Em’ly. Fostering children, prison visiting, care for the elderly, the homeless, and the mentally unwell, are the acts of heroism that make Copperfield’s life liveable. They are the stitches through which a 19th-century society, without the mechanisms of a modern welfare state, holds itself together.

Everyday evil

Of course, the novel also has plenty of antiheroes, most memorably the sadistic Edward Murdstone, who squelches Copperfield’s childhood freedoms, and the insidious Uriah Heep, who defrauds Copperfield’s family. At times the novel’s small individual acts of heroism seem to be overwhelmed by forces of wrongdoing, indifference and ignorance represented by characters such as those two.

But, of course, this is Dickens – and the way in which David Copperfield’s plotlines come together reveals Dickens’ vision of the world as interconnected. The handy coincidences of converging plots are not just a sop to satisfy mawkish readers, but an embodiment of Dickens’ philosophy.

In the preface to his magazine, Household Words, Dickens tells us that he wants literature to: “bring the greater and the lesser in degree, together … and mutually dispose them to a better acquaintance and a kinder understanding”. By inculcating sympathy with others in his fiction, Dickens thought he could encourage minor acts of heroism such as those that run through the plotlines of David Copperfield.

New vision

The new film version promises to give us an energetic and modern re-working and has received 11 British Independent Film Awards nominations, including best screenplay and best actor.

Dev Patel: one of those actors who can inhabit a character regardless of its ethnicity.
Lionsgate

By all accounts it will entertain us with its fast-paced frolics through a diverse Victorian London and its cast of eccentrics played by Hollywood stars including Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood, Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick and Peter Capaldi as the incorrigible Mr Micawber. But it will also show us the poverty, child labour and homelessness that form the backdrop to Copperfield’s early life.

Ianucci’s film is part of a long succession of adaptations. As soon as the novel was published, adaptors began working on stage versions. It was actually the Little Em’ly fallen woman sub-plot that had most appeal for Victorian theatregoers who were already more than familiar with the poverty of industrial London.

More recent film versions of Dickens’ novels have had to make similar choices about which of Dickens’ multiple plotlines should be emphasised. David McGrath’s 2002 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby favoured the joyful romp over the brutality of the novel’s early scenes. But McGrath’s Nickleby retains more of the Dickensian sentimentality than seems to be the case in the new David Copperfield.

The snappy trailer gives a curt but comic announcement of the death of Copperfield’s mother, whereas the novel narrates the deathbed scene in a chapter I defy anyone to read without crying. Even Dora, Copperfield’s young wife, apparently receives a reprieve from her untimely fate in the new film.

Screenwriters and directors have become wary of Dickensian sentimentality but I hope that this new version of Dickens’ own favourite novel retains those links of sympathy and acts of everyday heroism that bind the novel together. If it shows us a hero navigating his way through a difficult world aided by humour, eccentricity and kindness it will be an adaptation that sends us back to the novel to locate those elements once again in Dickens’ work.The Conversation

Beth Palmer, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Surrey

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I’m a novelist – and this is why I choose middle-aged women as the heroes of my crime thrillers



Motortion Films via Shutterstock

Emily Bernhard Jackson, University of Exeter

Mystery is the bestselling genre in literature. Crime/mystery fiction, to give the genre its full title, beats inspirational, science fiction, horror and apparently even romance to take the top spot.

And why not? There’s someone for everyone in crime/mystery – elderly lady sleuths, amateur Palestinian sleuths, professional Belgian sleuths, thoughtful Scottish police officers, embittered Scottish police officers, damaged Irish police officers, weary Scandinavian police officers, former army officer detectives, amateur girl detectives, sad drunk amateur girl detectives. There’s even a detective who partners up with a skeleton.

What there doesn’t seem to be much of in mystery fiction, however, is female detectives who begin detecting in middle age (two cases in point: Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski was 32 when we began to follow her adventures, while Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta was 36). Women in the 40-to-60 range don’t get much of a showing as main characters in literature generally, so maybe it’s no surprise that they don’t show up as headliners in the mystery genre.

But it’s a surprise if you’re a woman in your 40s who is beginning to write mystery novels – which not so long ago I was. And while it’s a cliche that people write what they know, when I decided to write a mystery I entered into that cliche wholeheartedly. I started writing mysteries in my 40s – and I made my detectives two women in their 40s.

Two middle-aged American women and a dead man in a bowl of Vichyssoise.
Amazon

But while I designed my detectives in part to mirror myself, I also chose their age for entirely different reasons. For all its advances and improvements, contemporary culture remains uncomfortable, not just with middle-aged women, but to an even greater degree with contentedly single middle-aged women – and to an even greater degree than that with childless women who are childless by choice. I wanted to confront this odd aversion head on, so I made sure that between them my detectives fill all these categories.

This decision is a small one, but for me it engaged with a question I’ve long struggled with, the question of what, intellectually, literature is supposed to do. Should it report on the world as it is, or should it model the world as it might – could, should, would – be?

Angry women

Recent fiction may not have been filled with middle-aged women, but it has been filled with angry ones. It’s jam packed with dystopian models of female repression and with women and men implacably set against one other: look at Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. As I began to create my fictional world, I was troubled by the question of whether these outpourings of rage, all justified, all earned, are enough.




Read more:
Review: The Testaments – Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale


In one way this literature is unquestionably good: female rage is something else culture has assiduously avoided considering for centuries, and during those centuries women have been subjugated, silenced, used and abused in ways that deserve outpourings of anger.

The sleuths return.
Amazon

Nor is this landscape of female repression changing quickly, and there is value in forcing it before readers’ eyes. In a recent article for The Guardian about the Staunch Prize, the new award for the best crime/mystery novel that does not feature violence against women, the novelist Kaite Welsh wrote that she wouldn’t “sanitise my writing in service of some fictional, feminist utopia … my work lies in marrying my imagination with the ugly truth”. This is an important argument.

Modeling the future

But while I don’t care about the absence of feminist utopias, I do care about the absence of writing that models the future we want. What will it be like, the world we’re striving for where the playing field is level and men and women are just people being people together? I believe that we can only imagine based on what we’ve seen, and that it’s part of literature’s job to help us see what doesn’t yet exist but could.

For this reason, although I grounded my novels firmly in the present (well, Death in Paris is set in 2014 and The Books of the Dead in 2016), I made some specific choices about that present. In my books, every person in a powerful position is a woman. Department heads and doctors, sources of knowledge and implacable foes: all are female.

More importantly, as far as I was concerned, no one draws attention to that. It’s so normal as to be unworthy of note. Nor does anyone comment on the fact that both my detectives are childless, and one remains happily unmarried in her mid-40s. Both of these detectives are heterosexual, but I made that decision so I could give each a husband or boyfriend who sees them as an intellectual and emotional equal, and for whom that equality is also the norm. The women in my books have and enjoy good sex, and they have and enjoy good conversations – almost none of them about men.

My books are full of oversights and omissions, and I’m far from satisfied with them. But what I aimed to do, and am still trying to do, is to augment the justifiable depictions of anger, the honest depictions of ongoing brutality and violence against women, with a small model that allows for a morsel of hope.The Conversation

Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer in English, University of Exeter

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ explores colonialism, resistance and liberation



Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ contains timeless themes around resistance and colonialism. Here in an engraving by Benjamin Smith based on a painting by George Romney of Act I, Scene 1 of ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare.
(Benjamin Smith/George Romney/ Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division /pga.03317)

Paul Yachnin, McGill University and Hannah Korell, McGill University

Last winter, at the Studio Theatre at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, Canadian actor Antoine Yared played Caliban in The Tempest. He stood, centre stage, looking out over the audience as he reassured his companions that the magic music of the island should not frighten them. He said:

“The isle is full of noises … that give delight and hurt not.”

But his face told the audience a different story — the story of a man heartbroken for what had been taken from him.

We chose Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the centrepiece for our “Playing for Free” workshop because the play has been entangled with the history of slavery and freedom in the west for over 400 years.

In this NYC 2016 production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ Reanna Roane, as ‘Ariel,’ perches on a rock in Central Park during the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society theatre company’s performance.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Tempest tells the story of the Duke of Milan, Prospero, who many years before had come to the island with his infant daughter. Upon arriving, Prospero enslaved two of its inhabitants, Caliban and the spirit Ariel. The play follows three interconnecting plotlines: Prospero’s revenge plan against his enemies; how his daughter, Miranda, falls in love with the son of his chief enemy; and how Caliban plans to destroy Prospero and take back the island.

Many consider the play an allegory of European colonization, and throughout the centuries, Caliban’s character has featured prominently in arguments that defend or resist against colonialist tyranny.

The Tempest has also been interpreted as an allegory of liberation. The 20th-century writer Roberto Fernández Retamar declared that the insurgent Caliban spoke for the colonized peoples of the Americas. In 1993, a production by Robert Lepage in Montréal portrayed Caliban as a working-class punk-rocker in open rebellion against the elite Prospero.

The Tempest and religious conversion

In our workshop, we wanted to blend theatre and scholarship to understand how The Tempest could have been used by both European colonialists and also by advocates of resistance. We also wanted to understand how the play might still be relevant.

The workshop brought together four Stratford Festival actors, three student actors from the Ryerson Performance Program and Renaissance scholars from an international initiative dedicated to understanding how Shakespeare’s work helped create the world we live in now.

The artists and scholars worked for a day and a half toward the performance. We talked about the history of slavery and freedom, primarily by thinking about how Christian conversion had served colonization. Indeed conversion has been an instrument of domination in the Americas from 1492 and onwards into recent times.

Forced conversion haunts the play. But there is another kind of conversion in the play where characters achieve the freedom to be true to themselves.

Caliban: Searching for the Other

Prospero attempts to strip away Caliban’s dignity. Prospero forces him to remain “stied” in a hard rock. In the Ryerson performance, Antoine Yared playing Caliban chose his first moments on stage carefully. Rather than obeying Prospero’s commands to “come,” he walked past Prospero, his back turned in a sign of his rebellion. For Caliban, even the act of walking around the Island, his home, was now charged with submission or defiance.

When Caliban encountered the shipwrecked servants he would recruit as co-conspirators against Prospero and when one of them fed him liquor, Caliban thought he had at last come face to face with God. He said to the drunken servant:

“Hath thou not dropped from heaven? … I prithee be my god.”

The drunk Caliban began singing and shouting:

“Freedom, high-day! High-day, freedom! Freedom!, high-day, freedom!”

But when the invisible Ariel began to make her magical music, the two servants quaked in terror. They knelt at Caliban’s feet. Caliban rose up — straight and fine like a young tree. He stood triumphantly over the two trembling servants. The music was something he knew well. It was nothing to be afraid of.

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,

That if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again: and then in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again.”

At the Ryerson performance in Toronto, Antoine Yared as Caliban chose his first moments on stage carefully. He walked past Ben Carlson as Prospero, his back turned in a sign of his rebellion.
Author provided

That was in rehearsal. But when Yared played Caliban in front of the audience, he changed the way he did the speech. His lines about the music of the island were no longer triumphant. They were something that could break your heart.

Yared’s Caliban was a man who had once been at one with the natural world, but who had been cast out and could only recapture some sense of the beauty of nature by dreaming. When he said, “I cried to dream again,” it was as if he were a man turning and turning, trying to find the beloved he had lost.

The workshop taught the actors, the scholars and the members of the audience how the play The Tempest, with its depiction of slavery, resistance and love might have challenged people of the past to see Caliban’s humanity and might also speak to audiences in the 21st century.

Yared’s Caliban left us with this urgent question. It was as if he were echoing Ariel and asking the audience:

“If you have eyes to see this suffering one, if you are human, your affections would become tender.”

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, McGill University and Hannah Korell, PhD Candidate, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The hangover in literature, from Shakespeare and Burns to Bridget Jones



Africa Studio via Shutterstock

Jonathon Shears, Keele University

What a subject! And, in very truth, for once, a ‘strangely neglected’ one.

So Kingsley Amis began his famous 1971 essay on the hangover How different is our present moment, when it would be hard to find a media outlet on New Year’s Day not featuring an item about the effectiveness of remedies. Every age has its preferred cure: Pliny the Elder advocated raw owl’s eggs in wine. Shakespeare refers to “small ale”, which remained popular into the 19th century. The early 20th century was the golden age of hangover cocktails such as the Bloody Mary and the Prairie Oyster – but also of Alka-Seltzer. Amis recommends a “Polish Bison” – vodka mixed with hot Bovril.

Even scientists have got involved and hangover research is a subfield of medicine and psychology. Studies have explored links between hangover severity and alcohol use disorders, the hangover’s economic cost, the effectiveness of remedies and the ethical implications of a pharmaceutical cure.

The bad news is that, if you’re feeling unwell this morning, all reputable studies have shown that the only thing guaranteed to relieve symptoms is the passing of time.

To be fair, Amis never thought that remedies – and physical after-effects including headache, nausea and dehydration – had been ignored. What had really been neglected was what he termed the hangover’s “metaphysical superstructure”. That is all the emotional baggage that often follows drinking: guilt, shame, self-pity and the more nebulous “hangxiety”.




Read more:
What causes hangovers, blackouts and ‘hangxiety’? Everything you need to know about alcohol these holidays


Science can tell us why we feel sick after heavy drinking: dehydration, contracted blood vessels causing headaches and the build-up of acetaldehyde. But when a hangover makes us unwell we don’t just mean physical symptoms.

Science finds emotions less susceptible to measurement than physical effects. For the former, we require literature and the arts. Literature is an outlet for feeling, but also an expression of individual and cultural values. There is a surprisingly rich tradition of hangover literature in western culture – in writers as diverse as Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Robert Burns and George Eliot, Jean Rhys and Helen Fielding – that has been largely ignored and goes some way to explaining why hangovers might make us feel like mending our ways.

Hangover literature

In a 1791 epistle to Maria Riddell, a wretchedly hungover Burns apologises for an unwanted sexual advance on her sister-in-law. “I write you from the regions of hell, amid the horrors of the damned”, he begins, before bemoaning his “aching head reclined on a pillow of ever-piercing thorn”, and “an infernal tormentor” called “Recollection”.

Robert Burns: recollection seems to be the hardest word.
Alexander Nasmyth

This is penitent’s rhetoric, reminding us that Burns lived in rigidly moral Presbyterian Scotland. Pounding head and dehydration are just reprisal for his indiscretion and his letter is an apology for sinfulness. Shame is a powerful cultural force: if there is a cure here it will be found in forgiveness.

Hangovers often reveal the personal and social values that make us feel “bad”. In other words, the hangover is both a physical and cultural deterrent. Guilt and shame are not just nervous reflexes but part of a superstructure of values – Amis chose his words wisely – without which they cannot be understood.

Men and women

Science argues that hangover severity is different for men and women, focusing on metabolism and body mass. But surely the real differences are sociocultural? We could compare the hangovers of the alcoholic journalist, Peter Fallow, from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), with those suffered by Helen Fielding’s ladette, Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones the morning after the night before.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Universal Pictures)

When hungover, Fallow seeks penance through strenuous exercise: “Never again. He would begin an exercise regimen tonight. Or tomorrow, in any case.” Wolfe makes it evident that hangxiety is not free floating, but derives from Fallow’s impression of being culturally tarnished: “It wouldn’t be this pathetic American business of jogging, either. It would be something clean, crisp, brisk, strenuous … English.” The body is a site of cultural meaning.

Jones faces low self-esteem when hungover. Her worries superficially recall those of Fallow, but her negative self image involves the distinctive pressures put upon women to marry and have children. She obsesses about weight gain, her looks (“Oh why am I so unattractive? Why?”), her ability to attract a partner and her ticking body clock.

Family values

The hangover’s impact on family life has been the focus of hangover studies. Here literature also points us to cultural variables.

The wife who nags her husband for his drunken ways is a stock figure of comic fiction from the 16th century to the present day. John Taylor captures the type in his colourful Skimmington’s Lecture (1639):

What not a word this morning … have you lost your tongue, you may be ashamed, had you any grace in you at all, to bee such a common drunkard, a pisse-pot.

But in the Victorian period Janet Dempster in Eliot’s Janet’s Repentance (1857) tells us of a different domestic power dynamic. Because she is unable to reproach her abusive, though popular, husband, she drowns her sorrows. While Robert’s “good head” for drink is legendary, Janet’s hangovers mean she neglects housework and loses her “good” reputation. Her shame shows that she is held to a different set of standards than her husband, the “stigmatising subject position” of women drinkers. (Janet is, however, able to repent, while Robert ends up dying after delirium tremens.)

Cultural resistance

It is possible to defy moral judgement for our lack of self-care, wasted time or embarrassment. However, even the most rebellious of literature’s drinkers feel self-doubt bite during hangovers. Martin Amis’s John Self (Money, 1984), Alan Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1958) and A. L. Kennedy’s Hannah Luckraft (Paradise, 2004) are notorious for recklessness and defiance when drunk. Their hangovers are, however, some of the most crippling in literature. Luckraft revels in blackouts and casual sexual encounters, but admits: “Inside, I am mostly built out of remorse.” Self’s hangovers are a necessary curb on a particularly toxic brand of masculinity. Seaton’s motto is “don’t let the bastards grind you down”, but the hangover of Sunday morning succeeds boozy Saturday nights and he eventually submits to marriage and a steady job.

Literature shows that hangovers are rarely just a collection of physical symptoms. A recent leader article in The Guardian was given the headline: “The Guardian view on the science of hangovers: no more research needed”. Perhaps we don’t need another article about the best remedies – but it is worth reflecting that there is much more to a hangover than bodily symptoms.

Hangover literature tells us quite a lot about our attitudes to alcohol, how they form and what they mean. This New Year, alongside the Bloody Mary, it might just be worth picking up a book. I don’t claim it will make anyone feel better, but it could help us understand a little more about why drinking often makes us feel bad about ourselves.The Conversation

Jonathon Shears, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 great reads for young critical thinkers



An image from the book cover for ‘SLAY,’ one of the top 2019 five books for young critical thinkers.
(Simon and Schuster)

Heba Elsherief, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

At this time of year, “best of” lists abound, vying for our attention. But teachers and parents committed to principles of social justice are generally left searching for something more than the usual top 10 list of best-of books.

We hope the reads we give are not just entertaining but also educational.

I’ve previously written on children’s literature and presented book lists for critical thinkers on The Conversation Canada. The authors I listed lead to a treasure trove — for example, S.K. Ali’s Love from A to Z — but what follows is a new list of recommendations. They are books published from September 2019 that I hope will both entice readers and foster critical thinking.

This book list is not exhaustive and I present it more as suggestions — ones that may warrant further research. Teachers and parents will want to look up any trigger warnings.

Also, I recommend adults read books along with younger readers: it’s vital to meaningful conversations. I think adult readers may be pleasantly surprised by the rich and important storytelling happening in the young adult literary world.


‘All American Muslim Girl’ book cover.
(Macmillan Publishers)

All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney, defies what you think you might know about female Muslim representation in an American context.

Allie Abraham is the main character whose born-Muslim father dislikes that she’s becoming more spiritual. The family has just moved to a small town, a microcosm of a nation where Islamophobia has become normalized. Allie falls for the son of Jack Henderson, the county’s “shock jock” behind the spread of hatred.

It’s a quiet but complex story about the search for identity and learning to find your own way. Allie is a likable character whose moral compass is wholesome and whose struggles to sift through opposing influences read as authentic and heart-warming. There’s an education and historical element to be found here on Circassian Muslims.


Book cover for ‘The Fountains of Silence.’
(Penguin Random House)

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys. Since reading Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, probably one of my most recommended historical YA novels, I’ve been on the lookout for her work. In her latest, Sepetys takes readers to Spain in the 1950’s under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Beyond giving us a look into the sorrow-filled aftermath of civil war, there are lessons here for those dealing with questions of privilege and the responsibilities to do something positive with that privilege.

Daniel Matheson is the protagonist photographer and son of an American oil tycoon who falls in love with Ana, the hotel maid and daughter of parents killed and imprisoned by the regime. She needs to keep silent in a country that relies on controlling people by fear. But Ana finds herself confiding in Daniel and Daniel begins to look beyond what he thinks he sees on the surface.

The best historical novels say something about contemporary times as well and Sepetys doesn’t disappoint. Readers will find parallels that speak to our silences regarding blatant injustices happening today.


SLAY, by Brittney Morris, is one I’d been hearing about for a long time before its September release. People called it a mash-up of The Hate U Give, and Ready Player One with a Black Panther-esque gaming world at its core.

Kiera Johnson is pretty much the only Black girl into STEM at her mostly white school. Beneath her honours persona, she’s hiding a secret life as the developer of an online game called SLAY. The game is supposed to be a safe-space for hundreds of thousands of Black gamers but when a teen is murdered in real life over a dispute in the game world, the game is exposed to accusations and threats.

Kiera fights to protect the world she created on several fronts. Although this is a novel that defies what stereotypes of Black girlhood may look like, it is also a super-inspiring read about the power of aligning your dreams with making the world a better, more inclusive space.


Book cover for ‘The Grace Year.’
(Macmillan)

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, has already been optioned for film and been compared to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. It does not have an obvious diversity element built into it but it does have its strengths for critical readers.

It’s a dystopian story about Tierney James who lives in a patriarchal, puritanical society that sends girls in their 16th year out to “release their magic” into the wild. The belief is that girls on the cusp of womanhood have an energy that, unless expended, would bring the moral degeneration of their community. In the author’s note at the end, Liggett tells the story of how she was inspired to tell this story because of “the things we do to young girls.”

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The prose is elegant and captivating, but the world is cruel and disturbing. The book was hard to read at times despite its female empowerment message. Accordingly, for this recommendation, I’d stress the necessity of reviewing the trigger warnings.


Book cover for ‘It’s a Whole Spiel.’
(Knopf)

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, is for readers who prefer shorter stories rather than one long tale. Some are funny, others are sad, but all, in one way or another, address what growing up Jewish meant to the writer.

Bursting with diverse and intersectional representations (there’s queer and disabled reps here too, for instance), this anthology, much like All-American Muslim Girl, demonstrates that people of marginalized faiths aren’t a monolith and defy the stereotypes around them.

This book would be great for young Jewish readers, certainly for the chance to see themselves reflected in the books they read, but I see the benefit for non-Jewish readers as well. As children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop explains, books can be as windows, mirrors and sliding doors. Bishop wrote:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Rudine Sims Bishop, author of the essay ‘Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors’

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day.]The Conversation

Heba Elsherief, Adjunct professor in Education, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.