Monday, June 4, 2012

"Page turner" is not a compliment

Publishers and book reviewers believe that describing a book as a "page turner" is to compliment the author. It may be intended as such. In fact, it is the opposite. The term implies reader dissatisfaction with the page currently in focus. It implies the reader wants to get to the last page as quickly as possible. Book reviewers too often describe a book as "a quick read." The author would hardly be flattered.

 "Yet how many people there are who read as though some prize awaited them when they turned the last page! They do not wish to read a book; they want to have read it -- no matter how. The prize they seek is to have done with the book at hand." -- Robertson Davies in A Voice from the Attic.

One of the publishers in a writer's market guides suggests works in which 10,000 words might be read in forty minutes. I doubt anyone reading a (good) book at that pace will get the message, feel the style or revel in the vocabulary and sentence structure of the work. Needless to say, few best-sellers are blessed with these characteristics. They are the page turners.

Are good books designed to be read as quickly as possible? Or intended by the author to offer ideas, thoughts and observations worth mulling over? The page should be turned only in the hope of continuing the intellectual adventure. A book should be read with the same care with which the author wrote it.

Woody Allen described the results of a speed-reading course. "They taught us to read down the centre of the page. I read War and Peace in an hour. It was about Russia."

Regardless of the subject matter, a good book deserves attention, an honest perusal, and a mind-stretching thought. Such a book can be read only with pencil in hand. The readily erasable marks indicate important passages, excellent turns of phrase, or valuable insights. After the last page is turned, these markings are reviewed, and the noteworthy ones indexed on the inside back cover, or on a separate sheet of paper.

One finishes A Voice from the Attic with unbounded desire to preserve such incisive turns of phrase as: a strongly developed sense of grievance; a victim of an unresolved mental quirk; injustice collectors; creeps like a stain through the fabric of their lives; filled with undigested anger; gnawing on the bone of contentment. Each idea to be relished, no page turner, this book.

François, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, composer of maxims and epigrams wrote, "I am fond of all kinds of reading, especially where there is something to train the mind and toughen the soul. Above all, I find very great enjoyment  in sharing my reading with an intelligent person. In doing so one can continually reflect upon what is being read, and such reflections form the basis of the most delightful and profitable conversation."

Rochefoucauld and Davies would have had great conversations. Perhaps they are.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bureaucracy vs Family

Email to The National Post, May 29, 2012. Unpublished.

Re Teachers oppose parents taking kids from sex ed, May 29:

This report illustrates once again what's wrong with our school system.  The bureaucrats and teachers increasingly want to intrude in other people's business, in this case, the family's business of sex education. 

Teaching must return to the basics of reading, language, writing, arithmetic, history and other core subjects. If a teacher is no good, or the principal unable to maintain discipline, parents should be able to demand better or pull their children from that school.

In this particular report, the teachers' union of Manitoba wants the government to make it a crime for parents to take their children from classes, regardless of subject or quality of teaching. They Nazi-tinged demand is motivated, not for concern of their students, but for their personal good -- the need to maintain a certain level of attendance to protect their pay. So they demand forced attendance, regardless of how or what they are pushing down young throats.

The next step in this bureaucratization of education is to criminalize homeschooling. It's already happened in Sweden, Norway and Germany where it was introduced by the Nazis. 

Parents must have more say in the education of their children, the bureaucrats less.