A lifetime of reading

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For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading. I was five years old when my mother taught me what all these wonderful signs, called letters, meant, and how to interpret them. It was she who introduced me to this world of bliss a year before I went to primary school. Ever since then I’ve devoured loads of books. It all started with ‘Pinkeltje’ by Dick Laan, in which wonderful fantasies and adventures of a funny little gnome came to life. When I was about seven years old I started to eat my way through the tiny school library by reading every book from the ‘yellow knights series’, it is a shame that I can’t remember who wrote them. By the time I was ten I had read every book in my mother’s bookcase and had been lost many a rainy day in Greek myths and legends beyond imagination. Not the average reading material for a ten year old, but it was my escape from the outside world, which I didn’t particularly care for. I just wanted to read with my back leant against the central heating whilst sitting on a pillow on the ground. Reading opened my mind to worlds I could enter whenever I chose to do so. At primary school as well as secondary school I was always the odd one out, until I started studying English and met people with the same interests. Up till this day we share the world of language, and language is communication. Now who can think of anything more important than communication? It binds people, it connects cultures and whole worlds. Through words.

I can clearly remember when my preference and all consuming love for English literature was born. It was the day I discovered that my mother had many more books stacked in this old leather suitcase in the attick. Among them was my all time favourite still, ‘Jane Eyre’, by Charlotte Brontë. I couldn’t read it on my own so my mother helped me and as if I had never done differently I started to learn how to read English. ‘Jane Eyre’ took me to a completely different age and world and I was absolutely fascinated by everything she had to deal with . It felt as if I was right there with her . Today, when I close my eyes, I can still recall the images and feelings I had at that time. After that I have to admit I was lost, lost in love with English literature forever. Everywhere I went I was accompanied by a book. Until this very day.

I do hope that I made you curious to explore this world with me and get lost in books together. The purpose of my blogs is to encourage you, inform you and to, hopefully, introduce you to lots of books. I will review and analyse them to give you the right impression. I may write with a bit of too much enthousiasm here and there for some, but if I do just try to forgive. Well, enough said. Let’s start writing, reading and learning together!

Spark your imagination and start reading today

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Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer.

First love..

I clearly remember the moment my daughter told me about Twilight. Robin, who was fourteen at the time, was head over heels in love with this love story. Sharon was 10 years old and had decided to find everything that Robin found interesting to be interesting. Hey..This needs a bit of explanaition I presume. Robin, being the eldest of my best friend during this very special and important period in the lives of our children, was blossoming and overflowing with hormones that she couldn’t particularly place very well. Hence Twilight. The love story of all times , if ever you would ask these girls. But hey, seriously I could not, in the least remote way, feel any connection whatsoever to a vampire and, a rather weak specimen of, a girl. Isn’t it at least fair then that I now give my readers a fair chance to a fair review of this all consuming love story that kept an entire generation of adolescents glued to either the film or the book? So I asked myself the question why Bella was so appealing to these teenage girls. Well, teenage girls relate to Bella because she is insecure, confused and seemingly madly in love with someone who makes her feel special. And the fact that no-one seems to understand them makes it absolutely more worth the while. Feeling safe and being confused at the same time makes the role Edward plays very important, but dangerous as well at the same time.

Now you have to have a bit of prior knowledge to understand what I am writing about. Follow me please and try to keep up. Edward is a vampire and Bella the girl he falls in love with and she, naturally, falls in love with Edward. Love story born. When discussing this book in Literature class, one of the issues was the role Bella plays in the story. We found it to be rather weak. Edward dominates and he pries on her weak nature. She constantly needs his confirmation and seems very dependent of him. We thought this to be a very bad role model to girls and young women today. One could say that Edward is very protective, but on the other hand he treats her like a prey. He even calls her a lamb. Is Edward a loverboy? Edward Quotes. “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.” “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…” he murmured. ( Meyer, 2009)

So now that the readers know, for those who have never heard of Twilight, that Edward is a vampire, in class we also wondered about his nature. being a vampire makes him somewhat evil. Vampires live of the blood of others. Coming from the Cullen family who drink their blood of animals he certainly tries his best to be a good vampire and as a reader we might almost think him to be a good vampire. A vampire he remains however. Here the story becomes interesting because we can subscribe evil to the main character now. This idea of evil will probably sound ridiculous to 16 year olds, because they will know by now that people are not to be looked upon in such a simple way, but a 10-14 year old is not quite there yet. Everything is mixed up here and so are adolescents, mixed up.

Mixed up, in between adolescence and adulthood, according to Erikson, in between stage 5 and 6. Teenagers start to develop their personal identity and engage in personal relationships. Stage 6.( Erikson, 1970) Hence, again, mixed up and Twilight is the ultimitate first love story for this age group. Like it or not. Having written this, I can only conclude that I finally understand Robin and my daughter now, being who they were at that age, and happy that they know better now.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Disillusion and disappointment

Talking about disillusion and disappointment..

I clearly remember Lord of the Flies being on my book list years ago and I also clearly remember not liking it at all. Being 16 and into writers like Ira Levin, D.H. Lawrence and of course all time favourite books like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and so on, this book never stood a fair chance. Thinking this through thoroughly, I decided to give it a fair chance this time and wandered of to the deserted island where the boys in this book stranded. I started reading with an open mind and set aside all my judgements from those far away adolescent days. That did not work out quite the way I had hoped for..I understand perfectly well what Golding wanted us to learn about; the way human nature can show a very ugly face when all boundaries and laws fall away, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. I have to be honest though about his writing, which is ever so cleverly done, as is the symbolism and his sharp psychology.

Certain parts of the book were really gruesome and I was very surprised by the ending. I couldn’t remember it ended the way it did. There must have been a lack of focus on my part when I was an adolescent myself. In the middle of a very exhilirating chase, Ralph bumps into an adult and that is the end of everything. Ralph being the main character of the book, I can imagine that readers of a certain age, not unlike me, would really want to know what happens next. What a 12 year old probably doesn’t want to know, but gets to know anyway, is what happens to the pig that runs around screaming in agonising pain and very reluctant to die. But then again, in their search for identity and self ( Erikson,1970) they may come to the conclusion that this is not what they would do to any pig at all for that matter. Or maybe they would, because it is a bit hypocritical to react to this the way I do. During our group discussion we talked about many things and found that Ralph, the main character, doesn’t want to be a hero and it is exactly that trait that makes him the perfect leader. Unlike Jack he is not blinded by greed or power. Jack literally decides over life and death and is the absolute opponent of Ralph. We also discussed symbolism. The way fire is used is a good example. Fire keeps the boys warm but is also destructive. Piggy’s glasses are a symbol of intelligence and Piggy is in his own way a great and intelligent leader. The destruction of Piggy’s glasses symbolises how far the boys have morally drifted away from the civilised world they came from.

Admittedly a very well written book and suitable for readers between the age of 12-18, Erikson stage 5, and adults of course. My 3tl class read this book last month and had no problems with it any way at all. I was proud to learn that they could really distinguish between the good Ralph and Piggy represented, and the bad that Jack represented. They did find certain parts very upsetting, but that is a very good sign if we consider Erikson’s stages of development. It implies that they are questioning the world and themselves as they should . ( Erikson, 1970)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne

Crossover

The cover couldn’t be more well chosen..

When I picked up the book for the first time the cover said it all. It brought shivers down my spine. I have read many, many books about the Shoah, and at a certain point in my life decided to stop doing so. Coming from a partly Jewish family who have lost many in different concentrationcamps, I just couldn’t read about this anymore. It brought back so much pain and memories of relatives that suffered, or still suffer because of the horrors they went through or had to endure during their childhood, because their parents or one of their parents still lived in fear. Fear of this horror ever happening again..I remember my grandmother who sewed diamonds in her fur coat, had gems tucked away in her secret hiding places, lost her brother, after he came ‘back’, to suicide and could never really raise her children without fear anymore. This resulted in a twisted upbringing, which up till now has taken two generations to heal. So here I was, I suppose I could have picked another book, but I was drawn to this one anyway. Maybe because of the title: ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. Written through the eyes of a young boy..It did bring back fear, especially when I read Boyne’s words on the back of the book “Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age”. ( Boyne,2007) This made it even more heart-breaking, thinking of the children I teach who have fled from Syria..I know that many children today have also experienced an ‘Out-with’, or still do.

In class, we discussed how this book had effected us and whether or not Boyne had a special agenda with his work. There are a few major themes in his book, supported by many quotes. One of them is a quote he uses to show how people react or don’t react in the most horrific situations. “What happened then was both unexpected and extremely unpleasant. Lieutenant Kotler grew very angry with Pavel and no one- not Bruno, not Gretl, not mother and not even father- stepped in to stop him doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch. Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretl grow pale.”(Boyne, 2007) What Boyne is trying to make the world understand is that too many people react this way, then and now. They turn their face and back to people in desperate need for help.

Through the eyes of Bruno the world is innocent, he doesn’t understand Out-with, he doesn’t understand why Shmuel can’t come over to his house to play with him and he doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘Heil Hitler’, to him the world is a playground. As it should be. This narrative makes the book strong and touching. It also makes it a very well written crossover book. As an adult reader you know exactly and immediately what is going on, but as a young child without any previous knowledge about World War II and the Shoah you don’t. When at the end of the book Bruno crawls under the fence to Shmuel’s side, we already fear what is about to happen. A young child would believe that Bruno and Shmuel are actually going to look for Shmuel’s father, who has been missing for some time at that point. The moment that Bruno’s parents realise that he is gone forever, and the moment they finally and hopefully, because as a reader we don’t know this for sure, realise what kind of world they have helped to create, is when as an adult reader your heart might break twice. How much crossover can one get in one book.

We once talked about how adults were embarrassed getting caught with a Harry Potter book, but those days are over , certainly with well written crossover books like this one. It is even becoming popular to read children’s books and retailers have great difficulty placing books on shelves. Where to put them? Well I would say that it is time for a crossover department in book stores. In the mean time retailers are happy to see books go from one department to the other, because ten years ago that would never have happened, as Rees pointed out in 2003.

I think this book is suitable for age 12 and upwards because it isn’t hard to read. I have read it together with my first year group tl/havo and they could handle both the writing and the subject very well. They thought it an easy book to read due to the narrative structure, which is very clear and not as pretentious as a lot of adult books might be. ( Rees, 2003) It also gave room for discussion, not only about then, but about the situation the world is in now as well. That is what a good book can and should do.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Escape

Let the magic capture your heart

I am ashamed to tell you that I first heard of ‘the Chronicles of Narnia’ when a friend of mine from Canada told me about these wonderful books. He did so a few years ago and sadly I never got round to reading any of the seven books until now. I just wish I had not waited for so long..And although I am an adult, I have to admit I am hooked and a huge fan. I can’t wait to read all of them. What a wonderful world of magic Lewis opened up for so many. He takes you on a journey into a world full of magic with hints to the real world, and it is this world with its own history, language, culture and myths that defines The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a great fantasy book. ( Hunter,2014)

I can hardly wait…

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the seven books now known as ‘the Chronicles of Narnia’. It was first published in 1950, just five years after World War II. As so many children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucie Pevensie were send to live in the country during World War II. Right here is a good connection to the real world since it relates to Lewis’s own experience during the war, when in a house nearby, children were also brought to live in the country. This element is not “merely copied from the world of another writer or vague memories of high school history classes”. ( Hunter, 2014) They stayed with the eccentric Professor Kirke, who doesn’t play an important role in the story although he may be regarded as the substitute parent that the children will have to do without for a period of time. The absence of their parents and the freedom granted to them by Kirke, enables them to give direction to their newly found life and helps them discover the world of magic they are about to enter. In ‘the Reader as hero and heroine’ ( Appleyard,1991), Lehrman explains to us that books with parentless protagonists are often read by young readers, which is why I believe that this wonderful adventure is suitable for ages 6 and above. Anyway, let me continue, it is a dull and rainy day when the four children start exploring the house, and Lucy, the youngest, finds an enormous wardrobe. Curious, of course, she steps in and finds herself in a strange and snowy wood. It is only after a while that all four siblings travel through the wardrobe to discover that it is their destiny to free Narnia with the help of a lion, and it is then that their adventure begins.

During Literature class we had a group discussion about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It became clear that not everyone in our group was so bewildered by this fantasy work of Lewis. We decided that there was an underlying biblical touch to it and discovered that Lewis might have had Christian thoughts writing this book and with the other six books of The Chronicles of Narnia. A good fantasy book describes a quest, a journey, obstacles and a final ordeal as Alec Austin explained in 2002. It was our conclusion that this book had it all. The quest was to stop the witch who kept Narnia in an endless winter and in order to do so, the journey of the children was to find Aslan, the courageous lion, because he would guide and help them. On their journey the children had to overcome obstacles and it is very clear in this story that the witch and Edmund are the obstacles. Here we clearly saw the part of Judas being represented by Edmund as he betrayed his siblings. After the final ordeal, which was the sacrifice Aslan the lion made and we believed to represent the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the sins of others, the children accomplished their goal of freeing Narnia and Edmund. Lewis was a master in creating a fantasy world for children and adults too, he wrote this book ever so eloquently with an elevated tone and clear moral distinctions between the protagonists and their opponents, the requirements Alec Austin subscribed to high fantasy in 2002, with disguised hints to the ‘real’ world as he dealt with topics like religion and many others. This book sparkles the imagination of young and old. To be able to read this book I would suggest it to students in my classroom from 12 years and older, since it may not be easy to read without knowledge of the English language.

All in all a very good fantasy novel.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson.

The age of innocence.

“Perhaps there is a language, which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it” by Frances Hodgson.

‘The Secret Garden, or better ; how the wonders of nature heal a little orphan named Mary.. This wonderful book made me sad when I first started reading it. The ordeal Mary had to go through and her perception of the world was born out of loneliness and the incredibly heartless parents she lost. Once reading I couldn’t stop and although this book was written for children I found myself crying..Probably because as a mother I felt the heartache of Mary or maybe I just wanted to be her substitute mother..

This beautiful and enchanting story begins in colonial India, where Mary’s rich parents leave caring for her to the servants of the household. Mary’s mother is a very selfish and coldhearted woman, who prefers dinnerparties and other engagements over her daughter. Due to the indulgence of the servants who give Mary everything she could possibly wish for, the young girl becomes a very spoiled and miserable child. Misfortune strikes however when a cholera epidemic kills her parents and all the servants, Mary is now an orphan and although she suffered a great loss, or should I say because of this loss, she will now have a better chance in life and a chance to get loving and caring ‘parents’ in return. As Lehrman explains in “The reader as a Hero and Heroine”( Appleyard,1991), books with parentless protagonists are often read by young readers. This is linked to the Oedipal conflict where foundlings believe that “they can begin their lives again with the parents they deserve rather than the ones they have”.

And so a new and brighter life presents itself to Mary. Her character changes as the story continues, from a “tyrannical and selfish little pig”( Burnett, 1998, p.10) to a sweet, generous girl, who is full of life and health because of the fresh air and the work in her secret garden. During the group discussion we had in literature class, we agreed that Mary learns new life lessons as the story proceeds, and that every chapter has its discoveries and surprising events. There is fast-moving action in this book and a focus on dialogue, which makes it very suitable for children between the age of 7 and 12. They can easily read the “uncomplicated sentences and short paragraphs”( Appleyard, 1991). It doesn’t bore young readers with endless descriptions of people and settings.

“If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden”. Frances Hodgson Burnett

Although the secret garden is of course the dominant pattern throughout the story I believe the wonderful descriptions of it definitely serve a purpose. They bring it to life and help young readers to imagine how beautiful it is in Mary’s eyes and the eyes of her friends. The garden changes Mary as it is her secret adventure and place of inner growth. She learns how to take care of the roses and the other plants and flowers and with them flourishes herself. Through successes like these, young readers are shown that the adventures and trails, that are prominent in the world, can end happily ( Appleyard, 1991, p.6). What more beautiful way than to achieve this because of nature and its wonders.

I would like to finish this blog with a cheer for the author. A few months ago I gave the book to one of my students, 13 years old, to read, and she couldn’t stop reading. She finished it within one day and told me how she loved every minute of it. This tells me that the story Frances Hodgson wrote is still alive and therefore a true classic.

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.Salinger

A search for identity.

Originally written in 1951 as an adult novel, the book was soon eagerly consumed by teenagers. Salinger wrote his novel on disillusion and quest for identity of the main character, Holden Caulfield, in an era of repression. After the second World War the political climate had become one of mistrust and conservatism. It was this suffacating conservatism perhaps that Holden, in his search for identity, tried to escape from, and as I understand, the reason that Salinger’s book was banned from many libraries and schools in Postwar America……

As I mentioned above, ‘ Catcher in the rye’ was banned from schools and libraries. One of the reasons was the use of language that was often referred to as being profane and unsuitable for children. I have to admit, even though I am very liberal in my approach to any literary work what soever, that I immediately detested Holden for his constant swearing and negative attitude towards every ( that is almost every) adult he encountered. Had I forgotten that I had a simular period in life as well? Apparently so because through a bit of reminiscing I soon recalled lots of misfortunate situations, discussions and rebellious outbursts on my part. It is all about finding out where you stand in life and getting there, which for most of us has been a search…a search for identity through conflict and clashes. Holden’s quest just hits you in the face as he lets the reader in on his most inner thoughts and anxieties ( Appleyard, 1991:11).

In literature class we discussed about how this book is an excellent example of a ‘coming of age’ novel. Holden’s loneliness is, among other issues, strenghtened by the narrative being the first person. This narrative almost makes a hostage out of the reader’s attention. You just want to read on until you have finished the book. The plot is a very strong element as well, just when one has learned that Holden has been expelled from school he embarks on a weekend of, so to speak and underestimate, turmoil in New York, where he goes to bars, not being honest about his age, has encounters with whores but also with nuns and gets beaten up by a pimp. Not the average adventures of a teenager but then again very engaging to read ( ‘Active engagement’, Hubl, 2019). After some research done by one of my fellow debaters, we found that Holden’s name has a more profound and deeper meaning in the book. As stated on Sparknotes, a caul is the protecting fleece around a baby in the womb. Given the idea that Holden is struggling with adulthood and wants so desparetly to stay innocent, the name Holden Caulfield ( hold-on-caul) is food for thought. He detests phony adults and takes a particular liking to the nuns he encounters who in his eyes are sincere and honest.

Through his statement about these nuns I believe Holden to be in between stage 5 and 6 of Erikson’s stages of development, where, at the age between 12 and 18, teenagers develop a self and a personal identity. Holden is still much confused about his role and he has a rather weak sense of self, which leaves him dangling in stage 5, but with a focus already on the possible relationships and sexuality of stage 6. He ends up with a prostitute in a hotel room but at the same time he feels that you should only lose your virginity to someone you really like.

That’s what I liked about those nuns. You could tell, for one thing, that they never went anywhere swanky for lunch. It made me so damn sad when I thought about it, their never going anywhere swanky for lunch or anything. I knew it wasn’t too important, but it made me sad anyway.

Holden Caulfield has a fantasy in which thousands of children play in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. He catches them if they come too close to falling and so he actually becomes “the catcher in the rye”. To him it means saving children from losing their youth and innocence, which is the pattern throughout the book, and in doing so, perhaps he can even save himself. He tells his younger sister Phoebe, who works as his conscience, about this fantasy and connects it to, as he believes, a song. It is Phoebe who corrects him and points out that the song is actually a poem written by Robert Burns. ‘It’s ” if a body meet a body coming through the rye”! old Phoebe said. It’s a poem by Robert Burns’ ( Salinger, 1951:186). Remaining a child is easier and childhood is clear, comfortable and safe ( Appleyard, 1991:19). Being a mother I could somehow relate to this because all you sometimes want to do is protect and save…In Holden’s case it is all about role confusion ( Erikson,1970) a good example is his, mostly absent, parents expecting him to become a lawyer, whereas Holden just wants the simple things in life, he wants to become a farmer and in this way hold on to the clearity and simpleness of childhood.

‘The catcher in the rye’ is suitable for ages 12-18, readers that have reached Erikson’s stage 5 (Erikson,1970). Readers at this stage are trying to develop a sense of identity and figure out how to connect to people and socialize, which is exactly what Holden is trying in this book. This book’s events go beyond the average teenage world and perhaps so does the use of language, but luckily today’s readers don’t live in Post War America and parents as well as teachers have experienced their own adolescence in a far more open society than the forementioned. As Perri Klass mentioned in the New York Times article ‘The banned books your child should read’, adults worry too much about the possible corrupting influence of the printing word ( Klass, P,M.D., New York Times,2017).