Posts Tagged ‘authors’

Today, the Sunday Times published an article about Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and his decision to take US classics off the GCSE English curriculum.

“The John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, and other American classics including Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, have been dropped from new English literature GCSEs after Michael Gove, the education secretary, insisted teenagers had to study works by British writers.”

Apparently, Gove doesn’t like ‘Of Mice and Men’, but why does that mean he gets to say that other people can’t read it? Surely there should be more people having a say in this?

The exam board, OCR, says that the book was “studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past”, which suggests that it is a book at the very heart of the GCSE English curriculum. Personally, I am one of the 10% who never studied ‘Of Mice and Men’, and when I hear people talking about studying it, I feel left out! Although, from what I’ve heard, it sounds like I didn’t miss much. I may even attempt to read it now, as I find that reading these classics out of an educational context makes them much more enjoyable!

Also, according to OCR, “In the new syllabus 70-80% of the books are from the English canon.

I’m all for promoting British books because we’ve produced some of the best writers, but it seems very narrow-minded to take out the US classics. To be fair, a lot of British classics, while good books, are a bit grating after a while, especially if you’re spending a whole term on one of them. I’m the sort of person who reads a book and then quickly moves onto the next. Education introduces you to some great books but spending too much time on certain authors can get a little bit boring. If you’re going to bore teens (many of whom probably don’t care that much about literature), at least try to throw in a few classics by foreign writers to do the job properly!

It’s bad enough that, in this world of technology and social networking, teenagers are less likely to read books in a conventional way (if at all) but education is the main place where you’re introduced to books which make you think about the world differently, and having books on the curriculum which are from a variety of authors from Britain and beyond our shores helps us to learn more about the world. We need to give teenagers the chance to learn about other cultures through books and broaden their minds! It seems very racist trying to kick out literature by foreign authors and doesn’t set a good example for young people.

I must point out that I was one of the lucky (or unlucky?!) ones who ended up in a GCSE English class which didn’t cover ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Crucible’, or ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, so I can’t say how good these classics actually are, but I did study J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye” which, although bizarre on the first reading, turned out to be very interesting (and I have actually read it since I left school!).

I studied my GCSEs in 2005, so I’m hard-pushed to remember what else I actually studied, but I remember having an anthology of poetry with Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and a few other poets! It wasn’t very much fun though, although I remember liking studying the film “Pleasantville”!

I may not have enjoyed a lot of the texts I studied at GCSE, but it didn’t stop me taking A Level English, or doing a degree in English Literature and English Language, both of which covered infinitely more interesting books!

Banning books only shows that someone is trying to control what you are exposed to, and when it comes to books, I think it is wrong to limit people to certain things. Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen are all great, but there’s more to literature than their collective works! There are many exciting books out there!

Maybe banning these books will make people read them anyway? Who Knows?! We will see just how well this plan works when it is put into action.

What do you think?

The article from the Sunday Times “Gove kills the mockingbird with ban on US classic novel” is found here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1414764.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2014_05_24

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This post is related to the London Book Fair 2014 (see my earlier post on my visit) when I attended a seminar called Beyond Nordic Noir: An Overview of the Nordic Literary Market, which was all about literature coming out of the Nordic countries and the fact that it isn’t just crime novels!

The Beyond Nordic Noir session

The Beyond Nordic Noir session

This was a fascinating and informative session because I didn’t know much about the structure of the book industry in the Nordic countries. The things they discussed included:

  • The Nordic market is trying to move away from the dark side of Nordic literature – the incoming trend seems to be comic books, the complete opposite! (according to a Finnish lit agency)
  • Writers need to be able to develop and grow.
  • Dedicated local readers are needed before a book is translated.
  • There’s a need for supportive government policies for books.
  • Small countries (like Iceland with its tiny population) need to decide on and maintain support for books.

Norway was discussed at length during the session and some intriguing facts came out about the Norwegian book industry:

  • Publishers can keep publishing translated fiction because they have less risk due to government funding for it.
  • Only 5% of 700 titles translated to other countries are actually crime!
  • No VAT on books in Norway keeps prices down.
  • Publishers can have a fixed price on books so booksellers can’t choose the price.
  • Physical bookshops are doing well due to the lack of price competition, so they work better than UK bookshops.
  • Publishers have more profit to subsidize translations.
  • Everyone in the population of Norway reads at least 1 book per year.
  • 40% of the population reads more than 10 books per year.
  • 5000 new titles are published each year – 60-65% are by Norwegians.
  • There’s 600 bookshops in Norway!
  • There’s 10 internet bookstores, but no big one.

There are worries about the industry in the future though:

  1. Who will be the publishers?
  2. Globalisation – every 4th book is in English.
  3. Centralisation – fewer players who are bigger (Amazon hasn’t launched in Norway…yet).

Then there was some discussion of certain authors and books which have come out of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland, and each country’s literary councils which help promote their books.

There are plenty of Nordic support schemes, with translation grants, sample translation grants, travel grants for writers, authors, publishers, etc, production grants, and promotion grants.

In addition, the Nordic countries tend to join together to do joint promotions because they are successful, but it must be stressed that just because they are grouped together they are NOT all the same!

I was impressed by the fact that the book industry in Scandinavia seems so much healthier than the UK with their price fixing (which we ditched), the lack of VAT on books, and the amount of funding available for translated fiction in the Nordic countries.

There was a section by the speaker Boyd Tonkin who named his favourite 5 Nordic authors: Linn Ullman (Norway), Sofi Oksanen (Finland), Carsten Jensen (Denmark), and Sjon (Iceland, but I’m afraid I have forgotten who he picked from Sweden! Oops!

I would love to read more Scandinavian books, so far I have only read a few Nordic crime novels and one Finnish novel, and that’s pretty pathetic! Crime isn’t even one of my usual genres! I’m definitely going to look into some new Nordic books!

This week is the London Book Fair, and on Tuesday I went down to London for the first day of the Fair. I was a little low on funds after having already spent a fortnight there on placement recently, so I decided to just go for the one day, which turned out to be a l-o-n-g daytrip when you’re travelling from Cumbria to London and back in a day! I had to get the first train of the day just before 7am and and got to the Fair around 10.45am.

Earl's Court Exhibition Centre

Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre

This year is quite special because the LBF is moving next year to Olympia, so it’s their last year at Earl’s Court which is quite sad! This is my 4th year of visiting the LBF and I felt that I had to go to Earl’s Court one last time! I can’t believe they’re redeveloping it!

The writing on the ground about the history of the Fair at Earl's Court, and the future move to Olympia.

The writing on the ground about the history of the Fair at Earl’s Court, and the future move to Olympia.

I had planned to go to the Great Debate first at 11am, but by the time I’d checked my stuff into the cloakroom and worked out where everything was, I had missed the start of it so I decided not to bother and to check out something else instead.

My first seminar was at the Literary Translation Centre, one of my favourite sections of the Fair: Where are the Women in Translation?

Where are the Women in Translation? in the Literary Translation Centre

Where are the Women in Translation? in the Literary Translation Centre

I thought this was a really interesting discussion between a 4 woman panel, watched by a mainly female audience! Some important things that were covered:

  • The impossibly low amount of women in the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
  • Possible reasons that women aren’t being published in translation – assertiveness, sexism, etc.
  • The situation in Korea on women in translation.
  • Ways we can get women’s books out there.
  • Gender-biased book covers.

I really enjoyed the seminar, and learnt a lot from it! I’m determined to find some of these great female authors and translators and get their books the attention they deserve!

Then I went to the SYP’s event How to get into Publishing which was very useful, although I already knew a lot of what is required of people trying to get into publishing. I went mainly to see if there was anything new and to hear about the experiences of people already in the industry because they are always interesting to hear. Essentially, you need to have Curiosity, Initiative and Enthusiasm! My only problem was that they all said they were lucky and in the right place at the right time when they got their lucky break, which doesn’t really help those of us who are struggling to get a foot in the door!

I also went to How to get ahead in Publishing, also by the SYP. This event was also very useful, although probably more aimed at those already in publishing, but it’s useful to know what you need to aim for and the things to think about as your career progresses. The speakers were really interesting, and their advice and experiences were helpful too.

I went back to the Literary Translation Centre for Finest Foreign Literature at the Fair: The 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. This session discussed the books in the IFFP shortlist. Points that were made included:

  • There are 3 women’s titles in the 2014 shortlist, but they have taken their time to get into English and were originally published a while ago.
  • Good books last, even if they cover a popular or recent theme/topic.
  • Books have to succeed as an artefact in their own right.

It was great to hear the discussions of the books and translated fiction in general, and I would like to try to read the books in the shortlist, as I was inspired to read a few books from previous years’ shortlists!

The panel discussing the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

The panel discussing the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014 at the Literary Translation Centre

I went to The English PEN Literary Salon to listen to two author interviews, Kyung-sook Shin in Conversation with Arifa Akbar, which was translated from Korean to English and took a bit of time, and Helen Dunmore in Conversation with Jane Shilling.

The English PEN

Kyung-sook Shin in Conversation with Arifa Akbar at the English PEN Literature Salon

Helen Dunmore in Conversation with Jane Shilling in the English PEN Literature Salon

Helen Dunmore in Conversation with Jane Shilling in the English PEN Literature Salon

I didn’t stay for long at either, as I was flagging by this point! They were interesting though. I then had some food and then wandered around the stands for a bit in an effort to perk myself up for the last session!

Then I went to my last seminar, Beyond Nordic Noir: An Overview of the Nordic Literary Market. This was a fascinating and informative session because I didn’t know much about the structure of the book industry in the Nordic countries. The things they discussed included:

  • How the Nordic market is trying to move away from the dark side of Nordic literature – the incoming trend seems to be comic books, the complete opposite!
  • How Norway supports its book industry through various measures, and some important data facts.
  • Examples of authors and books coming out of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

It was a really good session, and I’ll go into more detail about it in my next blog post!

The Beyond Nordic Noir session

The Beyond Nordic Noir session

That was the end of my daytrip to the first day of the London Book Fair, and even though I can’t stay for the other two days, I’m glad I made the trip as it was a very informative day!

Aside from a copy of the Bookseller LBF daily for the first day of the Fair and a copy of Publishing Perspectives, I also picked up a Books Are My Bag tote bag!

Books are my Bag

Books are my Bag

Now I have a way to show the world that “Books are my Bag”!

I hope you enjoyed the London Book Fair if you went! I will be writing some more posts soon with more about the seminars I went to and my thoughts on the issues raised.