Death by chocolate

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Ray Chapman offers tips on keeping the love of literature alive.

It is difficult to persuade a 15-year-old whose favourite book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to read Pride and Prejudice.

I sometimes feel that the pious rhetoric surrounding reading fails to recognise that not all children go home each night, put on their horn-rimmed spectacles and curl up with the classics. Indeed it is just as likely that adults steeped in literary erudition will settle for EastEnders and The Bill.

How do you transmit the joy and pleasure of reading to a generation that demands everything yesterday and whose greatest single source of entertainment is a television screen?

The simple answer is that it cannot be done overnight. Attempts to do it using dictatorial methods of rank and threat may produce periods of pseudo attention but below the surface the minds are elsewhere.

The days of simply handing out Tess of the D'Urbervilles (yes, I'm sorry, even that one) three times a week for three months and painfully ploughing through it are outdated.

So, how do we convert stark indifference to all but Mizz and Computer Weekly? How do we convince minds about to leap into the 21st century that a book which was written in 1813 by a well-bred member of the middle classes is worth a few hours of their time?

As I ply my trade through the English curriculum I recognise the fact that reading, apart from pockets of resistance - usually female - is a dying art. (Where have I heard that before?) I have to adopt strategies to counteract the natural aversion to the close-cropped written word. These work for me:

* Be enthusiastic. It will rub off eventually on some pupils

* In the interest of fluency and expression read yourself rather than round the class

* Never read for more than 20 minutes.

* Never be afraid to leave parts out. Refer briefly to them

* Have plenty of quizzes about plot and characters

* Have plenty of related work at your fingertips of contemporary relevance

* Subtly introduce other books by the same author.

The class reader should not be "done to death" but read regularly enough to maintain a continuity. Literature is too great to be denied, even to the video generation, but delivering it is becoming increasingly a matter for priority.

Ray Chapman teaches English at Park Hall School, Solihull

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