Literary gems and nuggets

9th February 2001 at 00:00
ENGLISH AND MEDIA CENTRE ADVANCED LITERATURE SERIES. The Modern Novel - Critical Approaches. By Barbara Bleiman, Jane Ogborn and Lucy Webster Photocopiable book with video and CD-Rom pound;39.75

TEXTS IN THEIR TIMES: Victorian and Modern. By David Kinder and Juliet Harrison. Photocopiable book with CD-Rom pound;39.75.

TEXT, READER AND CRITIC - Introducing Contexts and Interpretations. By Jane Ogborn and Lucy Webster with Barbara Bleiman. Photocopiable book pound;32.75

THE ENGLISH AND MEDIA CENTRE. Available (plus pound;4pamp;p) from NATE, 50 Broadfield Road, Sheffield S8 OXJ. Tel: 0114 255 5419

ENGLISH LITERATURE IN CONTEXT. By Elizabeth Gurr Oxford University Press pound;9.50

AS ENGLISH LITERATURE FOR AQA (A). By Tony Childs and Jackie Moore. Heinemann pound;7.75

The English and Media Centre has a happy knack of producing the sort of resources you would like to design yourself if you had the time and energy, and this series on A-level English is no exception. The Modern Novel is a treasure-house of example, quotation, analysis and detail - more than could ever be fitted into one term's study. The video and CD-Rom (which provides an alternative mode of accessing the video material) are gems in themselves, containing almost an hour's worth of face-to-face interview with Ian McEwan and Pat Barker on their novels Enduring Love and Regeneration, and covering such aspects as characterisation, narrative voice, and language.

The CD-Rom also provides supporting material for Texts in their Times in the form of slides of paintings and architecture from the Victorian and Modern eras. This volume would be a useful addition to any general literature course, leading the student to an understanding of the birth and antecedents of modernism through the study of paired texts, such as Maud and Prufrock, and consideration of the art of the periods.

All these books carry the familiar National Association for the Teaching of English hallmarks of placing the student at the centre of the study of literature, and a determination to challenge the assumptions inherent in th phrase "English Literary Heritage". This is particularly evident, as you might expect, in the volume Text, Reader and Critic, which I suspect will initially have a narrower appeal than its companions. However, this volume, too, has its nuggets - Terry Eagleton's succinct critique of the canon is but one example, and as A2 looms no doubt many tutors will be adding it to their shopping lists.

Each volume in the series (a further text on pre-1770 literature is due shortly) is fully photocopiable - a sensible and economically attractive response to the difficulty of catering for the wide range of texts under study.

AS English Literature for AQA(A) is clearly structured around the module content and assessment objectives of this particular specification and offers a mixture of teaching material and activities to develop students' understanding and skills. At times the wide range of texts used can make these exercises seem rather disjointed, and the tasks occasionally assume access to the whole text, not simply the extract provided. It is a helpful book to dip into, however, and perhaps for students to work through in their own time. Its focus on the demands of the new syllabus would certainly make it a worthwhile purchase for the individual tutor.

The same might be said for Elizabeth Gurr's highly practical, but necessarily somewhat selective English Literature in Context. In effect a whistle-stop tour of literary contexts from Chaucer to the 20th-century, it includes a useful section on genre and critical perspectives. There being no introduction, you are left to assume that the book is intended to be all things to all syllabuses, and while inevitably odd parts fail to satisfy, in general it succeeds. Perhaps it will not be widely used as a course book, but depending on the periods and texts studied (the comprehensive section on Wuthering Heights is a case in point) it could be extremely helpful. It is certainly a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

Iain MacDonald is head of English at Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield

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