More a book of maps than a bridge

17th November 1995 at 00:00
INTO LITERATURE Age range 16-plus By Sue Hackman and Barbara Marshall Hodder Stoughton Pounds 5.50 0 340 64769 8

Into Literature is subtitled as a "bridging course" for those "at the beginning of advanced study". It is more substantial, however, than a snack to bridge the gap.

The avowed purpose is to heighten readers' interest in literature, while suggesting important questions to be asked of the texts studied.

Now, hands up those idealists who believe that embarking on "advanced study" presupposes sufficient interest to make a tempting inducement superfluous. As the editors point out: "You are about to devote hundreds of hours to the study of literature."

There are 66 pages, divided into eight units, to whet the appetite before the long hours begin. Each follows the conventional course-book format of aims, text, activities, and their sequence is optional.

The first four place literature in its social and cultural context: texts in time and place (glossy pull-out timeline provided); what is literature? text and context; using the imagination.

Units 5 to 7 focus on the ways texts are constructed: the narrative voice; prose and poetry; the writing process.

Predictably, the final unit offers guidance about the formal essay, with the chastening thought: "It is not necessarily the best way to give a written response." Quite so, confirmed by the preceding activities.

The aims of each unit obviously determine the textual stimulus - number, length, period, genre (but no drama). Thus, unit 1 contains 7 poems (1400s lyric to Eliot) and six prose extracts (Defoe to Joyce) to explore how literature changes with time.

In contrast, unit 8 is based on a single story, Graham Swift's powerful Chemistry. There is a consistently sensitive match between text and activities, well illustrated in the creative use of Carol Rumen's poem, "Moment of Faith", her preparatory drafts and commentary on them.

Probably the most riveting section for students, be they committed or coerced, is James Kelman's Wee horrors (including c and f words), selected to investigate the narrator's voice, assumptions about fiction and non-fiction, how texts unfold, and much more. The writing is stunning, the activities spot-on.

The problem with a bridging course is the length of the bridge, even the need for it. Some departments provide "inductions" of such ingenuity and thoroughness that surviving them merits an A-level in its own right.

There is something wrong with an examination system, if not the structure and organisation of post-16 education, that requires these manoeuvres. Roll on coherence and progression 14 to 19.

Meantime, while I'm not convinced about Into Literature as a bridging course, it certainly contains valuable material for many stages along the literary highway, and is strongly recommended as such.

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