Saturday, January 27, 2007

Simplified Things For Simplified Minds

Jenny Diski notes a new publishing trend:

As a result of market research, which has brought us so much of value over the years, Weidenfeld and Nicolson have come up with 'Compact Editions'. Tag line: Great Books in Half the Time. According to their market research (quoted in a small note Saturday's Book's section of the Guardian) many readers are put off by the 'elitist' image of classics and by their 'daunting length and small print'.

The Guardian reports:

The first six titles - Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Mill on the Floss, Moby-Dick and Wives and Daughters - are to be released in May and will doubtless be snapped up by students eager to cut down their reading time.

Indeed. Alan Bissett will be delighted to learn that the cabal of priest-like academics that populate university English departments is busy renouncing its elitist stance in favour of churning out potential Compact Editions readers:

Some weeks ago a friend who teaches English Literature at a one of the new universities told me (despairing) that her department had decided to take To The Lighthouse off the syllabus for 3rd year undergraduates because it was too difficult.

There will be English graduates who have not read certain books because they are too difficult, and literature teachers who think they have done their job. And supply and demand being what it is, now there is a publisher who will provide for them.


Kirsty said...

Tim, I take a lot of comfort from the fact that you're going to be a teacher. I can't tell you the number of students I've taught--who want to be English teachers--who have felt no compunction in complaining about having to read. It's extraordinary.

TimT said...

I hate those compact books. Hatehatehate! The thing is, people keep on GIVING them to me. I go to the movies? They're having a compact book giveaway! I buy a book at a writer's festival? Heck, have one of these compact books too! If I want to read something short, I'll go to a magazine or buy an anthology, not load myself up with these teensy-weensy not-quite novels, not-quite stories.

Also, To The Lighthouse is a mere doddle, it barely makes it past 100 pages. The long sentences are the only challenge, and once you get a feel of Woolf's rhythm, it's a walk in the park. What are they reading instead? Choose Your Own Adventure books?

Tim said...

Thanks Kirsty. It's amazing, isn't it? I suspect that some people view literature as an easy option and are taken aback when something difficult is put in front of them. "You mean I have to read this?" I wonder if students in other disciplines do the same: "Sure I want to be a doctor, but do I really have to study all this anatomy stuff?"

TT: I find it bizarre that faced with the option of long book or short book some people will look for a third option: long book that has been gutted and turned into a short book! Why not just read a short book that was short in the first place?

I was never very good at Choose Your Own Adventure books. I always chose the adventure that ended with my premature death. I have a book called Life's Lottery by the English writer Kim Newman. It's a kind of CYOA bildungsroman, and pretty well done. One of the great things is that the choices aren't always weighty - I remember one chapter ends by asking you to choose your favourite out of two characters from the tv show The Man From UNCLE - but of course trivial decisions can have serious outcomes.

TimT said...

I'm reading Bob Brown's dreary 'Memo for a Saner World' at the moment. Now that would make a fun Choose Your Own Adventure novel!

"Ooh, look, Bob's boating down the Franklin River. WILL HE: choose to eat the funny-coloured mushrooms ( turn to p. 45) or carry on up the Franklin where the angry loggers are waiting (turn to p. 72). YOU DECIDE!"

Imani said...

I'm still bewildered by the assertion that Virginia Woolf is too difficult for third year undergrad students. Err...what?