6 Bookish questions I’d love to research
Over the past months, I have been jotting down questions about books, readership, and publishing, or outside forces, that I really wish I had the know-how, or resources to answer. The list is now getting quite long so I thought I would share. And, hey, if anyone wants to hook me up with a research project I absolutely wouldn’t say no. 😉
What impact does compulsory English Literature education have on a students enjoyment of reading later in life?
I hear English Literature classes being cited as necessary because they expose students to books and reading that they may not otherwise experience. But, does the prescribed teaching of Classics and Poetry, and the importance placed on analysing (and in doing so in standardised ways) affect the likelihood of developing a love of reading. What are the effects?
How has the rise of social media affected bookselling/sales?
Blogging, Twitter campaigns, Bookstgram, it’s all on the rise, and changing the way we find new books to read. From blog tours to revitalising a book from a backlist, the effects of instant sharing and aesthetics seem apparent. But what are they? Is social media really as important as it looks in the success of a book, what other factors might be involved?
How does social media fit within the changing landscape of books and publishing?
Similar to the question above, it seems probable that by answering one you would touch on the other. But, with the concerns and celebrations of audiobooks and e-books, the see-sawing dominance between e-books and physical books, how does social media affect this? Is it helping to keep physical books competitive?
Does buzz-word marketing work?: The effects of calling a book ‘the next Harry Potter!’.
People on Twitter are talking a lot about Buzz-word/phrase marketing and not in a particularly positive way. It appears that buzz-words are turning these people away from those books. Is this the case? Why does it happen, and, if it does, why does this marketing strategy seem to be on the rise?
What makes an ‘important’ book?
Again, this is a similar question to the one above. What factors are contributing to the rise of ‘important’ literature and new releases? Who decides which books are ‘important’ and which are not? Has this become a synonym for ‘diverse’?
The rise of trend publishing: the impact of similar sounding, and looking books, on the market and response from buyers.
The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The seven or eight deaths of Stella Fortuna. How does the release of such similar sounding novels, all so relatively close together, come to be; an accident or thought out plan? How did it affect sales for those individual books?
Do you have any answers to these, any thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, and also share any questions you have about books and reading.
This is a relevant post. I can respond to one of these issues. The first. I am now retired. For twelve years, I served as chair of an English Department of a small HBCU in Mississippi, Alcorn State University. Our African American students, just like their white counterparts at Ole Miss, had to take and pass a sophomore literature course: Introduction to Literature. It was a typical college lit class that adopted the Norton Anthology of Literature for its text. Ninety-nine percent of the writing the students read was canonical literature.
Oh wait, did I say “read”? Whoops, I meant to say, “never read.” One professor remarked that we ought to rename the course, Farewell to Literature. At any rate, I recall one Spring semester, I felt it was time to “shake things up.” We need to think outside the box, I told my aging faculty half of whom held doctorates I made a proposal that beginning the next Fall semester we should no longer teach the canon out the Norton Anthology. There’s another way! First teach the basics of story structure: plot, setting, character, theme. Outline the elements of plot, and then have the students WRITE their own stories. Put together a class anthology and use that, the students own writing, to teach literature. No, it won’t be Milton, or Donne or Faulkner, but it will be theirs. It will be fun, interesting, and they will learn the basic elements of literature essentially through their own effort which may or may not be successful. But even the failure to develop a theme or a lack of character motivation would go a long way to teach those elements of a good narrative.
I was practically burned at the stake. A few old profs even woke up to complain. I was destroying great enduring works of art. Every student, one prof yelled, should read Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” Why? Because that professor had his tests from ten years ago, and he didn’t want to change. Is Donne’s poem “A Valediction” a great work of art. YES. It is, but we do it a disservice by droning on and on about metaphysical conceits with the usual test question: Discuss Metaphysical Conceit as it relates to J. D.’s “A Valediction…” Sigh. And the student writes some crap she memorized from her notes sans understanding.
My plan failed miserably. My faculty’s rebellion was so virulent that I withdrew the idea, and we ordered the Norton and prepared to suffer through another Fall semester. I’ll never forget reading a student comment on his Sophomore Lit. course evaluation. “As a result of this course, I hope to never read another book.”
Our current system promotes failure. It doesn’t have to be that way. I recall in the fifth grade our teacher reading to us for one half-hour after lunch. She read “Last of the Mohicans” and “Little Women” and I loved it. I absolutely loved being read to and to this day I believe my love of literature comes from that simple beginning. Students must be introduced at a young age and listening to a real human read is an excellent way to do it. I don’t that happens very often anymore.
Thank you so much for your comment, I’m sorry I haven’t replied sooner. My experience has only been with the English school system but the experiences seem very similar. I’m sorry you’re idea was shot down. It would have been so much more engaging. It’s so sad that English Literature, and the curriculum at large, appears to be unwilling to move with the times. Or rather, the people who decide the curriculum. I’m lucky, I’ve been exposed to reading and writing all my life, beginning before my school years (I count this as one of the few advantages of having to use a wheelchair – in exchange for tree climbing and running around, I was read to and it has undoubtedly shaped my life). I was already certain in my love of books, although not, it has to be said, of Literature or Literary fiction (classics and I have never had much of a relationship), but even I hated my Literature classes. We weren’t reading texts that seemed relevant or relatable and I am still not convinced that we were actually reading. Spending an hour on a few pages, breaking down each full stop, change in the weather, or worse, interior decorating choice, prevented connection. The need to pass the exam stifled imagination and discussion.
I wonder to this day – another question I’d love to be able to answer – what the difference would be if a YA title, for example, was discussed. Harry Potter, John Green; they’d definitely have held my attention better. English Literature classes also put Literature (always with a capital letter) on a pedestal that I am finding hard to remove them from. As mentioned, I don’t enjoy the Classics or Literary Fiction very much. A lot of this is just my reading tastes (and that’s fine), partly, however, I don’t feel … smart enough, analytical enough, cultured enough. I do think that,
English Literature classes, at least to some degree, are to blame.
Interestingly, my sister, who is not much of a reader, took English Literature for her AS levels. She said she chose it because she enjoyed being analytical, not because she necessarily enjoys reading and books.
Apologies for the ramble. I hope it makes sense.
Thank you for the wonderful reply. It made a great deal of sense! 🙂
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