So, what’s a film club got to do with literature, I hear you ask me? A lot, as it happens. One characteristic of this after-school club is that some of the members are what is commonly known as EAL children (English as an Additional Language). Through the medium of cinemascope I am providing them with opportunities to improve their reading and writing. It is too soon to talk about results but so far the majority of non-native English speakers have risen to the challenge. I have also noticed a phenomenon that reminded me of my own childhood: speed-reading.
The way I usually start my online review sessions is with guidelines to help members write better posts. My rule is simple: no one-word reviews, or one-liners. To that effect I get them to choose from headings I have already prepared for them. I also get them to read the headings aloud, helping those students (EAL or not) who lack the confidence to do so. What works in my favour in this enterprise is the size of this special “writing” club; roughly ten or eleven regulars out of the twenty members in total I have on screening days. The following will not surprise anyone who’s been around children of primary school age. Some whiz through the sentences I’ve copied on the board like miniature Michael Schumachers of the written word. Others read as if each word has been fitted with its own brain and it is pondering whether to come out or not. Some people, including teachers, see the former as a measure of success. But does speed equal efficiency? Is a fast reader a better reader than a slow one?
I learnt how to read and write before I was meant to. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I had the misfortune to be diagnosed with gastritis and stomach ulcer when I was five. That meant missing out huge chunks of curriculum time when I was in reception. My mother made up for this by teaching me how to read and write when I was bed-ridden in hospital. By the time I began my Year 1 I was well ahead of the class in literacy (not so much in numeracy and the maths curse has followed me since then). I became, not just a fluent reader, but also a fast one. The type who left visitors to my house with their mouths gaping open. Over time I developed this trait internally as well. When reading in silence as a child I sped through passages. I sometimes used to read entire books in two or three days.
|Agree or disagree?|
That was when I slowed down. I remember it was Margaret Atwood’s fiction that caused me to forgo the strict timeline I imposed on myself and to seek out and enjoy instead the beauty of a well-crafted sentence. Whereas before the plot was my main source of literary fulfilment, now I also began to pay closer attention to the nuances of sentences, ideas and words. Doing a degree that dealt with linguistics helped me out, too. I started to look at languages (English and Spanish alike) in a different light.
All this came to my mind recently. Not just because of the progress my film club members have made, but also because I have been on a good run in terms of the books I have read. First it was The Smile of theLamb by the Israeli writer David Grossman. Using a Palestinian village in the West Bank as setting, this many-layered novel explored two sides of the occupying forces in Uri and Katzman; the former an idealistic type of soldier, sympathetic towards the villagers, the latter a more gung-ho squaddie. The style was rich, beautiful and delicate with plenty of cliff-hangers to keep the reader hooked. Then came Grace Notes, a novel in which musician Catherine McKenna, the main character, had to come to terms with her past: on the one hand, a claustrophobic Catholic upbringing and on the other hand, a destructive relationship with a drunken and abusive man. Despite the subject matter, this was a very poetic book about the healing power of music in the face of adversity.
The hat-trick has just been completed by NoViolet Bulawayo and her Booker Prize-nominated novel We Need New Names (I haven’t finished reading it yet at the time of writing this post, though. But I’ve got only about twenty-odd pages to go). At times innocent and at times brutal, the book demands to be read at a slow pace, the better to savour sentences like this one, thought up by the main character, Darling: In America we saw more food than we had seen in all our lives and we were so happy we rummaged through the dustbins of our souls to retrieve the stained, broken pieces of God.
Three books that acted as reminders about why being a fast reader doesn’t mean being a better reader, in my opinion. Now, if I could just get this message across to the members of my film club.
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 23rd February at 10am (GMT)