Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fiction about school

I find that the more I read about education, the more I need a good book. For me, one of the pleasures of reading good writing of any kind, and especially fiction, is that it’s a respite from the falseness and emptiness of so much of what we hear and read, from politicians and bureaucrats and advertisers and public relations departments and much of the media, and so on. (A teacher of mine called fiction “the last textured place.”) A few pages of Virginia Woolf can go a long way to cleansing the system of phrases like “increasing achievement” or “student success” or “parent-teacher bidirectional communications.”

It seems to me that good fiction tends to treat the enterprise of school with much greater skepticism than we generally hear elsewhere. Maybe that’s inevitable, given the one-dimensionally sunny way in which education is usually discussed; just about any complication of the usual portrayal would require some darkening. The other day I mentioned The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Charles Baxter’s short story “Gryphon”—both pretty dark. George Orwell’s essay “Such, Such Were the Joys” also comes to mind. Then there’s Donald Barthelme’s great short story “The School.”

Readers: any recommendations?


FedUpMom said...

I think the kind of sensitive, creative kid who grows up to write fiction is also the kind of kid who has a miserable time in school.

No particular recommendations. I'm reading "Wolf Hall", by Hilary Mantel, which has nothing to do with school. I like a pure escape --

Anonymous said...

A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

StepfordTO said...

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell? There was an article in Slate not long ago by a teacher making the argument that this novel should be taught in school instead of Catcher in the Rye.

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- That sounds about right.

Anonymous -- I have good memories of reading that book in high school. There seems to be a whole separate genre of boys' boarding school literature; I wonder why that in particular seems to have such popular appeal.

northTOmom -- I should have mentioned Catcher in the Rye. I couldn't put it down at age sixteen, and reread it a few years ago and thought that it held up better than I expected it to. I haven't read any David Mitchell -- I think I must be the last one -- but expect to get to him eventually.

By the way, here's the link to that Slate article.