ANALYSIS: Bringing the Secretary of State for Education to Book

The Birmingham Post (England), May 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

ANALYSIS: Bringing the Secretary of State for Education to Book


Byline: SARAH EVANS

Is it better to eat a Turkey Twizzler than nothing at all? Some might well say no, arguing for a quick end rather than slow death by poison.

The same sort of question is raised by our Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson's, extraordinary list of 160 books for teenage boys. This list, drawn up with the help of the School Library Association, (no wonder children only go in libraries for the computers) according to Johnson will 'help boys reacquire the reading habit and try out a wider range of great books.'

It certainly redefines the concept of 'great' books - unless we take Alan Johnson to be using 'great' in the colloquial turn of phrase that largely dominates the language of the list's authors - language resonating with the rhythms of that arbitrator of what is best and most noble in the English language, children's TV. Garth Nix, Robert Muchamore, Chris Ryan, Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People might be easy reads but great literature they are not.

What the list gives us is a ghastly nineteenth century stereotype of boys and what boys are supposed to like. Just imagine the uproar if the equivalent list was produced for girls - all relationships, animals, clothes and pop stars, title after title of rubbishy first person narrator diaries with a Kate Moss biography thrown in. You could well argue that the very reason boys don't read much is precisely because they aren't encouraged to break out of the caveman stereotype that only allows them to be interested in violence, physical action and anoraky facts. Such a list is the very last thing that is needed.

Lists are the anathema of all things creative and this list is so all over the place as to be truly bizarre. The only thing that most of the books have in common is that they are pretty awful. …

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