Sunday, April 28, 2013

Books For Jake

I've been restrained in what I have said about the new school so far. And to be fair, the primary school is treating Genghis and the Mau-Mau pretty well, on the whole. But I think I've had about enough of the senior school. In fact, I'm starting to  get a little tetchy.

In context: we rather hoped that, since Jake has turned up there with the 'gifted' label on his rap sheet, the school would be able to try to extend him a little in English. And no: we certainly didn't expect them to do it all by themselves. I've started a programme with the boy, and I've let his English teacher know. Jake is reading a series of interesting, challenging texts, and I'm setting him different ways to respond to them.

An example: he has now read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and he loved it. He went to his school camp in the second week of term, and when he came back, he was asked to write an account of it. I suggested he should ask to do it in the 'Gonzo' style after Hunter Thompson -- thus both responding to the text I set him, and fulfilling the school's requirements. He duly asked, and was given permission.

The kid is twelve. He wrote five thousand words in a weekend. It wasn't genius, but it certainly showed that he'd read Thompson, and understood how to do the Gonzo thing. (And in passing, he learned how to put together that kind of narrative. It was a good exercise.) The teachers responded very well to it. There was much approval.

And maybe three days later, he got a genuine English assigment. He and his class were told to demonstrate their comprehension of their favourite scene from Tim Winton's Blueback by means of building a shoebox diorama.

A fucking shoebox diorama.

Yep. That's how you test and extend a kid with advanced skills in English. A fucking shoebox diorama.

Enough on that topic. I don't want to say anything more. I'm cranky enough already. In the meantime, I'm going on with the home-reading programme. Jake just finished reading Pynchon's Crying Of Lot 49. In response, he had to write a 1000-word interview with the main character, and he had to do it in the style of Empire Magazine. (He likes Empire. He's a subscriber.) The idea is that there's a film to be made of the book, and he has been assigned to interview the woman who was the central character in real life.

I have to say: he did a really good job. He portrayed a character that was recognisably that of Pynchon's Oedipa Maas, and he did an excellent job of mimicking the Empire Magazine approach, and he nailed the word-count. I've sent the thing off to Empire with a request for editorial feedback. They may well ignore us, but on the offchance that somebody is prepared to take the time, I figure the cost of a self-addressed and stamped envelope is worth the risk.

Next we'll look at Waiting For Godot, and then Macbeth. The Master And Margharita is on the list, and so is Dracula, and probably Moby Dick. I don't know about Heart of Darkness; it's a maybe. HP Lovecraft. Gene Wolfe. Ursula Le Guin. Sam Delany -- Stars In My Pocket. Fitzgerald. Russ  - the Female Man.  Catch - 22. Phillip K Dick. Out Of The Silence -- I'm taking notes on the fly here, interrogating a bunch of writers and critics. The Floating Opera - John Barth. Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle. Woman On The Edge Of Time - Marge Piercy. Barry Hugheart - Bridge of Birds. Alison Goodman - Ion and Iona. Zelazny - Lord of Light, Amber; short stories. Charles Harness - Paradox Men. Virginia Woolf - Orlando,

I'm open to suggestions, folks. The books need to be interesting, and they should be challenging. But don't forget interesting, okay? The kid is twelve. He can handle heavy reading, sure, but it will work better if he is actively engaged by the books. They shouldn't become a chore.

Okay. Give it your best shot.


  1. Some John Wyndham maybe? Some early Heinlein? Or his kid oriented stuff that doesn't have as much of the sexuals in it?

    1. Maude... thanks for the comment and the thoughts. Heinlein is helpful. Someone else suggested Stranger In A Strange Land, for example.

      I have to admit, I'm not too concerned about the sex side. He's twelve. Anything he can learn from a book will save me an embarrassing conversation at some point. I can still remember when my mother decided that, at fourteen, I should have The Talk.

      There was no end of throat-clearing and sideways looks. (Mum and dad split when I was ten. I guess she figured if she didn't have this talk, nobody would...) When she finally announced the topic of discussion, I trotted across the room and pulled a couple books off the shelves. Flipped through until I found a couple of (easily found!) scenes. Handed them across, and said "Is this what we're talking about?" or words to that effect.

      She got the message. I think she was relieved. I certainly was!

  2. Can't recall when I first read Ted Sturgeon, but if not now, then put it on your list for later.

  3. Alan Garner -- _The Weirdstone of Brisingamen_ and possibly _The Moon of Gomrath_. Maybe not so challenging, now that I come to think of it. Awfully good though.

  4. And how about Pullman's Dark Materials books? I don't see them on your lists, but my recollection is that they can be as challenging as you want them to be.

  5. You have literature covered, and I find it unlikely that I could suggest some work that you aren't already aware of and more likely have already read. However in the realm of non-fiction/science writing just to see how it is different to write in this style.

    Giles liked Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin but for a meater text go for 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' by Richard Rhodes.

    Sagan's 'Demon Haunted world' is a bit dated now, though no less important so I'd recommend his Pale Blue Dot.

    The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is gripping read of a real life occurrence.

    And knowing my background and you cooking skills I suggest Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field as an introduction to chemistry.

    Just remember Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn.

  6. "A fucking shoebox diorama" could the moving part of it (the fucking) be provided by some sort of steampunk mechanism?

  7. Jasper Fforde for some cleverness? Chris Moores Fluke? Maybe a bit too heavy, but definitely interesting and sure to expand his mind, Day Watch, Night Watch and Twilight Watch, Russian fantasy books which got made into Russian action movies.

  8. Recall I recommended Ian McDonalds' Brasyl to you a while back. Not sure how you fared, but Jake might enjoy it too.

  9. Beeso: he's already been given a dose of Jasper Fforde. Good thinking, though. Oh, and since we saw the three films, he's read at least two of the three "Watch" novels. Which is cool. Those were good suggestions.

    Mister B: I have indeed been leaning towards 'litratcha' in this programme because it's easy to get him to read in genre. The challenge for me is to find works outside the more entertaining area that still keep interest. Your idea on non-fiction is... well, genius. I almost never think of that stuff. Keep it coming!

    To all else, and sundry: thank you. It's all going aboard. Sturgeon? Yeah. Nice. Pullman? Definitely.

  10. Oh, how about _Seven Pillars of Wisdom_? It was one of my favourites.

    1. Hmmm. Neat idea! I've lost my copy, though. Will have to catch another.

  11. I've been beaten to Heinlein and Wyndham (Day of the Triffids! I just read it agin recently - it's so very British!). Now I'm pretty lowbrow with literature these days so wild guesses include: Orwell, Fritz Lieber (although I suggested that once before...), Moorcock i.e. Elric series, Harry Harrison for giggles.

    1. Orwell - we did Animal Farm years ago. 1984 is a good idea, though. Also have done Harry Harrison (Stainless Steel Rat series) precisely for the reasons suggested.

      Thanks for the thoughts - it all helps!