In which my brain is likened, hopefully, to a compost heap
I’ve done events with Reader Patron, Frank Cottrell Boyce, in which he’s spoken about being read to at Primary School. Sister Bernadette – was that her name, Frank? – would read to the class, and nothing was required: no response, no book review, no list of wow words. Just enjoy, just let it in. Frank’s argument is that readers and writers need composting time.
I’m hoping that’s what has been happening to me for the last ten years or so: life, stories, people, thoughts, books – all going in and composting down.
I’ve been on sabbatical during June. I’m having a month away from my day job at The Reader, which I founded in 1997 with the publication of the first issue of The Reader magazine. It was a part-timish love-of-my-life in the early days; I was still teaching English Literature in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of LiverpooI. And I had family responsibilities and time to do other things: walking with Angie, gardening, cooking, sewing, music.
But by 2006 The Reader was calling for every atom of energetic attention I could give, and that call has been sounding every day for the last ten years.
Garden: rack and ruin.
Cello: no practice for seven years.
My last quilt, A Bookcase For Frances and Drummond’s Wedding, was two, or was it three?, years late, and as far as cooking, we mainly live on steamed salmon and broccoli these days.
I’ve had holidays, but they have been, emphatically, holidays, absolute downtime to spend with my husband and family.
This sabbatical is different. It isn’t just a rest, though blissfully it is that, but I’m also doing some hard graft, digging into the compost heap, unearthing memories, casting my mind back over the last two decades and seeing which questions need asking.
I’m trying to think about the gap between what literature is for and how we teach people to study literature.
I’ve been asking myself why, around 1996-7, did I began to feel I needed to do something to get great books out of the university and into the hands of people who needed them?
‘You need it,’as Mike said, in the first ever shared reading group, ‘but you don’t know you need it’.
Before that, I’ve remembered, during A levels and at University, what I loved about books and reading rarely happened in a class and was never spoken about. We used a completely different language – form, character, syntax, authorial voice and so on (I did my degree just before literary theory, with its even more specialised languages, hit town…).
There seemed no way to talk about the lacerating white-hot personal meaning I actually experienced when literature was doing its most powerful work for me. S why, when so much of my reading life could not find a place in formal study, did formal study still feel, most of the time, worth doing?
So here’s a couple of questions I’d like some tweet-sized help with…please tweet me at @readerjanedavis or use the hashtags , and RT my request if you can.
What is literature for? #whatslitfor
What is the study of literature for? #whystudylit
Or, as ever, leave your responses as comments here.