Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Closure of “Closure”

February 10, 2013

When people nowdays talk about dealing with tragedy and loss these days, they find it extremely difficult to avoid the word “closure.”  When it comes to dealing the death of someone close to us, when he have to deal with the consequence of some  catastrophe or other, or when it comes to a perceived breakdown of a relationship,  we are frequently told that what we need is closure. Closure is supposed to the final healer and means by which close some chapter or other of life and are get on with rest of it.

It’s not all that difficult to see why the idea appeals. The idea of bringing suffering or grief to an end or close,  and as result begin without sorrow, guilt, or anger has to be appealing. A term that originated in Gestalt psychology has by the end of the last century become so commonplace that it is on the tip of the tongue almost everyone who wants to help in getting someone over a difficult patch.

Very recently there are people who have begun to cast doubt on the usefulness of the idea either as a theory or in practice. For example,  the American sociologist Nancy Berns, in her book Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us, poses  the following questions:

When it comes to the end of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or even a national tragedy, we are often told we need “closure.” School children are told to find closure after a shooting. A nation seeks closure after 9/11. Mourners search for closure after a funeral, and family members want it following a homicide. Families of missing persons search for closure, as do Katrina survivors and other victims of natural disasters. People are told to find closure after their pets die. Closure is a new emotional state, one that people supposedly need to find in order to heal after a loss. But do people need closure? Or is it even possible to find closure after bad things happen? Why has talk about closure become so popular?

Closure has become a central part of sales talks in the funeral, grief, relationship advice, and memorialization industries as well as a political argument for issues ranging from the death penalty to roadside memorials. Closure provides an engaging behind-the-scenes look at how and why the concept of closure is used to sell products and politics.

But what is closure? There is no agreed upon answer. Closure has been described as justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, moving on, resolution, answered questions, or revenge. And how are you supposed to find this closure? People try to find closure by planting trees, acquiring memorial tattoos, forgiving murderers, watching killers die, talking to offenders, writing letters, burning letters, burning wedding dresses, burying wedding rings, casting spells, taking trips to Hawaii, buying expensive pet urns, committing suicide, talking to dead people, reviewing autopsies, and planning funerals. And this is just a partial list.

Talking about closure limits how we think about grief and fails to capture the experiences of many who grieve over death or other losses. Some people struggle to meet social expectations for closure when privately they resent the idea or, worse, they wonder whether something is wrong with them because they do not have closure.

 One of the pithiest remarks I have heard on the subject has been made by Stephen Grosz in his book, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, and it is this:

My experience is that closure is an extraordinarily compelling fantasy of mourning. It is the fiction that we can love, lose, suffer and then do something to permanently end our sorrow.

Pithy and true? I wonder.


Waste (news)papers

November 10, 2009

For a quite number of years now, I have been buying my local “rag” – The Coventry Telegraph – merely to find out what’s happening – in the theatre, the cinema and so on – in and around the area in which I live. To me it’s a What’s On? nothing more or nothing less.

 There was a time when – as The Coventry Evening Telegraph – it had a set of columns and columnist worth paying some attention to. No any more. The time when a reader could turn to its pages and find half-way intelligent commentary on what is happening on the political scene, in the theater in our art galleries, with music or indeed anywhere is long gone.

Would I now care if the paper were to close tomorrow? The answer is: not really.
As George Monbiot shows in his column for today’s edition The Guardian, Coventry is not the only city to have a newspaper that has become so irrelevant that it has no longer got the right to survival.

They are the pillars of the community, champions of the underdog, the scourge of corruption, defenders of free speech. Their demise could deal a mortal blow to democracy. Any guesses yet? How many of you thought of local newspapers?

But this is the universal view of the national media: local papers, half of which, on current trends, are in danger of going down in the next five years(1), are all that stand between us and creeping dictatorship. Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain’s most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.

Reading for pleasure.

June 19, 2009

According to Polly Curtis, education editor of The Guardian, it’s taken Ofsted three years to find  that 30% of English lessons are not good enough and that little attempt is made to encourage teenagers to read for pleasure. I’m sure that if you two had been paid what it cost for Ofsted to come up with that information, you would now be considering early retirement

Too many teachers appear to give up on pupils once they fall behind, the report suggests, with white working-class boys most likely to suffer. In some lessons writing tasks had “no purpose other than to keep pupils quiet”, inspectors found.

The report was based on inspectors’ visits to English lessons in 122 primary and 120 secondary schools across England between April 2005 and March 2008. It praises recent developments, including better use of roleplay and drama, and reading in primaries. But test results have hardly improved since 2004.

Inspectors found that “at best” in secondary schools, only year 7s were encouraged to read for their own enjoyment.

Anthony Browne, the new children’s laureate, said: “If children are not encouraged to read for pure pleasure, if they are dragged away from reading books they enjoy – including picture books – and pushed into reading educationally worthy books, then we are in danger of creating a generation of non-readers.”

What I wonder is who has been ultimately responsible for children’s not reading for pure pleasure and being “pushed into reading educationally worthy books”. Nothing to do with Ofsted, I’ll warrant.

The children’s laureates’ children’s books.

April 28, 2009

To mark the tenth anniversary of the Children’s Laureateship, the five writers who have occupied that post, Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen,  have each chosen their seven favourite children’s books.


The list of 35 books, compiled for Waterstone’s, for the British book specialist and current sponsor of the laureateship, is not so much a list of children’s favourites as a list of books that excited laureates’ imaginations when young and that have stuck with them into and through adulthood.


Classics such as Richmal Crompton’s Just William, and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories are on the list while more modern material such as the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling was overlooked.


Crompton’s character William, Fine, who had the laureateship between 2001 and 2003, has said is “every child’s perfect imaginary companion: lippy, irrepressible and inventive to an almost pathological degree”.


Seven titles, including  The Sword in the Stone (TH Whites story of the adventures of the  young King Arthur),  Noel Streatfeild’s  Ballet Shoes, and PL Travers’s classic Mary Poppins, were all written in 1930. This may, as a few commentators have already suggested, have as much to do with the age of the laureates as with the quality of the writing.


Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, first published in 1838, is the oldest title selected, but it is worth noting that one fifth of the books chosen were published in the 19th century.


Each laureate chose seven titles, which will be on display at Waterstone’s stores until 3 June

Quentin Blake Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, Edward Ardizzone; Queenie the Bantam, Bob Graham; The Box of Delights, John Masefield; Rose Blanche, Ian McEwan and Roberto Innocenti; Five Children and It, E. Nesbit; Snow White, Josephine Poole; Stuart Little, E. B. White

Jacqueline Wilson Little Women, Louisa May Alcott; A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett; What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge; The Family from One End Street, Eve Garnett; The Railway Children, E. Nesbit; Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild; Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers

Michael Morpurgo Five Go to Smuggler’s Top, Enid Blyton; Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton; Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens; Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling; A Book of Nonsense, Edward Lear; Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson; The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde

Anne Fine The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken; Absolute Zero, Helen Cresswell; Just William, Richmal Crompton; Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson; Lavender’s Blue, Kathleen Lines; A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson; The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White

Michael Rosen Clown, Quentin Blake; The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank; Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kästner; Not Now, Bernard, David McKee; Fairy Tales, Terry Jones; Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear, Andy Stanton; Daz 4 Zoe, Robert Swindells


The idea for the Children’s Laureate originated from a conversation between (the then) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. The illustrator Quentin Blake was the first Children’s Laureate (1999-2001), followed by the author Anne Fine (2001-2003), Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-7) and most recently Michael Rosen (2007-2009) The successor to Rosen, the current incumbent, will be announced on June 9

A close reader owns up.

October 16, 2008

For many years now, I have belonged to, and been an active participant in, The Pete Atkin Web Form, a web-based debating group in which the songs written by Pete Atkin and his songwriter partner, Clive James, are not only listened to, but also exhaustively examined and analysed.

Occasionally, members of this forum, like the members of all such  forms,  are criticised for being, as one observer put it, “very sad people trying to live vicariously through someone else’s’ work” and for carrying out what that very same same observer called “the endless autopsy of the creative act of writing”.

Writers bare their souls for brief and agonising bouts of creativity, and I would guess they want their work to be enjoyed and not dissected after 30 years.

I’d be the last to dismiss such criticism, or the people who make it, out of hand. It has some merit, if only the merit of giving voice to the commonly held view that thinking and examining a pieces of writing, particularly imaginative writing,  whether it be poetry, the novel or  – in this case – the song,  always destroys the spontaneous pleasure we should be taking from reading itself.  

If I am to be true to the spirit in which I approach texts as a reader (or, in this case a listener). I should be very alert to the reasons I have for thinking tha simple act of enjoyment – which I take to mean some kind of passive consumption – is not not sufficient . I owe it to myself, to others, and, indeed to the the writer I engaged with,  to be fully conscious of why it is that I think a thoughtful, analytical approach to reading increases rather than diminishes pleasure.  

When I think about this, and when I’m casting about for reminders of why I ever began reading in the way I do, I frequently re-read Brock University‘s Professor John Lye and his useful Guide Designed for Year 1 Students. This guide, though probably no better or worse than any of the thousands of others of its kind almost every day of every year on campuses across the workd , does have the advantage of being brief and very much to the point.

  1. The ultimate end of analysis is, first and foremost, a deeper understanding and a fuller appreciation of the literature — you learn to see more, to uncover or create richer, denser, more interesting meanings. I have a brief page on the ideas of depth, complexity and quality as they relate to literature.
  2. Secondly, as literature uses language, images, the essential processes of meaning-making, analysis can lead to a more astute and powerful use of the tools of meaning on the reader’s part.
  3. Thirdly, analysis should also teach us to be aware of the cultural delineations of a work, its ideological aspects. Art is not eternal and timeless but is situated historically, socially, intellectually, written and read at particular times, with particular intents, under particular historical conditions, with particular cultural, personal, gender, racial, class and other perspectives. Through art we can see ideology in operation. This can be of particular use in understanding our own culture and time, but has historical applications as well. See my brief page on ideology for an expansion of this.
  4. A fourth function of analysis is to help us, through close reading and through reflection, understand the way ideas and feelings are talked about in our culture or in other times and cultures — to have a sense both of communities of meaning, and of the different kinds of understanding there can be about matters of importance to human life. Art can give us access to the symbolic worlds of communities: not only to the kinds of ideas they have about life, but also to the way they feel about them, to the ways they imagine them, to the ways they relate them to other aspects of their lives. …..(read on)

There is more to be said on this subject, but I do not have the time to say it now.

Stuff no konger posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form