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C) Summarize the text in three paragraphs.
2. In spite of the Russian proverb one can argue about taste: everybody does, and one result is that tastes change. If given a choice what would you rather read a novel or short stories in book form? Why? Try to substantiate your point of view. Use some of the ideas listed below.
"A novel appeals in the same way that a portrait does — through the richness of its human content."
"It is not only an author's characters that endear him to the public: it is also his ethical outlook that appears with greater or less distinctness in everything he writes."
"A volume of short stories contains more ideas, since each story is based on an idea; it has much greater variety of mood, scene, character and plot."
3. a) What do children want to read about? This is a question that teachers and parents have been asking for a long time. Read the texts below and prepare to give your view on the problem.
One person who had no doubts about what youngsters wanted to read was the children's author Enid Blyton. Although she died in 1968, and many of her stories are today rather dated, her books continue to be hugely popular with children. They have been translated into 27 languages, and they still sell over eight million copies a year, despite tough competition from television and computer games.
Blyton. was not only a gifted children's author, she was also incredibly prolific. During her lifetime, she wrote over 700 books for children of all ages. Her best-known creations are the The Famous Five series, about a group of teenagers who share exciting adventures, and the Noddy books, about a little boy who lives in a world where toys come to life.
But if chidren love Blyton's books, the same cannot be said for adults. All her stories have one thing in common: a happy ending. And this, combined with predictable plots, has led many grown-ups to dismiss Blyton's stories as boring. After her death, her critics went further and accused her of racism and of negative stereotyping — the villains in her Noddy books were "golliwogs", children's dolls representing black people. Many of her books were also denounced as sexist because of the way she treated female characters — girls were usually given a secondary role, while the boys had the real adventures.
Enid Blyton firmly believed in the innocence of childhood. She offered her young readers imaginary worlds, which were an escape from harsh realities of life. In Blyton's books, baddies were always defeated and the children who defeated them were always good.
(BBC English, August 1997)
Once many years ago, in anticipation of the children we would one day have, a relative of my wife's gave us a box of Ladybird Books from the 1950s and 60s. They all had titles like Out in the Sun and Sunny Days at the Seaside, and contained meticulously drafted, richly coloured illustrations of a prosperous, contented, litter-free Britain in which the sun always shone, shopkeepers smiled, and children in freshly pressed clothes derived happiness and pleasure from innocent pastimes
— riding a bus to the shops, floating a model boat on a park pond, chatting to a kindly policeman.
My favourite was a book called Adventure on the Island. There was, in fact, precious little adventure in the book — the high point, I recall, was finding a starfish suckered to a rock — but I loved it because of the illustrations (by the gifted and much-missed J.H. Wingfield). Lyras strangely influenced by this book and for some years agreed to take our family holidays at the British seaside on the assumption that one day we would find this magic place where summer days were forever sunny, the water as warm as a sitz-bath, and commercial blight unknown.
When at last we began to accumulate children, it turned out that they didn't like these books at all because the characters in them-never did anything more lively than visit a pet shop or watch a fisherman paint his boat. I tried to explain that this was sound preparation for life in Britain, but they wouldn't have it and instead, to my dismay, attached their affections to a pair of irksome little clots called Topsy and Tim.
(Bill Bryson "Notes From a Small Island", 1997)
b) Use the topical vocabulary in answering the questions:
1. Can you remember at all the first books you had? 2. Did anyone read bedtime stories to you? 3. You formed the reading habit early in life, didn't you? What sorts of books did you prefer? 4. What English and American children's books can you name? Have you got any favourites? 5. Is it good for children to read fanciful stories which are an escape from the harsh realities of life? Should they be encouraged to read more serious stuffs as "sound preparation for life"? 6. How do you select books to read for pleasure? Do you listen to advice? Do the physical characteristics matter? Such as bulky size, dense print, loose pages, notations on the margins, beautiful/gaudy illustrations etc.? 7. Do you agree with the view that television is gradually replacing reading? 8. Is it possible for television watching not only to discourage but actually to inspire reading? 9. Some teachers say it is possible to discern among the young an in-sensitivity to nuances of language and an inability to perceive more than just a story? Do you think it's a great loss? 10. What do you think of the educational benefits of "scratch and sniff” books that make it possible for young readers to experience the
fragrance of the garden and the atmosphere of a zoo? 11. What kind of literacy will be required of the global village citizens of the 21st century?
c) There is some evidence to suggest that the concentration of young children today is greatly reduced compared with that of similar children only 20 years ago. Do yon agree with the view that unwillingness to tackle printed texts that offer a challenge through length and complexity has worked its way up through schools into universities? Discuss in pairs.
4. Read the interview with Martin Amis (MA.), one of the most successful writers in Britain today. He talks to a BBC English reporter (R) about his work.
R: Asthe son of a famous writer, how did your own writing style develop?
MA.: People say, you know, "How do you go about getting: your style?" and it's almost as if people imagine you kick off by writing a completely ordinary paragraph of straightforward, declarative sentences, then you reach for your style pen — your style highlighting pen — and jazz it all up. But in fact it comes in that form and I like to think that it's your talent doing that.
R: In your life and in your fiction you move between Britain and America and you have imported American English into your writing. Why? What does it help you do?
MA: I suppose what I'm looking for are new rhythms of thought. You know, I'm as responsive as many people are to street words and nicknames and new words; And when I use street language, I never put it down as it is, because it will look like a three-month-old newspaper when it comes out. Phrases like "No way, Jose" and "Free lunch" and tilings like that, they're dead in a few months. So what you've got to do is come up with an equivalent which isn't going to have its street life exhausted. I'm never going to duplicate these rhythms because I read and I studied English literature and thaf s all there too. But perhaps where the two things meet something original can be created. That's where originality, if it's there, would be, in my view.
R: You have said that it's no longer possible to write in a wide range of forms — that nowadays we can't really write tragedy, we can't write satire, we can't write romance, and that comedy the only form left.
MA: I think satire's still alive. Tragedy is about failed heroes and epic is, on the whole, about triumphant or redeemed
heroes. So comedy, it seems to me, is the only thing left. As illusion after illusion has besen cast aside, we no longer believe in these big figures — Macbeth, Hamlet, Tamburlaine — these big, struggling, tortured heroes. Where are they in the modern world? So comedy's having to do it all. And what you get, certainly in my case, is an odd kind of comedy, full of things that shouldn't be in comedy.
R: What is it that creates the comedy in your novels?
M.A: Well, I think the body, for instance, is screamingly funny as a subject. I mean, if you live in your mind, as everyone does but writers do particularly, the body is a sort of disgraceful joke. You can get everything sort of nice and crisp and clear in your mind, but the body is a chaotic slobber of disobedience and decrepitude. And think that is hysterically funny myself because it undercuts us. It undercuts our pomposities and our ambitions.
R: Your latest book The Information is about two very different writers, one of whom, Gywn, has become enormously successful and the other one, Richard, who has had a tiny bit of success but is no longer popular. One of the theories which emerges is that it's very difficult to say precisely that someone's writing is better by so much than someone else's. It's not like running a race when somebody comes first and somebody comes second.
MA: No, human beings have not evolved a way of separating the good from the bad when it comes to literature or art in general. All we have is history of taste. No one knows if they're any good — no worldly prize or advance or sales sheet is ever going to tell you whether you're any good. That's all going to be sorted out when you're gone.
R: Is this an increasing preoccupation of yours?
MA.: No, because there's nothing I can do about it. My father said. "That's no bloody use to me, is it, if I'm good, because I won't be around."
R: Have you thought about where you might go from here?
MA: I've got a wait-and-see feeling about where I go next. One day a sentence or a situation appears in your head and you just recognise it as your next novel and you have no control over it. There's nothing you can do about it. That is your next novel and I'm waiting for that feeling.
(BBC English, August 1995)
a) Express briefly in your own words what the talk to about. What makes it sound natural and spontaneous?
b) What "does Martin Amis emphasise about his style of writing? What does, he say about modern literary genres? Do you agree that "comedy is the only form left"? Is it really impossible to separate "the good from the bad when it comes to literature or art in general"? How do you understand the sentence "all we have is a history of taste"?
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