In his third guest blog, James Wood discusses whether interactive media might be affecting literacy skills and creating a problem of addiction for young people… As a mentor in schools, I’ve found that the majority of pupils I’ve worked with aren’t … Continue reading
Anna Ingers-Wakefield is one of our NTU placement students who has joined us on school visits, helped with research and focus groups and generally been happy to dab in wherever needed. But her biggest challenge so far has been convincing her hubby to read…
I first met James at the Reading Flashmob in July last year (I’m the headless one in the green dress, 6 seconds in) and now we’re working together on Dawn of the Unread. I initially went to the Flashmob because I feel very passionately about the closure of bookshops and cuts faced by libraries, and the idea that poor little aged books would be left homeless is something that I couldn’t live with. Not enough people my age and younger read anymore – including my own husband – and this is an issue that I am actively trying to change, an ideology that naturally drew me to James and his cause.
The ‘husband thing’ is something that used to really get under my skin. I tried and tried, but no matter what – that boy just would not pick up a book. He’d dismiss me with a shrug and that was that. Or so he thought. Thanks to the Flashmob and DOTU’s overall message, though, oh-darling-hubby-of-mine picked up a book to join me on that fateful day in front of Cloughy, and has been reading – albeit rather slowly – ever since, starting with the popular trilogy The Hunger Games that I recommended to him.
One element of DOTU is looking at how the digital world can draw people to read physical books – a theme that is consistent throughout the literature we’ve produced so far. This is something that I find rather funny, though, because my father reads a Kindle, and I seem to be stuck in my old ways, unable to pick up anything to read that isn’t a book – even a glossy mag is pushing it (I know, ancient right?). In addition, it also rubs me the wrong way that my father has 12,000 followers on Twitter and I’ve barely broken 100. So not bitter. While I know this should probably be the other way round, in our house things are a bit unconventional, and this is a constant source of bullying at my expense – ‘Oh Anna you’re living in the middle ages; Anna why are you so unpopular’ etc. – by my loving and doting 50-something year old Dad.
In all seriousness, though, books are something that I have grown up with, and my dad encouraged me to start young. Reading enabled me to escape the misery of the real world and is a pastime I still adore to this day. Reading will always be timeless, but nothing can beat the flesh of a real physical book. So if you fancy visiting a library, check out these recommendations.
• Darren Shan and his Cirque Du Freak series (this was one of the first series’ I really got in to, and one of the first to influence my reading pattern when I was about 11. As a series it’s brilliant – all about gore and vampires but without ever patronising its intended teenage audience. His Lord Loss series is also an addictively good read; one which me and my hubby have both read.
• Stephen King is an author I personally love and would recommend all of his work. I read Eyes of the Dragon when I was eight or nine which introduced my lifelong passion for the fantasy genre.
• Naturally the Harry Potter series has to be on my go-to fantasy read list. It really helped the little nerdy me when I was being bullied growing up.
And you can’t go wrong with Manga. One of my personal highlights of the Dawn of the Unread project so far was holding a Manga reading focus group at Djanogly Academy in March. So what are you waiting for, get reading. If my hubby can do it, anyone can…
- Beyond Favourite (talkstephenking.blogspot.co.uk)
- Harry Potter (pottermore.com)
- How a boy wizard is making me fall in love with reading all over again (reederreads.com)
- Edgar Allan Poe (worldofpoe.blogspot.co.uk)
- Manga Dogs Volume 3 (comicsworthreading.com)
- People reading in San Francisco (peoplereading.blogspot.co.uk)
- Gotta keep reading flashmob (musicwithmrsdennis.blogspot.co.uk)
Over the past year Dawn of the Unread has done absolutely everything we can to promote reading. This has included a zombie-themed game of Mastermind for the Festival of Words, a talk at the British Library (see soundcloud link below), free talks at every school in Nottinghamshire, finding placements for 100 NTU students, a very silent protest in the form of a reading Flashmob, supporting NHS patients, and, of course, producing some sumptuous artwork in the form of our comics released on the 8th of each month.
Today we went up in that rattling Big Wheel in Market Square and gave a 12 minute literary tour of Nottingham via the buildings and locations spanning the horizon of our very wet city. We also took up a young Egyptian student called Youssef Gadallah and recorded a broadcast for his radio station Beep. This is broadcast by Nottingham Trent International College. We called our talk ‘Turning Reading Around’ because we’re exploring various ways of engaging readers by providing literature in bytesize chunks and across media platforms with the ultimate aim of directing readers to physical books. If knowledge was the aim of 20th century media, now it’s experience. We’re trying to bring readers into the conversation through the gaming element of our App and by offering numerous paths into the text.
I’m not one for heights but when it comes to promoting reading I’ll do anything. And yes, this is a challenge; so get in contact if you’d like us to do anything in particular. This latest ‘humiliation’ was in aid of a new initiative by the BBC called Get Creative, a celebration of the world-class arts, culture and creativity that happens every day across the UK. Over the course of the year the BBC will be highlighting various organisations and we desperately want to be featured because we’ve given every waking hour to Dawn of the Unread and we’re starting to get a little knackered and tired of lack of exposure from mainstream media.
The BBC has set up the project because a (conservative) estimate suggests that around ten million of us take part in a form of regular craft and activity each week. It’s a great idea and perfectly fits their remit of widening participation and promoting diversity (which by my definition means arts organisations beyond the snuggly confines of the M25). It’s hoped that the project will lead to a national conversation about the value of culture and creativity.
Dawn of the Unread is an ongoing conversation about the relationship between digital and physical books as well as an inquiry into the role of libraries in the 21st century. Our blog is open to anyone who would like to contribute to these discussions. However it is worth remembering that underpinning any conversation about art or culture is money. Without money staff lose their jobs, professionals are replaced with volunteers, buildings get sold off to supermarkets; the overall quality of ‘art’ suffers.
- Get Creative website (bbc.co.uk)
- Nottingham gets creative…and wet (nottinghamcityofliterature.com)
- Surface Gallery website (surfacegallery.org)
- Creative Quarter website (creativequarter.com)
- Cultured: To be or not to be? (leftlion.co.uk)
- NottsTV website (nottstv.com)
- City Arts website (city-arts.org.uk)
- Mouthy Poets website (mouthypoets.wordpress.com)
- Nottm Creative Fringe Arts Fair (beesmakehoneycc.com)
- NottDance Festival (dance4.co.uk)
- Nottingham Live website (nottinghamlive.co.uk)
- Dawn of the Unread Flickr (flickr.com)
On Saturday 12 July Robert Squirrell, John Mateur and I organised a flashmob reading in Nottingham to celebrate books. This wasn’t intended as a tub thumping rant against library closures, although this is of course part of the debate, rather it was a simple celebration of words, authors, publishers and booksellers. A thank you for the joy they’ve brought us over the years. I’d estimate we had around 400 people turn up, most of whom were congregated around the Cloughie statue.
There were varying reactions to our stand-up sit-down. My favourite comment was ‘what are all those dicks doing’. The most frightening was a beefy Forest fan who took exception to the Brian Clough statue getting a make-over courtesy of a knitted woolen jumper. I wanted to say to him that I’ve got 400 people outside Cloughie’s statue to mark the 10th anniversary of his death and released a comic chapter celebrating his life, what have you done? But of course I didn’t. I’d have got battered. The weather was too lovely to get battered.
The jumper was made by a middle-aged woman from Sherwood. She’s not a footy fan, not a particularly keen reader, just a plain and simple mam who loves knitting. Originally I wanted to involve a local arts group and use the event as a means of promoting their work as Dawn of the Unread survives on such collaborations. But I’m glad I decided to go with an ordinary mam who wanted no publicity and had no ulterior motive other than she loves knitting. I also liked the idea of the soft fabric offsetting Cloughie’s rougher edges, but it’s main purpose was to promote our current chapter Byron Clough. More of this in the next post.
When the clock struck noon we all sat down on the floor and read for around ten minutes. Then got up and dispersed. People passing by were generally very quiet and automatically stopped talking as they approached us. This felt really powerful and it was intriguing how the silence of a group of people could have a direct effect on the immediate environment. It was a strange and empowering sensation.
If anyone is thinking of putting together a similar flashmob here’s a few tips.
- We printed 4,000 double-sided flyers. One side about the event, the other about Dawn of the Unread. The cost between single and double-sided printing is minimal. I use Mortons Print in Lincolnshire who are easily the cheapest.
- Give flyers to bookshops and ask them to hand out to punters when they buy from your shop. As this was a reading event it made sense for them to bring the books they had just purchased.
- For a future event I might try the same but go for bookmarks.
- Twitter is my number one tool for all forms of communication. Through this I was able to contact a diverse range of groups such as: Over 50s; Mumsnet; disability groups etc.
- You can pay Facebook to promote posts which broadens your reach. But ensure you have enough likes first to have a stronger impact.
- Think of how your flashmob can appeal to all strands of society. As this month is Ramadan I spoke to some Muslims and said bring down the Koran. Unfortunately none turned up. This was a pity as reading is one of the few things that has the potential to unite all spectrums of society.
- Use your event to support other people: I was particularly keen for the Women’s Centre in Nottingham to come down after their fantastic WoLan event. I suggested they bring books from their feminist library, which is the first feminist library in Nottingham. What better way to make a political statement about gender inequality than visualising ideas through cover jackets. 2014 is also the Year of Reading so it was necessary to have a strong female presence.
- Think about the best time to hold a flash mob. We went for 12 noon because it was the most dramatic due to the 12 chimes of the clock.
- Although we used social media to promote the event, face to face contact is still the most powerful medium.
- Make it simple and fun. Nobody wants a rule book when they’re giving up their free time. By the same token, ensure someone is on hand to advise people, to walk around explaining what will happen and when. This means you need a small core team of volunteers.
- Practice if you’re trying something unique. For example, one flashmob reading I’d love to do is where people all start to read from the same book, getting louder and louder as people join in. But that takes a lot of practice and needs to take place in an environment with good acoustics.
- Don’t do it for the sake of it. Flashmobs work for specific reasons and specific events.
George Lucas doesn’t need an introduction but just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past forty years he’s the man responsible for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars e.g. entire childhoods. So what’s he got to do with Nottingham, literature and a graphic novel involving the undead? Nothing really, other than I’ve been reading a lot about his ideas regarding visual literacy because they’re a little controversial yet strangely pragmatic. To understand why, let’s turn to the received wisdom of Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister.
Last year the Conservative MP for Bognor Regis capitalised on the Charles Dickens anniversary celebrations, declaring: “We need – if you’ll forgive the Dickens pun – much greater expectations of children in reading.” He then drew on some miserable facts: One-in-six pupils struggle to read when they leave primary school; one-in-10 boys aged 11 has a reading age no better than a seven-year-old; at 14, six-in-10 white boys from the poorest backgrounds are still unable to read properly. Gibbo’s solution was hit them with ‘more complex’ texts before they leave primary school and hopefully this will help resolve the real issue for the government: more than four-in-10 employers are unhappy with levels of English among school leavers (survey by Confederation of British Industry)
We can debate for ever whether a child needs to read Charles Dickens, Shakespeare or Tolstoy to become more literate and intelligent. But what is more relevant is how you engage readers with an ever decreasing attention span. Which is where Mr Star Wars comes in.
Lucas believes the education system is caught in a time capsule and based on nineteenth-century ideals and methods that privilege the written or spoken word above other forms of communication. Technology has helped create a more “visually sophisticated world” and therefore graphics, music, cinema et al require equal attention. To see these various forms of nonwritten communication “as some type of therapy or art, something that is not relevant to the everyday life of a student” is simply wrong.
At this point I would expect Nick Gibb to suffer a bout of canonical turrets, spitting out Dickens! Dick ends! Dickens! How can you possibly measure the competencies of something as abstract as visual communication? It’s utterly preposterous you leftie.
Mr Star Wars believes this is possible because all forms of communication have grammatical rules. In film, language is expressed through a particular shot or angle; in art, through use of colour and brush stroke. You get the point. Essentially this isn’t anything new. It’s the world of textual analysis and Cultural Studies, those populist subjects that are so unpopular with our current government. (No points for guessing my degree…) As you would expect from a man who made his fortune focusing on a galaxy far, far away, there are many forces at play when it comes to education.
“We need to look at the whole world of communication in a more complete way. We need to take art and music out of “the arts class” and put it into the English class. For instance, the various forms of communication form a circle. On one end of this circle is math, the least emotional of all forms of communication. It’s very strict and very concise, and has a very precise way of explaining something. Then you start moving around the circle, and you get to the other end, where we have music, which primarily appeals to your emotions, not to your intellect.”
Lucas’ biggest fear is that we obsess on the intellectual elements of communication to the detriment of our emotional needs. This creates an imbalance in the universe.
“The bigger picture is that a country survives on its educational system. Go beyond that: The human race survives on its educational system. That means that a country with the best educational system becomes the prominent country or society. The society that has a great educational system becomes the prominent society because that’s the way the human race survives.”
If we start to think inside the circle and not get boxed in to particularities such as ‘more complex’ books for children, we might just have a better chance of engaging readers. I’m hoping that Dawn of the Unread will engage readers emotionally and intellectually by exploring a wide variety of styles of illustration and colour, through debate in public libraries with featured writers, by creating literary walks, games, animations, digital interaction across media platforms and a creative space for readers to share their own ideas. By combining all of these gradients of expression and communication we might just entice a small minority of people to read books inspired by the project.
And before you accuse education of turning to the Dark side Gibbo, this isn’t selling out, pandering, dumbing down or a compromise. It’s not a replacement for books either. It’s about finding a place for reading within the circle of communication. It’s not just a case of giving someone a book and telling them to read either. Most of the classics I was given at school were dull. I couldn’t relate to them or the language. Now they have a place in my life as I can better appreciate and understand them now that I’m a more developed and confident reader.
The remit of Dawn of the Unread is not to thrust ‘complex’ books on people to read. It’s to create a thirst for information. To tease, tantalise and inspire. To use digital technology to enable numerous routes into literature knowing that our reading paths are ultimately solitary and taken at different speeds.
- Quote of the Day | Neil Gaiman on serialized storytelling (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- Charles Dickens on the brutality of the Tories (beastrabban.wordpress.com)
- Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education (edutopia.org)
- Graphic Language: Christopher Niemann (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Illusion of Education (aakashtyagi.wordpress.com)