Most people are pretty happy to finish up with high school. No more exams, assignments or using school toilets (which are a public toilet’s poor man’s toilet). Of course, there are some things to be missed. Like the daily, after-school consumption of chicken-salted chips. My body still hasn’t adjusted to the lack of chicken salt that came in the years after high school. I am constantly licking the sweat off my own forearms in an attempt to relive the salty, halcyon days of my youth.
There are plenty of good books on English syllabi that should be missed upon leaving high school too. And yet they are not for the simple fact that during school they are endlessly discussed, dissected, analysed, read, reread, never-read, dictated, performed and ultimately used as a measuring stick of language and literacy skills. Doesn’t that sound like fun? No, maybe it doesn’t. It’s certainly not the way I enjoy books these days.
There’s no getting around the fact that to study a text you need to know it inside out and do all the dissecting, etc well. And occasionally you’ll find a book that is so good it outweighs the amount of in-class scrutiny. But there is now another way to study books on the English syllabus, which is fun and insightful. I’m speaking [shameless self-promotion alert, eek!] about the Wheeler Centre’s Texts in the City series, which this year I am co-hosting.
Every week at Texts in the City a different book from the VCE English syllabus is selected and an expert is invited along to talk about it. Every week either myself or the delightful Ruby J Murray host the conversation with that guest. One week Ruby hosts, the next week I do and so on. The Wheeler Centre is like a shared beach house that we take turns at visiting on Tuesday afternoons.
We’re only a few weeks into this year’s program but I’ve already been wowed by the weekly turnouts (mostly VCE students, but some other interested folk too) and the thoughtful questions that have come so far in the Q&As following the sessions. It’s amazing how good the audience questions are when they really want an incisive answer. Each session is free but they book out quickly so get thee to the Wheeler Centre and book yourself – or your class – in now.
Next week author Benjamin Law joins me to discuss Growing Up Asian In Australia, the anthology edited by Alice Pung a couple of years back. Mr Law, of course, has a couple of pieces in the book and will no doubt be talking about them, while simultaneously being funny/charming/rude/etc. More info and booking deets here.
In the coming weeks we’re looking at a range of texts including Ransom by David Malouf, The Quiet American by Graham Green, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Robert Hillman and Najaf Mazari and Cosi by Louis Nowra.
Hopefully these sessions will help make the texts last beyond high school for the attending students. To the point that they read in the future, the same way I lick my arms for salt now.