Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Rant About Reading Lists

Right, so everyone’s heard of Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s list of recommended reads for primary schools? If you haven’t, then that sentence sums up the proposition pretty succinctly.

Lots of very respectable writerly types aren’t too pleased at this idea and you can read about them on the Guardian’s website here. If you want to read a disreputable editorial type’s opinion, then read on…

I think a government sub-committee coming up with a definitive list of books for school children to read is lazy. It requires a quick trot through some classics and perhaps whamming on a couple of contemporary bestsellers that everyone knows can get some kids reading. Job done.

YAWN. This isn’t how adults read books, is it? You can actually watch how reading works by looking at the blogging community. Bloggers read each others’ reviews and ask each other for recommendations via twitter and they post their opinions on Goodreads and online retailers. Why? Because this is how recommended reading actually works – by recommending from personal experience.

Personal enthusiasm for books is what sells them to potential readers, not a finite list of things you “should” read. How many people like being told “You should read this” versus “I absolutely loved this book and I think you will too”?

That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s important for the government to take an interest in literacy (libraries, anyone?) and maybe a list of sorts is the way to go, but let’s not make it rigid. Perhaps give librarians/teachers examples of books that the government think are worth reading (because there’s only ten of those, right?!) as a starting point. The teachers and librarians could then expand this into an ‘Think you’ll like this? Then you might like this…’ selection tailored to the children they know, based on the books they enjoy themselves.

If anyone is stuck for inspirational reads to recommend then there are books specifically designed to help you out (The Ultimate Book Guide by A&C Black for example) and there’s a whole community of book bloggers out there sharing the love. Teachers can log on and check them out. Actually, for that matter, so could Mr Gove…


  1. Very often the sort of books adults think children should read are not the sort of books children want to read anyway. While it may well be wise to encourage them to read some things they should also be let loose among vast quantities of books of all sorts and just given every encouragement to read. Here in Australia however we seem to have a view that reading should be for a purpose and that purpose is to educate about issues and inculcate certain values. The idea of reading for reading's sake or for the sheer enjoyment of losing yourself in a good book has all too often gone.

  2. Good rant, Non! I'm impressed. I had a similar one last night about the SATs reading test. It made me feel better, so I hope you do now.

    Also, deciding on a canon of acceptable literature is such a minefield of cultural, political and social delicacy. Not the sign of a self-confident, free society I'm afraid.


  3. Mr Gove has many questionable ideas about education. Clearly has never set foot in a classroom if he thinks any of them will work. Maybe I need a picture of him in my classroom so the kids and I can throw things at it.

  4. I think you're right, Kirsty! I'd certainly like to see that as one of his proposals...

    Richard and Cat - couldn't agree more on the fact that forcing children into set literature is neither free-thinking nor particularly helpful as a way of encouraging them to read.