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John Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men (1937)

This turned up in the house via daughter's English GCSE syllabus, so I read it, I believe for the first time.

It was very good, and felt very familiar, no doubt having influenced a lot of the US SF of my youth. And no doubt that familiarity is what stopped it from being as shocking for me as it might be for younger readers. But of course, those younger readers have now watched their many thousand televisual deaths and I doubt that they are shocked either.

I can't help wondering why an English syllabus would prescribe a hyper-masculine US text set in a world so very far from the families and cities that they are growing up with. But that's an argument for a day with a lot more time in it than today.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
ffutures
26th Feb, 2016 22:37 (UTC)
I think the examiners must have decided that they should include some modern US authors since a huge proportion of English language literature comes from the UK and USA. When I did OL English (the general one, not Lit) I think the main US author was the playwright Thornton Wilder, who I didn't find very readable, I think Steinbeck was already in the English Lit syllabus by then, but I didn't take it since I was on my school's science timetable.
ffutures
26th Feb, 2016 22:44 (UTC)
Breakdown of titles published by country here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_published_per_country_per_year

China is first with 440k titles, US with 305k titles, UK third with 184K titles. The next highest English language countries are Australia with 28K titles, Canada with 20K, and New Zealand with 3.6K. Convert that to percentages and you see why the syllabus has to include American titles.
ffutures
26th Feb, 2016 22:45 (UTC)
That's ignoring books in other languages published in these countries, of course, but that's a much more complicated thing.
gillo
27th Feb, 2016 01:06 (UTC)
Gove specified British titles only in his more recent revamp, but I believe was petitioned to allow Mockingbird back in.

OM&M is short and schools generally have huge numbers of the text, two very good reasons to use it. When you are trying to cram in all the 'fiddly bits' required in a modern syllabus, short is very good (doesn't count if it's not tested, so lots and lots of tiny things have to be tested to prove they have been taught.)

I am so glad I have escaped from the insanity of teaching GCSE English.

Edited at 2016-02-27 01:07 (UTC)
gillo
27th Feb, 2016 01:02 (UTC)
It's short. It deals with racism, sexism, prejudice, mental handicap and The Other. It's short. It shows how the American Dream buoys hope but is unattainable for most. It works very well with GCSE teenagers, and there are a couple of decent film versions.

And it's short.
bohemiancoast
27th Feb, 2016 11:34 (UTC)
This, plus as well as being short, fantastic and dealing with solid themes, it uses language interestingly and well throughout in ways that even the weakest GCSE student has a reasonable chance of grasping. It's just the perfect GCSE text and people are already mourning it. Both my kids did it, and I hadn't read it until M studied it. I was completely unfamiliar with it but nevertheless am old and have read a lot, and the quality of the writing telegraphs the ending completely to a thoughtful more experienced reader. M loved it so much she read it out loud to J -- we do quite a lot of reading out loud in our family so this isn't wholly strange.

Thanks to Gove, the year below J in his school has switched it out for Great Expectations. Not only do I think it will be much harder to teach GCSE English using, I don't think 90% of the kids will read it. J has only done short books (his other one is An Inspector Calls), but M had Pride and Prejudice, and was the only child in her top set class to read the entire book.
pennski
27th Feb, 2016 15:34 (UTC)
By the way, I believe it is also short...
coth
27th Feb, 2016 16:55 (UTC)
It was short.
bibliofile
2nd Mar, 2016 23:40 (UTC)
Especially when compared with Steinbeck's other famous work, The Grapes of Wrath. Very short!
coth
5th Mar, 2016 18:22 (UTC)
I seem to recall reading TGOW for school, but not how long it is.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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