Thursday, 29 December 2011

Great Expectations

My students complain that I always choose very old books to read. I understand it is hard to think in a world in which noone watched TV, use mobile phones or computers, people travelled in carriages pulled by horses and social institutions were much different than they are now. Well.., I think the finest pieces of Literature were written at that time. Also, if we think of it, we usually choose to read contemporary novels and even if would be interested in reading as many books as possible, we would not read Great Expectations, unless one of our teachers obliges us to do so.

As a child, Dickens himself was a poor boy. He had to struggle very hard in life and make his own living since he was very young. This is so, one of the main topics all through his literature. The book tells the story of a very young boy who was born in a poor and uneducated country family. After some lucky events, his life changes until he becomes a city gentleman. In the end, he discovers he had not been so lucky after all, and he might have been very happy with his family and friends if noone had ever spoken to him about class, money or education differences. 

The book conveys very important educational values which I also thought important: hard work is over idle life, family and friendship are more important than money and love is definetely the most relevant topic in the book.

I just read there are at least 250 theatrical or TV versions of the book. I found an old black and white film version of it on youtube which I think is very helpful if you want to imagine what was the time and place background like.

The book we chose for our Bachillerato students is a graded reading by OUP publishers in Spain. In the one hand, I suppose the will not have to stop their reading that often to use a dictionary or would not find too many old fashioned words and, in the other hand, the book repeats several structures and words, so that the students can learn them at their own pace.

I found a couple interesting vocabulary topics in the book: Some misleading verbs like realize and notice and the difference between the verbs Lay, lie, lie. You can  also have some extra preactise in these two links: link 1 and link 2.

I hope that all my students have a great time reading the book with me. We will be listening to the the CD version enclosed chapter by chapter and they will be delivering a project and probably taking an exam. I will comment about the results when we have finished.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Changing Places

Just before my 40th birthday, I had the feeling (all men have, I suppose) that I might have missed something out as I was going through the path of life. 

The book I am going to post about has been in three different shelves for the last fifteen years. The pages are yellow and the cover is worn out by the pass of time. I read only 40 or 50 pages when my teachers asked me to read it in 1994, but my nostalgia has made me read it in the whole now. I think it was not my chance that characters in the book are around my age.

Two university professors, Mr. Phillip Swallow (the British one), coming from the imaginary city of Rummidge (probably Birmingham), and Mr. Morris Zapp (the American one), coming from Euphoria State (probably California), decide to swap their positions for six months in 1968. Literature is their field and, one way or the other, they both seem to be obsessed with Jane Austen. Once they arrive, they get involved into different universes and universities, where surprising coincidencies, misunderstandings and ridiculous situations give the story an humorous tone that keep you amused and entertained for the time you spend reading it. Thus, the author, David Lodge, portraits his own personal experience as Literature professor in both places.

Secondary characters are particularly important and influencial in the lives of both as they make them follow alternative paths in their life experience. In the one hand, Swallow is bored with his family life, routines and duties are suffocating him. He has got the feeling he hasn't made any progress in life and is not attracted by his wife any more. In the other hand, Morris is in the process of getting divorced and going to another country is a childish behaviour to get away from his daily problems.

Some other characters like Charles Boon, a radio station host who was formerly one of Swallow's students or Wily Smith, a civil rights activist and well known rioter, make the humorous point in the story.

At some point each of them get to know people who were previously on their respective social circles. They even have sexual relations with each other's couples or daughters (Swallow sleeps with Melanie, Zapp's daughter).

The book is divided into six sections: The first one tells us about their experiences as they both fly to their destinations. The second section describes in detail the people and places they know. The third section is made of letters that each character sends or receives from people (mostly family). The fourth section is made out of newspapers articles in which they are represented one way or the other. The fifth section talks about their decision (or not) to go back home, and to end up with, in the last section, they decide how and when they are coming back home...(or not).

The places and timing are also central to the story: civil rights, the hippy movement, Vietnam war protesters, twentieth Century modern industrial societies (previous to ICT technologies) are clear examples for this. Academic life in particular is also analized in detail all through the book.

Fifteen or seventeen years later, I really had a good time reading this book. It has also given me the opportunity to watch Mr. Lodge in several videos in Internet. I hope not to have ruined anyone's reading.