hitting the books (it’s 2011)
March 2, 2011, 8:54 pm
Filed under: f-f-f-fiji, the beginning and the end

I wanted to recommend this beautiful piece of Australian literature by Craig Silvey. Jasper Jones is about  prejudice, misunderstanding, race, things lost, things found and the small town experience. It was the first book I finished in 2011 and I sincerely hope that it has set the bar not only for my own reading habits this year, but for Australian teenage literature also.

I slacked off on reading last year. Despite having so many opportunities to just sit, relax and read a book in 2010  (on the beach, on a mat, in bed, in the sun, on the couch), I have to say I did not seize them (note previous post about using alone time constructively).  In 2009 I listed all the books I read and the total came to 13. In 2010 I only read 6. When I tallied them up I was shocked/dismayed/appalled but go easy- living island life has been as thought provoking and entertaining as any piece of literature and I’ve connected with people and places through performance,  weekend getaways, fashion, food, kava, and rum. (in no particular order of frequency or importance.)

Reading isn’t a popular activity in the Pacific. Information is spread by word of mouth, radio is the best form of communication particularly in a country still based strongly on village culture and stories are still told through cultural dance and art. Recreational reading, reading for work, reading reports- it takes a long time, there are other things that need doing, and (particularly with reading for work or reading reports) there are other ways to connect with people and resolve problems or issues within the community. Speaking with a friend last week we identified the above points and then went on to discuss a culture of not reading versus the nature of  work done by NGO’s and UN agencies. We talked about the ‘high tech solutions for low tech people’ that most of these agencies adopt instead of making their message as clear and as simple as possible using the basics. What happened to simplicity? What happened to taking advantage of already existing, and well functioning, infrastructure to solve issues or in this case, when did we stop talking to people and start handing them 50 page reports with pretty covers and binding knowing they aren’t going to read it? (furthermore, since when were reports the ‘action’ part of development?- that’s another ‘post’!)

Going back to recreational reading, the University of the South Pacific is this year strengthening its Literature department- it will be interesting to look at the kind of literature being promoted through the school (I am trying to get my hands on a syllabus) and how literature, as well as the course itself, is being promoted and marketed to students in this region.  Will USP work with high schools in the region to promote recreational reading and therefore an interest in literature? Will it encourage students in the region to critically engage with literature or be passive participants? What themes will the school explore more thoroughly (postcolonial? diasporic?) and where will this literature come from- Pacific? Australian? American? Indian? In a region where literacy levels are low and access to books and reading materials is limited, is there need for a Literature department?

I hope so.


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