Literacy for Lads and Lasses / Books for Boys

August 17, 2008 at 10:46 am (News) (, , , )

According to an article published on ITV.com last week, literacy levels amongst teens in the UK are dropping dramatically, with almost 1/3rd of 14-year-olds failing to reach the expected standards of reading for their age group.

Apparently, boys fare worse than girls in these statistics, making me wonder, is reading seen more and more as a feminine pastime? If membership on the Book Club Forum is anything to go by, women are certainly more drawn towards book discussion in a forum setting, as, although I don’t have the exact percentages to hand, the women far outweigh the men – but there are men on there waving the flag for male readers everywhere.

We also have a small, but growing, membership at the younger end of the range. Again, there are more girls than boys, but there are definitely boys on board who are happily reading and discussing the books they enjoy. This begs another question though – is reading something that we get into at a young age and keep up, or is it generally something we learn to do for pleasure at a later age?

I don’t have an answer to that one, being someone who cannot remember a time when I didn’t love reading (according to my parents I shunned toys in favour of books from an early age and was reading to myself long before I started school). I do, however, know many people my age and older who love to read and many others who are younger and never got bitten by the bug (please bear in mind, this is a generality – I know folks my own age who never pick up a book if they can help it, and people of all ages who adore nothing more than curling up with a novel).

So, are the reading rates in youngsters today affected by things to which we didn’t have access when we were kids – i.e. computer games? It would be easy to claim that factor as finite – so many children love computers and games, and this has been cited as the reason for many changes in modern children, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder (i.e. children sit around playing games with flashing images rather than playing outside and getting some exercise, and become unable to focus on things for longer periods of time).

I’d be inclined to go against this argument – after all, although the older generations didn’t have computer games, we did have books and television. Personally, I quite often took a book outside with me and would sit contended for hours, lost in another world, rather than running about with my friends. I was a tiny, skinny little thing, so sitting about didn’t make me fat, that’s for sure! My sister loved to watch cartoons – they lasted all of 5-minutes each in many cases, which doesn’t need a great attention span. She never had ADD, but she did have dyslexia (hence, she didn’t read as a child – although in recent years she has begun reading for pleasure).

I was very pleased to come across an article today on the BBC news that refutes the “evidence” that youngsters don’t read (it specifically cites examples for boys, but it could just as easily have included girls). There is evidence that children today are reading just as much as we did in my day – they’re just reading different things. Computer games often require a high level of reading ability and understanding in order to progress to the next level, and graphic novels can ignite an interest in more “conventional” forms of literature. And there are books that appeal to the youth market too – in recent years we’ve seen the phenomenon of Harry Potter sweep not just the UK, but the whole world, and J.K. Rowling is not the only author igniting the reading passions of the younger generation, although she might be the most famous contemporary example.

So, I’ve resolved not to worry too much about the reading habits of my own child (due next month). He or she will most definitely be exposed to books from the very start (in fact, I already read to my bump), and there will also be a “lead by example” atmosphere as my non-reading hubby will be encouraged to read to our child (especially if we have a boy – “books can be for both boys and girls” will be the message), but if computer games and graphic novels encourage my kid to read more, then I’m not going to complain. Just because the educational system in this country doesn’t count them in their educational statistics, doesn’t mean they can’t be counted towards overall ability and understanding and lead to a love of literature through other avenues.

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Too good to be true?

August 12, 2008 at 6:06 pm (News) (, , )

Lorna Page
First-time author at the grand old age of 93

There’s a saying – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This immediately sprang to mind when I read an article that has been all over the BBC and the Telegraph – both well-respected reporters of the news – today, about a 93-year-old who has published her first novel.

As you will see from these articles, it’s asserted that first-time author, Lorna Page (aged 93) has purchased a 5-bedroom house using the advance and/or royalties from the publication of her book – she intends to invite several of her OAP buddies to live in the house with her rather than go into care homes. It’s a lovely story and great publicity for her book (which has shot up the Amazon charts since the story broke and is, at the time I write this, sitting at No. 9 in the paperback romance section – no. 46 in the hardcover), but a little light research will prove that someone somewhere has their facts a little garbled.

Point number 1:
Lorna Page’s publisher is AuthorHouse, which is a print on demand publisher. Far from offering advances, they actually charge the author in advance for editing and publication. That being the case, they are actually vanity publishers! As there’s no advance, she clearly did not buy her house with it.

Point number 2:
Royalties are generally paid in installments over set periods of time – this may be monthly, annually, whatever. As this book was first published in hardback on 10 July this year and in paperback just two days later, she would only be receiving her first royalty cheque around now (if she was very lucky). As she already has her house, she clearly did not use her royalties to buy it. Even if she had earned enough in royalties, she would have had to sell a HELL of a lot of books in this first month.

One thing that HAS happened, however, is that this lady has suddenly received a LOT of publicity and her book may well enjoy a brief surge in sales, as shown by her current position in the Amazon charts, but unless the book is extraordinarily good, it will be just that – a brief surge. Especially as the price for the paperback (which comes in at 308 pages) is currently at the “reduced” price of £16.10 (down from the full price of £16.95). The hardback is retailing at £21.80 (down from the RRP of £22.95). These prices seem a little steep for a first-time author’s offering – without the publicity I doubt she’d have made all that many sales unless word of mouth got around saying it was a masterpiece, and even then, the success would most likely have been gradual.

Personally, I wish her all the luck in the world, but I do wish that professional journalists would do a little research before sending their articles to print – after all, if I, an amateur, can very easily find information that goes contrary to their articles, then surely they could too?

Edited to add: It seems that The Guardian has since added a correction to the story, which can be seen HERE, reading:

QUOTE: The following clarification was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Friday August 15 2008. In common with most other papers we reported that 93-year-old Lorna Page, “suddenly prosperous on the advance and sales” of her novel A Dangerous Weakness, had been able to buy a big detached house for herself and three of her friends. Aspiring writers (and housebuyers) should note that her publisher, AuthorHouse, is a self-publishing company whose website states: “For a modest financial investment you can choose what you want for your book.”

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Much respect!

August 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm (News) (, , , , )

I steer well clear of magazines that feature celebrity gossip and don’t tend to read newspapers (which are, nowadays, just turning into celebrity gossip magazines anyway!) – I just can’t stand them, but sometimes it’s impossible to avoid attention-grabbing headlines when you’re browsing online.

Today I found myself inexplicably drawn to a news article on Yahoo about the first official public pictures of the Jolie Pitt twins. Initially, when I started reading, I found myself a little angry on discovering the fee for the pictures was £7.5million from Hello! magazine (which outbid all others, including OK!) because, let’s face it, they don’t exactly need the cash, do they? But then I had to do a very swift turn-around. You see, it seems Brad and Angelina aren’t taking the money – it’s all going to their charity, The Jolie Pitt Foundation, which was set up in 2006 to assist with humanitarian crises around the world.

Sometimes I find myself in total awe of people – and I’m pleased to say this is one of those times.

Kudos to the pair of them – I wish them nothing but happiness with their newly-enlarged family.

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Yahoo News – Leading the Charge of Contradictory information…

June 22, 2008 at 9:31 am (News) (, , , )

A “Big Breakfast” as shown above is apparently “key to slimming”
Best if grilled rather than fried, though!

It never fails to make me laugh when the news contradicts itself.

Today I stumbled upon THIS article, which is a few days old, relating information on large breakfasts being key to slimming. It’s reported on Yahoo News, but quotes Sky News as the source.

It starts off saying:

The bigger and more carb-laden the meal the better, experts say.

But then does a complete turn-around and says:

“The ideal breakfast is grilled bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, mushrooms and tomatoes.
“It must be low-fat, high-protein, grilled, not fried.”
Scientist compared the ‘big breakfast’ diet with a strict low-carb weight-loss regime.

So, now I’m baffled! Which should it be? Carbs or proteins? Please make up your minds and check your facts make sense when reporting the so-called news, Yahoo / Sky – you’re going to become a laughing stock at this rate!

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About bloody time…!

May 29, 2008 at 8:56 am (News) (, , , , )

Missing – Madeleine McCann

Call me heartless, callous and cruel if you like, but it seems well overdue to me that the McCanns may face charges of neglect and abandonment over the case of their missing daughter, Madeleine. Yes, it’s tragic that their very young daughter disappeared, but the fact remains that they left her and her younger siblings alone in an unlocked apartment while they and their friends dined elsewhere. It does not matter that they claim they regularly checked on their children – they left them alone in a foreign country while they went out to have fun with their friends.

Of course, chances are that this charge will never actually come about, but I sincerely hope it does. Just because the McCanns are a professional, middle-class couple, doesn’t mean that they should be treated any differently than a poor, working class family in the same position. Had they both been on the dole, you can bet they would have been vilified and crucified by the press. Instead, they have access to a large fund set up by well-wishers and the sympathy of most of the media, and when the media tried to turn, the McGanns pressed charges against them and got a public apology.

It is my opinion (and I freely accept it is not the opinion of everyone else) that those who neglect their children do not deserve apologies. They should be investigated by social services and the safety of their other children should be taken into consideration too.

I actually think it rather criminal that it has taken more than a year for the authorities to even consider pressing these charges against them.

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Double Standards?

March 24, 2008 at 3:39 pm (News) (, , , , , , )

Scarlett

Scarlett – Raped and murdered

I have to admit, I tend to avoid the news as much as possible as it invariably either depresses me or makes me angry and, to be honest, I don’t have time enough in my life for either of those emotions if I can help it at all. However, there has been no escaping certain news stories and once again, my blood has been heating up till it reaches near boiling point and it’s all because of the seeming double standards of the press.

Case 1: A family on a foreign holiday leave their three year old daughter in an unlocked hotel room with her two younger siblings whilst Mum and Dad go off for dinner down the road. The three-year-old disappears. After much speculation, people start to wonder if the parents may have been at fault in some way and accusations fly. The parents end up winning libel damages for thousands of pounds.

Case 2: A single mother on holiday abroad leaves her fifteen-year-old daughter in one area whilst she and her boyfriend move on to another area. The daughter is raped and murdered. The mother is accused of negligence and is currently in hiding over fears over her safety.

Now, in both cases, I believe the parents have done some wrong in leaving their children alone in a foreign country, no matter how nearby they are. But there are differences here:

Question 1: Would you leave your three-year-old daughter and her two younger siblings alone at home, with the door unlocked whilst you went to the shops?

Question 2: Would you leave your fifteen-year-old daughter alone at home, with the door unlocked, whilst you went to the shops?

I can guess that your answer to question 1 would be a resounding “No way! That would be irresponsible!” and that your answer to question 2 would be “Yes, I think that at 15 my daughter can be trusted for a short while to look after herself.”

In case 1, the young daughter would not have been able to go missing if she had not been left alone in that room. In case two, you can be any age and get raped and murdered, irrespective of whether you are with people or alone.

Once again, I will reiterate that I don’t agree with the actions of either set of parents, but the double standards shown in the press coverage of these stories really gets my goat. Could one of the main reasons be that Maddy’s parents are professionals and Scarlett’s mum is a Single Mum who lives a bit of a hippy lifestyle? Neither of those circumstances should have any bearing on the perception of the cases. If one family gets it in the neck for being negligent enough to leave their child unattended, then so should the other – and none of them should be awarded money for anything said about them.

And of course, it goes without saying, that none of them should ever be up for “Parent of the Year” awards.

Madeleine
Madeleine – Missing

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The right to live / the right to die?

March 22, 2008 at 11:24 am (News) (, , , , )

Chantal Sebire

Chantal Sebire – suffering from esthesioneuroblastoma (ENB)

It’s a subject that causes much discussion, heated debate and outright argument the world over – euthanasia (assisted death or “mercy killing”). It’s not something I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to (or need or want to) consider, either for myself or anyone close to me, but I can see what the effects of such decisions are and how deeply it can affect those who have to live with such a decision.

There has recently been news coverage of a French woman who suffered terribly with an horrifically disfiguring and extremely painful malignant tumour. The French courts rejected her requests to end her suffering by ending her life. She was found dead just a few days later (the cause of her death has not, at this point been established – at least, not to my knowledge).

Looking at the picture of her (yes, that’s really her in the picture above this post) and hearing of how she has lived in pain for many years as her face became horribly distorted (so badly that children would scream and run away in fear at the sight of her – absolutely heartbreaking!) saddened me and made me wonder, when is euthanasia right, if ever?

Consider this example – Moss was riddled with inoperable cancer. She was suffering and the pain she felt could be seen in her eyes; could be felt coming off her in waves. She was much loved and adored her family. She was assisted in her death and the look in her eyes as she slipped away was one of relief and gratefulness. Moss was our family dog.

When animals are suffering and cannot be helped in any other way, they are humanely put out of their misery by a professional in animal medicine – a Veterinarian administers a drug which very quietly sends the creature into the eternal sleep. This is seen as being kind. Should humans have that same right? Should people be able to choose when they have suffered enough and want to put an end to it all? Should they have a say in how they end that suffering?

It’s a difficult question to answer, because then you have to look at all those people who can no longer make that choice for themselves. What about Alzheimer’s patients? Are they “suffering enough” to warrant ending their lives even though they are past making that choice for themselves? What if they have left a “living will” that says once they get past a certain point they want to die? There have certainly been cases where people have assisted Alzheimer’s patients to die and there has been both a sympathetic outpouring and a massive outcry about the “right to live”.

But what about the “right to die”?

Then there are patients that are in comas. What if the doctors say they will never wake but will live on and on in a permanently vegetative state? Should the plug be pulled rather than having that person remain, unaware of all that happens around them and taking up valuable medical resources used in keeping them alive? What about those people who wake up after many years in a coma? Could any of those who were “allowed to die” have woken up at some point in the future if they had been kept alive?

These are questions I cannot answer. I don’t have enough information, whether medical or personal experience, but it really does make one stop and think – what would I want if I were in that position?

That’s another question I can’t answer without experiencing it for myself – which I hope I will never have to do.

My heart goes out to all those who are in that position, whether considering it for themselves or for a loved one.

Chantal Sebire - before

Chantal Sebire – before ENB

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Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!

March 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm (Music, Film and Television, News) (, , , , , )

kids.jpg

According to THIS news report, teachers are voting on scrapping homework for school children “because it puts them under too much pressure and makes them unhappy”.

Now, I may not yet be a parent, but I have to put in my tuppence-worth here. I want my kid to have homework. I want to see first-hand what my child is learning in school and see how he/sh is getting on with the work. I also want to  see that my child takes some pride in doing well at school and if that means doing a little extra work at home, so  be it. To be perfectly honest, if they do  scrap homework, then I’ll be setting homework of my own for my little’un because I think it’s important.

What kind of message does it give our youth if we turn around and say, “Oh well, if it makes you unhappy, we’ll just not do that, even though it’s good for you,”? Does it instill any kind of work ethic in the youngsters? No, it does not. All it does is say, “It’s OK not to work hard and do well on your own steam.”

What are these children going to be like when they actually have to get a job?

Previously homework-free kid: Sorry, boss, I don’t like doing the finances – it stresses me out and makes me feel unhappy.
Boss: Oh, that’s OK, we’ll get someone else to do it for you instead. Don’t you worry about it.  Would you like a raise and a company car with that?

Somehow, I just don’t think it’ll go down that way…

Anyway, on a schoolkids theme, here’s the fantastic Pink Floyd to amuse you all:

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What will they think of next…?

March 5, 2008 at 6:50 am (Life gets in the way..., News) (, , , , )

Padded Lamp Posts

Apparently padded lamp posts are being trialled in in Brick Lane, London,  due to the amount of people who have accidents by bumping into them whilst texting on their mobile phones. According the the report it’s “not their fault” and should be protected.

I’ve got an idea that could save the government millions of pounds. Instead of padding all the lamp posts, promote a campaign that encourages the wankers not to walk around with their eyes glued to their ‘phone screens and instead actually take responsibility for their own well-being by looking where they’re going! Now, there’s a novel idea for you!

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Hard Luck for Hardbacks!

November 21, 2007 at 10:25 pm (Books and Authors, News) (, , )

Pile of books

I tend to avoid the news as much as possible because, inevitably, I get angry or upset – one or the other, it doesn’t matter, both are negative emotions and I prefer not to inflict them on myself if I can possibly help it. Today, however, I followed a link to an article at The Sydney Morning Herald and read, to my dismay, that Picador have made the monumentous decision not to produce hardbacks for book launches any more!

As the eighth-largest publisher in the UK market, this sets a terrible precedence for other big publishers to follow suit and this is something that makes me very sad. Yes, hardbacks can be clunky, unwieldy, difficult to handle and expensive, but they are durable and look beautiful on the shelf. I’ll freely admit that I love a good paperback as much as the next person – they’re light, cheap and they fit into my handbag to cart around with me when I’m on the go, but paperbacks have always seemed so much more, well, disposable. I do sell on many of my books (if I didn’t, I’d have no room to move in my small flat and my husband would divorce me for filling every nook and cranny with nothing but novels!), but most of the ones that pass on to new owners are paperbacks – I tend to keep my hardbacks. One of the main reasons I do that is because when I buy a book by an author I know I love and that I’ll want to read again, I get it in hardback. Paperbacks are my cheap, try-out-someone / something-new-without-too-much-risk option and they’re usually second-hand (albeit copies that are in excellent condition).

If hardbacks do die out, it will be a very sad day for bibliophiles around the world. We’d have to find a modern-day Don McLean to write a song about The Day The Hardback Died, and we’d weep every time someone sang the full-length version at a karaoke bar. We would tell tales to our grandchildren of days gone by when books (yes, dear, those words that you download onto your little screen gizmo) would come in hard covers (no, dear, not a machine) that bound the pages together (yes, dear, with glue, or stitching in the more expensive ones – some of them were bound in leather you know! No, I’m not making it up!) and we’d sit in front of the fire (that was when we had a fire in the house, darlings, not everyone had radiators then) and feel the comforting heft of a hardback in our hands.

Ah! Those were the golden days!

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