Novels that educators should read – lecture and discussion

Richard Trama is Assistant Director of Academic Advising at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His talk was entitled “Fiction – the Fabric of Our Lives: Twelve Novels that All Educators Should Read”.

For some reason, I walked in with the conviction that if he missed Z N Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God I wouldn’t listen to a word he said. Whew! It is on the list. 

There were two more books on the list that I have read – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (M Spark) and The Line of Beauty (A Hollinghurst). One hit and one miss. I liked Miss Jean Brodie and suspect, after hearing it discussed, that it is worth a second read. I read The Line of Beauty when it was nominated as a Freshman Year “common reading”. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t imagine what students would get from it.

Why does Trama think “educators” should read these books? He was especially speaking to college teachers who serve as “preceptors”. He sees these books as embodying the development of “voice”, as narratives of the journey of growth, and he suggests (stunningly, to me) the a preceptor should “read” a student like a text. One function of education is to help the student find her/his voice and express her/his personal narrative. Reading good literature helps.

What’s a “preceptor”? The intent is to do more than just “advise” the student on how to get through college and maybe get a job. A preceptor fills some functions of a mentor, with an interest in personal growth as well as academic success.

Without re-typing the whole list, a few comments…

Two of the books on the list (Billiards at Half-Past Nine by H Boell and The Assault by H Mulisch) were translated from German and Dutch, respectively. Surely a College that focuses on Global Awareness should encourage students to read works that are translated, and to think about the impact translation may have had on the narrative. (Wouldn’t it be great if students studied languages deeply enough to undertake some translation?) 

This led me to ponder how much (or little) I read in translation. Since I started this blog (ten months ago), I’ve read two short novels by C Aira translated from Spanish. In the past, I read the works of Jorge Amado and G G Marquez. That’s it! I’ve only read works translated from Spanish, which I never studied. (Maybe I will think of something else… I know I’ve read a few books from China.) Should I look for translated works? From the languages I’ve studied, or others? Does “authenticity” translate?

Trama cheated a little with his list. He included three works by Margaret Atwood and two each by Walker Percy and Hilary Mantel. The Handmaid’s Tale scared me so much I never read anything else by Atwood. Maybe now I could handle it. The Robber Bride sounds interesting and was described as humorous. 

Trama said if you want to read a distinctive female voice, try Hilary Mantel, so I put her Wolf Hall trilogy onto my personal list. Can’t get too much historical fiction. 

My teaching and preceptoring days are past, but I spend enough time with teens and young adults to feel that books like these are well worth my while (and I’m always looking for a good read). Thank you, Richard Trama!

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