Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Engaging With the Text - John Dougherty

I don’t know if you’ve read Daniel Pennac’s marvellous The Rights of the Reader? If not, take a look at the list of rights on the back cover:

Terrific, aren’t they? I’m tempted to add them to my son’s face in indelible marker, just for those moments when I start to do that Dad Thing of assuming I know better than he does about what, when or how he should be reading.

I’ve been thinking lately that I might add an eleventh right, too:

11. The right to engage with the text however the reader jolly well pleases.

And - with a sychronicitous nod to Miriam Halahmy’s post of yesterday - I’ve been thinking about this because of Oliver Twist.

This is where I add in a photo of my son dressed as The Artful Dodger. His school put on a production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! a few weeks ago, and I’m being as objective as it’s possible for a proud dad to be when I say that he was an absolute star. I’m guessing one of the reasons he was so good was that he was completely absorbed by the part from the moment he decided to try out - I even caught him singing his audition piece in his sleep. We watched the 1968 film as our Friday night family movie, went to see the Cameron Mackintosh production at the Bristol Hippodrome with Neil Morrissey as Fagin and Samantha Barks as Nancy, and talked about it endlessly - not just the rehearsals, but the script, the songs, the teachers’ possible reasons for casting decisions, the props, the costumes, the characters…

...and when it was all over, it wasn’t over. Not for us. A few days after the triumphant closing night and the end of term, we drove to Germany for a week with friends. And what was my son’s choice of audio-book for the trip? Oliver Twist, of course. Which is interesting, because previous attempts at listening to Dickens on long journeys haven’t been entirely successful. Now, though, as soon as one disc ended, he wanted the next one on. More than that, he brought our copy of the book with him and, as the audio-book played, dipped into it from time to time, comparing the spoken story with what was written and spotting abridgements. Then, as the story progressed, came the detail and plot-lines left out of the musical - the original story is much longer, and more complex - and the realisation that some lines belonging to one character in the book are given to another on the stage.

Would I have liked him to just sit down and read the original Dickens? Well, yes, I would. But I can’t escape the feeling that he’s got so much more out of the story doing it his way.


A Wilson said...

An inspiring post, John! My children would definitely accuse me of assuming I know more than they do when it comes to what to read. But I too have found that drama can lead them into things I would never have thought of suggesting. Our most recent experience tallies with yours in that my son is looking at A Midsummer Night's Dream at school: reading it, acting it, watching parts of the film. We took him to the Old Vic in Bristol to see the latest adaptation by Handspring Puppet Company (of War Horse fame) and it brought the story to life in a new, imaginative (and in parts, wholly unexpected!) way.

Lari Don said...

I loved the list of readers' rights, and might add one of my own - the right to be bored by bits the author thought were essential or atmospheric or good for showing off their research. I know it's probably the same as 'the right to skip', but it's something I always try to remember when I'm writing. Just because I think something I've researched is interesting, doesn't mean I have the right to bore my reader with it. Or they might exercise their right to put the book down and not pick it up again!

Juxtabook said...

Great list and a great post. I know a good confident reader who clings to the books she already knows and won't start anything new. I stopped being a purist and started buying her the films and audio versions (and the great BBC dramatisations for radio) and she will have a go eventually at reading things she has experienced in another medium. As you say, how they jolly well please is a good motto!