Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 27, 2012

A Slow-Books Manifesto (Atlantic Monthly)

I am indebted to my good friend Jenny for bringing my attention to this article by Maura Kelly in the Atlantic.  She makes a compelling argument for the place of literature in our daily lives. I couldn’t agree more.

Sir Gawain and the Green KnightI finished reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to my Year 5 & 6 students today.  It’s taken eight weeks of library lessons – they applauded when we reached the very satisfying conclusion and talked about it with great enthusiasm for ages afterwards.

This is a book that they will remember all their lives.  They will remember the discussions we had about whether Gawain had lived up to his vow to live by the Five Knightly Virtues, and whether these virtues still have any relevance.  They will remember the way I stopped at a cliff-hanger each week and the excitement of coming into the library each week to find out what happens next.  They will remember the powerful language and imagery of Gawain’s arduous quest, his struggle to deal with complex moral issues and his very human response to learning that he wasn’t perfect after all – but none of us are.

That’s what literature offers…


  1. Thanks for the link to Maura Kelly’s article, Lisa. It really puts a smile on my face, as does your lovely anecdote here about your student lessons. It fills me with joy to know that there are teachers and librarians (and teacher/librarians) still keen on promoting a love of literature and providing tools for young people to use.


    • Thank you, Karen, how are things? I know you have been very busy lately, will you get a bit of a break over Easter?


  2. I really want to read this one day. I know you’ve mentioned it several times, and each time it affirms that I need to read it. One day. I’m jealous of your class for having such a wonderful experience, and such a wonderful librarian.


    • If only the federal government would reinstate funding for teacher librarians in primary schools as they used to do, up to about 1980, I think. They built a library for every school, and they paid for trained teacher-librarians who were real experts in literature to staff them. There was a thriving culture of books and reading, and you know, the research shows that schools that have a librarian have better literacy results.
      We need mums and dads to make a fuss about this, and demand it for their kids, because nobody ever takes any notice of what teachers say!


  3. They’re lucky to have you, Lisa. Cheers for the link. John


    • Thanks, John, but the real credit goes to Jenny who found it for me:)


  4. I know of a new york group that has been reading Finnegan wake a page a week or something ,ben okri said something similar a couple of years ago about not full reading at times and we get in habits of reading quickly but maybe not absorbing fully ,all the best stu


    • I’ve got that Finnegan’s Wake on my TBR, Stu, and I reckon I’ll start it this year maybe? I want to finish A Dance to the Music of Time (I’ve nearly finished Movement 2), and then The Bible, properly, and then I’m also set to tackle the Mt Everest of Modernism!


  5. Thanks, Lisa. What a wonderful gift to those children. Yes, we need governments to recognize what the real needs of schools and children.


  6. Maura Kelly’s article is so spot on. And I enjoyed your story about your students. The pleasure of being read to can’t be underestimated.


    • It’s interesting how often you hear adults say that the teachers they liked best were the ones that read them stories…


  7. I didn’t read Gawain til I was at uni so this is a great headstart for kids, learning about one of the classic storylines of literature. No doubt as they get older, good teachers will be able to build on the base you have put in place, so they can recognise themes in writing and start to distinguish elements. Have you ever heard if any of your students have gone on to writing careers Lisa? That would really make your day, I would think.


    • As far as I know none of them have ever gone on to be writers, but one of my students won the Dorothea Mackallar Poetry Prize!


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