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  • Help! recommendations please
    by Anna Reynolds at 13:08 on 30 November 2007
    I'm working one-to-one with academic students, helping them with their writing- essays, dissertations, reports etc- and one student has asked me to recommend short novels or short story collections for her to read. The aim is that she will read good grammar without knowing it, it will sink into her subconcious, and lo!- her writing will improve without her having to actually learn grammar rules. Hmm. But it's not a bad idea, to read good correct writing, so I thought I'd ask for recommendations- the problem with reading randomly is that many younger/newer writers/more experiemental people might be great fun/moving etc but not very precise in the grammar department. I thought of Jackie Kay, Jane Gardam, but she is a young and fairly frivolous student so I think she'd appreciate something quite pacy...any suggestions, WWers?
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by NMott at 13:27 on 30 November 2007
    Probably not what she's looking for but I'm currently reading Tarry Pratchet's Wee Free Men - when I can get it off my son. I know it's supposed to be for Young Adults but it's seriously funny.

    As for the premiss of 'learning good grammar just by reading it'. Errr, I'm afraid I don't subscribe to that theory. She'd be far better off buying herself a copy of The Elements of Style, By: William Strunk & E. B. White
    (only 4.49 from amazon) and Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook (6.80) and keeping them by her elbow - just as I have a button on the top of the screen that gets me right through to a dictionary/thesaurus, whenever I'm stuck for a word, rather than pulling out a copy of David Copperfield in the hope I'll come across it at some point.


    oops, Terry Pratchett
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by Anna Reynolds at 13:30 on 30 November 2007
    Naomi, thanks for that. I agree, but the choice isn't either/ or- I didn't make that clear in my original post-it's about her coming to see me and working through grammar problems, but also reading in the meantime - which is something she clearly never, ever does, so how can she understand the need to write things in a certain way? I mean never- she doesn't read papers, books, almost anything that will give her an innate sense of how a good sentence should read, how a comma or a semi colon should be used, etc. It has really surprised me, how few students I'm seeing ever actually read the written word. So their understanding of how something should look/sound is very confused.

    Terry Pratchett good idea. Is it patronising if I suggest something young adult-y? She probably wouldn't even know, but...

    I have a good grammar handbook- What Not To Write- but she found that confusing, so I'm back to showing examples.
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by NMott at 13:41 on 30 November 2007
    Is it patronising if I suggest something young adult-y? She probably wouldn't even know, but...

    Probably, but I would recommend that book to anyone, young or old. However, Terry Pratchett writes a lot of books for adults, so there's a wide choice.
    A good alternative would be Claire Allan's books.

    I would avoid the Classics, though. At this stage, nothing is going to put her off reading faster than a Dickens.


    Oh, she could try the James Herriot books. Each of his chapters is basically a short story.
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by susieangela at 14:10 on 30 November 2007
    A bit off the wall, this, but how's about starting her on audio books? If she listens to the rhythm and pace of a book, a sense of how sentences work might sink in? Depends on whether her learning style is visual, aural or kinaesthetic, I guess.
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by Anna Reynolds at 14:12 on 30 November 2007
    Hmm- could be a good idea actually. Thanks both!
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by nessiec at 14:33 on 30 November 2007
    how about some of Katherine Mansfield's short stories?
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by scotgal at 15:40 on 30 November 2007
    Joanne Harris's short stories are very readable: 'Jigs and Reels' is widely available.

    Or Somerset Maugham?
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by EmmaD at 15:57 on 30 November 2007
    Anthologies of short stories might open her eyes to the different kinds of writing - The Virago book of Love Stories is the one that's caught my eye on my shelf. But yes, Mansfield would be good, because she's so (apparently) plain. William Boyd's prose is good, though I find him slight. Sarah Dunant, Joanna Trollope are both well-written and plainish and easy to get into - depends what she likes, really. If you're trying to get her to read more the last thing you want to do is offer her something that's a struggle for her, even if it is Great Literature.

    I wonder if some well-written non-fiction in whatever subject interests her, or some good journalism, would be a good idea - gets away from the problem of voice. I'm thinking of the best grade of broadsheet columnist? Libby Purves, John Walsh, Andrew Marr, or the leaders.

    Anna, BTW, if she (or others) really wants a good, clear, un-daunting but basic guide to decent writing for students, the English Dept at Goldsmiths is thinking of making this:


    a compulsory must-have book for first years. It has a sibling specially aimed at mature students, too.

  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by NMott at 16:21 on 30 November 2007
    Don't forget the Womans Magazines - preferably the ones with WW members stories in them.

    Plus, Readers Digest and Mills & Boon, (no, seriously).
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by Colin-M at 16:38 on 30 November 2007
    Terry Pratchett is a really good suggestion. People who don't read, read Terry Pratchett. The one that got me hooked, as well as a good few other friends, was Mort. I still think it's his best.

    Another writer popular with people who don't like reading, is James Patterson. The attraction there is very, very short chapters. Most are less than 1000 words, some are half that. You get a great sense of achievement because you fly through the book in no time - not because it's fantastic, but because it doesn't have that many words in.

    I haven't read them all, but I would recommend When the Wind Blows.

    Can't think of any particularly good short story collections that don't come under a heavy "genre" heading - ie Asimov, Stephen Kingolin.


    Stephen King!!! - not sure where the extra letters came from.

    Oh, I know. It must have been my name, then written over, killing the "C". Duh!
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by daisy2004 at 17:13 on 30 November 2007
    As she isn't doing any reading at all, you might try encouraging her to read some textbooks about the subject she is studying! As a lecturer myself, I'm horrified at how little reading some students do: they seem to manage to get through A levels without actually reading any books at all. It puts them at a severe disadvantage when they get to uni.

    I do agree, though, that writing skills are improved by reading. The one thing most good writers have in common is that they are bookaholics. Studying grammar can only go so far, I've found. Without topping it up with lots of reading and lots of writing the knowledge gained by studying grammar doesn't stick.

    I'd encourage her to read a newspaper each day (the uni library will have copies), any professional/specialist magazines related to her studies and/or future career (again the uni library will have loads of stuff) and also get her into reading for pleasure. Short stories or novels would do the trick but I'm loathe to recommend any as they need to match her taste. Perhaps she can ask around and find out what other students are reading. At this stage I'd say anything is better than nothing, so what she reads doesn't have to be brilliant prose. What about the ghostwritten-for-Jordan novel? The Shopaholic series? Fiona Walker's novels? There's also a series of charity anthologies of short stories by chick-lit writers called 'Girls' Night In'.
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by Antarctic at 16:47 on 01 December 2007
    Deborah Moggach
    Stan Barstow
    Graham Greene
  • Re: Help! recommendations please
    by Anna Reynolds at 18:36 on 01 December 2007
    Thanks, people, some great ideas here- so much so, I might put together a handout with an assortment of the fiction and non fiction/audio recommendations, as I'm sure it would be helpful to other students too.