Jeremy Clarkson deemed literary giant by UK libraries

England's Education Secretary Alan Johnson has published a list of tomes intended to catch the interest of teenage boys. Monies have been set aside so that schools can take their pick of 20 titles from the 160 book list, and house those selections in their libraries. Absent from the register are works considered classic, such as Dickens, Shakespeare, or others from literary history. High on the new list is "I Know You Got Soul" by Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson's book, rather than being total fluff, celebrates elegant engineering and design work covering everything from Ferraris to the Hoover Dam. Clarkson delves into the history behind some of his favorite machines, and we would have gladly traded the Car Craft hiding in the leaves of our literature textbooks for Clarkson's work. As such, we fail to see how presenting history and engineering in an engaging manner is going to harm students.
[Source: Daily Mail]

As often happens when you go tinkering with book lists in hopes of engaging new readers, traditionalists are upset. Complaints of dumbing down and catering to a lower common denominator have been lobbed around. It's understandable that there's some trepidation about suggesting more modern works, but we don't recall being too enthralled with verbose Dickens tales or snoozy Jane Austen works when we were teenagers. In fact, there was a lot of sneakily reading books like those on the list while the rest of the class was suffering through some fusty, musty 19th century thing. Understanding and relating to classic works is a time consuming undertaking -- references and historical conditions need to be explained, otherwise the context is lost. It appears Secretary Johnson understands that teenage boys (and perhaps many girls) would get more excited about reading if they had a book they could sink their teeth into. Once they're hooked on reading, it may be easier for them to follow and comprehend the older, more traditional books.

Johnson's list isn't fully devoid of some classics – The Hobbit, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are all there, and we recall devouring the pages of those books as teenagers. The Secretary is an avid reader and hopes his list helps young boys develop a reading habit, which he believes will improve their future prospects. Critics may cry that the list is nothing more than an attempt at being trendy, and that it'll discourage the students from taking literature seriously, but we'll be interested to see how it turns out. We suspect that reading is already not taken seriously by too many teenagers, so this scheme may just work.

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