I have just finished reading the “Rabbit” tetralogy by John Updike. At over 1500 pages, this had been a marathon read. I had read the first of the four novels, Rabbit Run, as a young man, but had not read any other of his works since, before I tackled reading the whole set a little earlier this year.
After John Updike died earlier this year, I was prompted to read his work again. I bought a single volume from Amazon Japan called Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels. The novels, written at 10 yearly intervals, cover the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. The four books: Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux. Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest follow a similar time-scale.
I had planned to read the novels over a few months, taking a rest between each, reading other books in between (I am always in the process of reading a book, usually a novel). However, once I was involved in Rabbit Angstrom’s life I was totally hooked; I couldn’t think of reading anything else. These works are so brilliantly written and so much created a life of the characters and their surroundings in my mind that I couldn’t wait to get back to the book whenever I had a chance, and read the books one after another. The problem is that now I’ve finished the whole set, and I really miss them. They have left a hole in my heart.
As you may have guessed, I am mad about literature. I often really feel blue when I get to the end of a novel that I have really enjoyed. Recently, I have been reading several American authors (as well as my usual dose of the English Classics – Dickens in particular) that I would highly recommend. These include Updike, Cormac McCarthy, John Cheever and Donna Tartt.
My Japanese wife めぐみ, is also an avid reader of English literature, and I think that this is the reason that her English is so good (apart from my Japanese being so bad).
Because I have always felt that reading literature is an important part of becoming confident and fluent in a language, I tried to introduce some of my more advanced students to this in my days as a coffee shop English teacher (before I became owner/teacher of my English School, Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi スミス英会話川西校). I introduced them to some Sherlock Holmes adventures by Arthur Conan Doyle. I felt that these were well written and short enough not to tax my students excessively. However, they came to the next lesson with the first page of the story full of highlights where they couldn’t understand what was written. Even one of my best students at my school, who often brings articles from the internet or newspapers, finds there are usually several phrases that he cannot understand.
What makes English, and especially(but not exclusively) written English, so difficult to understand, even after the basics of grammar have been grasped, is the frequent use of phrases and idioms. What confuses students is that often the words don’t mean what they literally say. Recently I have introduced the use of idioms and phrases into the lessons of my more advanced students. Although it isn’t possible to teach more than a small fraction of these phrases, it has proved useful and valuable for the students to start to understand English usage. It also increases the enjoyment of English conversation. After all, it is the use of idiom that makes English such a rich and rewarding language.
(Did you spot the idioms I dropped in above?)
Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi