CAE Reading and Use of English Part 8
You are going to read an article in which four academics give their views on fiction. For questions 47-56, choose from the sections of the article (A-D). The sections may be chosen more than once. When more than one answer is required, these may be given in any order.
Which academic …
47 compares books to other story-telling art forms?
48 admits to gaps in their literary knowledge?
49 suggests a possible consequence of not reading novels?
50 points out that opinion about a book depends on the period in which it is being judged?
51 explains why readers sometimes choose to read books which are not considered classic works of literature?
52 believes that it is possible to improve any novel?
53 gives reassurance about people whose choice of reading is limited?
54 says that no-one should feel obliged to read a particular type of book?
55 gives another writer’s opinion on why people enjoy reading literature?
56 defends their right to judge particular types of novels?
Why Do We Read Novels?
We asked a group of academics for their views on the appeal of fiction
A Cathy Smith
Is a work by a prize-winning novelist better than a trashy summer blockbuster? Undoubtedly, if you’re looking for a literary masterpiece. But it’s not ‘better’ if you’re simply looking for escapism. ‘Literary fiction’, unlike ‘genre fiction’ such as mystery or romance, is not about escaping from reality. Instead it provides a means to better understand the world. What makes a work deserve the title of literary fiction can be pinned down, to a certain extent, by critical analysis of the writer’s techniques. Yet a huge element of the appeal of literary fiction lies in something almost indefinable – the brilliant, original idea; the insight that, once written down, seems the only way to say something. Writers of fiction have to recruit or seduce us into their world – only then do we trust them to take us on a journey with them. The books we put down after only a few pages are those which have failed to make that connection with us.
B Matteo Bianco
A novel – whether for adults or children – takes you places, emotionally and imaginatively, which you would never otherwise have visited. However, I don’t think you should put yourself under any more pressure to finish ‘a classic’ than a kids’ comic. And if by ‘classics’ we mean Tolstoy, Proust, Hardy and so on, then my own reading is distinctly patchy. The author Martin Amis once said that the only way we have of evaluating the quality of a book is whether it retains a readership. I think that’s fair enough, though it’s imprecise. A work of fiction can always be fine-tuned in such a way that the final experience for the reader is enhanced, and this fact must say something about the theoretical (if not practical) possibility of stating that one book is better than another. And while I can’t prove that a single copy of a classic work of fiction is a greater gift to the world than a million trashy romances, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s so anyway.
C Gita Sarka
The author Albert Camus says that the appeal of narrative art lies in its power to organise life in such a way that we can reflect on it from a distance and experience it anew. Distinct from television or film, literature allows us significant control over our experience of what’s being presented to us. One book I would always tell anyone to read is The Life and Times of Michael K. – a literary prize winner, but hated by some of my colleagues. It’s a classic for me because of what it says about living in difficult times; to a lot of people it’s just a bit boring and the main character doesn’t speak enough. Categories such as ‘literary masterpieces’ and even ‘literature’ do not exist independently of their assessors – assessors who are bound in an era and see value in part through the eyes of that era. Personally, I find it impossible to make claims that one work is better than another. I can say why it might be worthwhile to study it, but that’s all.
D George C. Schwarz
If, at a certain time in their life a person is interested in just one particular genre or author, that’s fine as long as they have the opportunity of reading a wide range of books throughout their lives. These opportunities can come through family members, teachers and friends who can create the reading landscape and encourage them to look wider and further. A famous writer once said that it’s easy to recognise the people who don’t read fiction, as their outlook on life is narrower and less imaginative, and they find it hard to put themselves in other people’s shoes. It’s a generalisation, but with elements of truth. The power of fiction begins with fairy tales, nursery rhymes and picture books, which give children ways of looking at the world outside their own experience. Literature teachers often recommend reading ‘the classics’. But what classics, whose and which era? In a way it doesn’t matter – the key point is that one can’t escape from a need for shared references and reading experience.