Tuesday, October 4, 2005

I bought Gombrich's Little History of the World for my sixth graders. I've been looking for such a book for a while, and I was pleased to find one recommended by Philip Pullman. (And such a satisfying design! Such thick and creamy pages & beautiful woodcut illustrations!) I decided to read a bit to them every class, since xeroxing it would be impractical. The first chapter is a bit abstract, and I was afraid that they would find its extended metaphor for history and memory — dropping a burning scrap of paper down a well, and seeing what it lights up — abstruse or tedious. I was so worried that I'm afraid my voice trembled, and I rushed as I finished the chapter. But when I shut the book Viren exclaimed, "Oh my God, that's such a good book!" Patrick: "It's like he's talking to you!" That's exactly the effect Gombrich aims for, and it charmed me when I read it. But when I read it out loud I suddenly became self-conscious; would they find it hokey and condescending? I'm glad they didn't. Viren even appreciated the style: "He's such a good writer! It's really well-worded."

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