lunes, 13 de octubre de 2014

Justicia Divina (Divine Justice). Francisco Haghenbeck.

For the first group of reading sessions, we provided the secondary school students in our study with the text: Justicia Divina (Divine Justice) by Francisco Haghenbecki, a successful Mexican author with a long trajectory in the world of graphic narrative. This book was published by the Department of Literature of the Iberoamericana University, a unusual case, as there are those who believe that academic insititutions only edit works of theory or criticism.

What is Justicia Divina? As indicated in the Prologue by Alberto Chimal, it is a ‘hybrid story’, between a written and graphic narrative in which the author makes an ironic and parodic construct of supernatural stories, underneath which lie legends and horror stories. However, this text convokes not only ghosts and phantoms, it also flirts with our reality and its problems, everyone knows about the violence that is afflicting Mexico and how it particularly targets young people. The protagonist is a witness of the fears and terrors of our days and of our nights, as the text rightly puts it: ‘this city already has its own spectres: assaults, police, kidnappings, authorities […] today the price of the dollar is this is more frightening than the Coco.’ (27). The Coco is one of the legendary apparitions that appear in the book, along with the Llorona, the Mad Monk, the Goatsucker, the Wolf Man and the Female Vampire.ii Victor Serrano Bellosilo, our principal narrator, represents himself: ‘I am a conservative, Catholic, virgin and I like Luis Miguel,iii I know, I am fucked for life. But I can’t aspire to anything more. Not only was I born with a dark gift but with the stigma of being middle class.’ (12)

The ironic spirit floods the textul paths of the text, as well as the streets, buildings and dives represented in a game of mirrors that reformulates reality. The creator weaves his story with ambiguity, ruptured forms and genres. For example, the author deconstructs the prototipical image of the Devil, in a way that entertains and alerts the reader to the absurd transcendence of the relevations that the demon makes to Victor, who later comments:

He didn’t tell me anything new. I was expecting that he would resolve my life, that he would explain to me the reason of my gift. The reason why life laughs at us. But like everyting bad, the only reason is just because. But I understood why they call him the Devil… he left me with the bill for a capuchino for a hundred pesos.iv And those prices really are sinful. (95)

When Justicia Divina was presented this year, at the Feria de Mineriav in the D.F. in the Salon de la Academia, it was full of young people who knew the author and wanted to find out about his new book, in fact, almost all the copies were sold. Haghenbeck dedicated the text to everyone who bought it, drawing a picture of Victor, the detective of the paranomal (his alter ego) who speaks wth both the dead and the living.

This effect on Haghenbeck’s readers led us to select this text for the student in this project and although we expected they would like it, we were still suprised by their reaction. We had asked them to read the first sequence only, but when we went to speak to them we found that three of them had alredy finished the book and were talking about it with great enthusiasm, infecting their peers. It had caused them to laugh, they had understood the allusions to the bad guys and the sinister dark worlds which they represent, in fact, one of the boys commented that this book was about both ‘the fears by day and the fears by night’. From their enjoyment of the text, comprehension was derived in a natural and simple manner and, above all, it was appropriated into their lives and their own worlds.

i Haghenbeck, F. 2013. Justicia Divina. Mexico, D.F.: Universidad Iberoamericana.

ii All of these are ghosts or monsters from Mexican legends: the ‘Coco’ is a Bogeyman used to threaten naughtly children; the Llorona is a woman who wanders the streets crying for her dead children; the Goatsucker does just that, it is a monster that sucks the life out of goats!

iii Luis Miguel is one of the most successful pop singers in Latin America.

iv About 10USD

v An international book fair in Mexico City.

sábado, 4 de octubre de 2014

Reading is "very much important"

Reading is “very much important”

This opinion about reading was written by a young girl of 14 who participated in our reading survey. In the questionnaire, we asked them to write their opinion about reading. The idea that reading is “important” is reflected in the majority of the opinions given by the 250 respondents, students in second and third year from two government secondary schools.

So, according to them, why is reading “very much” important? We still do not have the exact statistics, but it is obvious that for the majority, reading is important mainly as a tool to “read better”, “learn”, “obtain knowledge/information”, “develop comprehension”, “write correctly”, “help with spelling” or “with cultural benefits”. There were only a few mentioned that it was “fun” or whose answers reflected a sense of enjoyment or pleasure. Other replies simply indicated that it was “boring”, “not for me” and/or that they did not “have time” to spend with books.

These opinions about reading are almost identical to those expressed by the 90 young people who participated in the original study and replied to the same request when the questionnaire was applied in 1992. This is what I wrote in the thesis when I analysed these opinions:

Although these opinions are brief, the contradictions and the repetition of certain words and ideas are significant, like the words "useful" and "knowledge". The adjectives used most frequently were "boring", "interesting" and "nice"; the verbs were "serve", "teach" and "learn" and the object of these actions were "culture", "knowledge", "vocabulary" and "spelling". These opinions seem to reflect the idea that reading is a means to achieve an objective and not an end in itself, in Rosenblatt's terms, they are talking about "efferent" reading.* These comments show that adolescents recognized reading as "useful" and equated books with school activities and boredom. There seems to be an almost total identification of reading as a curricular activity, as an obligation, but not as an activity that can be fun and entertaining.

Almost 25 years later, this scenario is repeated, although it seems that the issue of “having time” to read has become more problematic: at that point in time, reading competed mainly with television; now it also competes with the computer, digital social networks, cell phones, films and/or videos, i-pods and other music gadgets and videogames, among others. In what appears to be a contradiction, many young people wrote that they read when they were “bored” and had nothing else to do.

These results are not particularly surprising, what is surprising is that there are some young readers who take the time to read a book and have a favorable opinion of this activity, not because it is “useful”, but because of the enjoyment they derive from it. This pleasure is manifested mainly in the word “fun” and the idea that it stimulates the imagination. In the more recent survey, the responses that help us understand what they mean by this are the ones in which they describe why they liked a certain book, in other words, the responses that don’t refer to the “importance” of reading but to a “significant” text. These usually more elaborate replies were about particular books that had a personal significance, whether this was about relationships with others, their own search for identity, questions about life (or death), among the other things that preoccupy an adolescent in the 21st century, but that also preoccupied young people nearly a quarter of a century ago. Significant texts provoked their curiosity, took them “to the world of fantasy”; involved their emotions and feelings; and had to do with “identifying” with the characters or distracting them from their problems. Once again, the replies are almost identical to those mentioned in the original survey.

In the original study, I worked with young people who described themselves as reading only “a little”. We read and discussed three YA books, selected with the idea that they were about themes that could interest them, with characters their age and accessible language. These were the Spanish translations of The World of Ben Lighthart by Jaap ter Haar (1983, Ediciones SM); Don’t Ask for Sardines out of Season  by Andreu Martin y Jaume Ribera (1988, Alfaguara) and The Thief  by Jan Needle (1993, Fondo de Cultura Económica). Almost all the participants expressed their liking for these books. They found them “fun” and “entertaining” mostly because they had been able to relate to or become involved with the characters in some way. This is what I wrote in the conclusion of the thesis:

The most satisfying result of the research was that a few students manifested a pleasure in having finished and enjoyed a book and a desire to continue reading.

In the next blogs we will write not only about the more specific results of the survey but also about the three books that we chose for our current research. One of the differences between the projects is that in the first one all three were novels but in the current one, two of the texts have images, one is a graphic novel and one is a picturebook. We have started reading the graphic novel and so far it has been a success. Several readers have described it as “cool”. As Juan Domingo Argüelles,  editor and also author of many essays on  reading, said at one of the panel discussions during the IBBY Congress in Mexico, “if a kid says that a book is ‘cool’, you’ve done it”.

The question is, then, can a book be “very much important” and “cool” at the same time?

*Rosenblatt, L.M. (1978). The Reader, the Text and the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press.