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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Not just good, but necessary'
This impressive extensively (both desk and field) researched work has received endorsements from Philip Pullman ('Her work is not just good - it's necessary'), Theodore Zeldin ('one of our most poetic and passionate critics... provocative, illuminating and shamelessly romantic'), as well as John Berger, KT Tunstall, Niall Griffiths and Iain McGilchrist. So I don't need to...
Published 15 months ago by annz

versus
4 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear
What a load of unbelievable twaddle and mass generalisation. One to avoid, but do read the reviews as they are hillarious.
Published 15 months ago by [Unknown]


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Not just good, but necessary', 4 May 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
This impressive extensively (both desk and field) researched work has received endorsements from Philip Pullman ('Her work is not just good - it's necessary'), Theodore Zeldin ('one of our most poetic and passionate critics... provocative, illuminating and shamelessly romantic'), as well as John Berger, KT Tunstall, Niall Griffiths and Iain McGilchrist. So I don't need to add much here except to say that they are right. This book is not a dispassionate survey, but an engaged and engaging literary experience, which takes you both back to your own childhood, and around the childhood and kith across the globe. It's exhilarating, reflective and poetic. Simply outstanding.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an important book. read it., 21 Jun 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
I always get the sense when I am reading something by Jay Griffiths that what she is saying is very important and needs to be heard. Badly. I had that feeling strongly with her previous book `Wild' and this book `Kith' gives me the same feeling.
If you are a parent (as I am), you must put away your parental worries when you read this book (and all the 'well I can't possibly do that!' reactions) because this is not a manual (she is clear about that) and is not about parents and what they do/don't do. It is about the much wider picture of how society in the west has shifted and what affect that is having on childhood, children - and their parents. It is as much about the need to re-evaluate and listen to the voices of the romantic movement once again and the idea that our world has become dominated by left brain thinking - the left brain being the side of the brain that is busy with analysis, detail and organising - to the detriment of the right brain which perceives the wider patterns, the deeper relationships between things and the connections between ourselves and our world. (and if you want corroboration of this see this extraordinary talk by a neuroscientist who had a left brain stroke http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html)
Jay Griffiths speaks of the history of the politics of land enclosure, of the separation from the land, the gradual enclosure of childhood in houses and bedrooms and the triumph of consumerism that likes children in their houses so toys and electronics replace rivers, dens, woods, snails, bugs, sticks and dirt. She speaks of a society that encourages us to keep babies distant when they most need closeness and then creates the conditions that means older children are enclosed when they most need to roam, play, imagine, take risks, learn and mature. She clearly has a deep love and respect for and understanding of children and all their ways and the importance of childhood for the health of our society.
This is a book for everyone not just parents. For everyone has been a child and we all live in this society and are concerned for its future. And this is a piece of literature as well, carefully researched, carefully crafted, well written. Her arguments draw on literature and research as well as her own (considerable!) experiences in other cultures, her own childhood and those of the many children she knows. I find her writing very unique in that it is deeply passionate and poetic as well as intellectually rigorous. Some people will find it hard to cope with. It will make some people angry I expect. A true voice often does. Read it with an open heart and mind. But above all read it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An astounding book, 8 May 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
Kith is a shattering, uplifting, terrifying, fascinating book. Reading it, I found myself overwhelmed by a mixture of loss, anger and understanding. When Griffiths makes the connection between the enclosure of the land and the enclosure of childhood, it triggers one of those rare moments of enlightenment in which so much that seemed hazy or incomprehensible before suddenly makes sense. From then onwards, as the story built, I found myself profoundly shaken by the madness of the ways in which we have treated children and - through their continuing exclusion from public spaces, through the detached parenting of babies which some childcare gurus still preach, through the enclosure and marshalling of childrens' time, through their recruitment as consumers and brand ambassadors and many other forms of neglect and imposition - treat them still. Kith is a plea for freedom, for experimentation, discovery, wonder, delight and joy at the time of life when all these things should come - and be offered - naturally, and we should heed it.

It is beautifully, astonishingly written: almost one long poem. It will sweep you up and bundle you away.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Rallying Cry for Childhood, 5 May 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
I loved this book - it's so full of energy and insight. A really different take on childhood, mixing history, anthropology, memoir, literature and history - it reminded me of what's unique and good about childhood. This is also a work of literature rather than straight up history, and it should be read as a lyrical literary work that requires a sensitive, subtle reader who is able to move beyond the literal. It's a special book, a rollicking read, an emotional polemic, a rallying cry, a passionate look back at the Romantic poets, and a brave book about what makes our childhoods important, throughout our lives. I highly recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another bravura performance from Jay Griffiths, 19 Aug 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
Griffiths is a unique voice in literature. With a ferocious and fearless intellect she dissects our political landscape. So far, so impressive. But it is her visionary insight into fundamental human truths that touches the nerve. And it is her beauteous facility with language that brackets her works with those of great literature.

Griffiths describes why we all - and, most punishingly, children - fail to thrive when deprived of our 'kith'. Why the lack of connection to, and freedom in, our land throttles an essential wellspring of the human animal.

The startling insights in 'Kith' cannot properly be described, however, by any reductionist précis. It is rather the sensitivity of Griffiths' observations which are transformative, having the ability to take us to places we had forgotten we knew. For example:

"A hush surrounds the daydreaming child, a different kind of air; as if the nearby air of the ordinary had evaporated into the air which the soul breathes..."

transported me from the de-sensitivity of adulthood to again experience the wondering, entranced reverie which we felt as children when our minds drifted magically and without boundary over all that is known and unknown.

Or again:

"Before a mirror had meaning, before my skin was a boundary, I remember nature as if it were inside me. Birds sang and I heard it inside. It snowed: I snowed. It rained: I rained... I was all the world and all the world was me"

vividly conjures the Zen state that children naturally experience, and adults in deep meditation attain, on transcending the crude and artificial dualism of subject/object.

This work is, like Griffiths' other books, an exposition of rare beauty because it is transformative, re-opening our hearts to the truths of life which we buried far, far away when we stopped being all the world and tried to be an 'adult'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and impassioned polemic, 3 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
I was in a Sámi hut in Northern Norway, in a disparate group gathered around a fire, listening to stories. A local man stood up, and announced that he was leaving but wasn’t going to say goodbye. “When Sámi go out into their landscape” he said, “we do not need to say goodbye – because we are still at home”.

His comment resonates strongly with the ideas explored by Jay Griffiths in this compelling and impassioned polemic. Kith is a concept now largely forgotten, but which should, she argues, be at the centre of our lives. It relates to our natural space, our personal habitat, our way of living in relation to landscape and the natural world. It is what that Sámi man called “home”.

Most reviewers of Kith have concentrated less on this title, and more on the subtitle – The Riddle of the Childscape. As a result, Kith has tended to be reviewed as if it is a book primarily about childhood – an answer to the “riddle” Griffiths poses at the outset of her discussion: why are contemporary Western children so unhappy? But to treat the book as a sociological investigation of childhood is to miss the point. Kith is not really about childhood in that sense at all. It’s about kith.

In fact, there are very few ‘real’, contemporary children in the book at all. The children Griffiths discusses are either fictional (Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Philip Pullman’s Lyra, Alice, Dickens’s numerous young heroes and heroines, adventurers in Narnia) or the carefully re-constructed childhood selves of Romantic writers (Wordsworth, Clare, and Griffiths herself). Kith is an exploration of childhood not as a current lived experience but as a phenomenon in cultural history. It deals with the relationship between the social and cultural construction of childhood and the concomitant construction (or perhaps, destruction) of landscape and kith.

Enclosure, the inexorable process by which Western culture has asserted private ownership over common land, and simultaneously constrained the literal and imaginative wanderings and wonderings of creative minds both young and older, is at the core of the book. Griffiths’ chapter on John Clare is particularly powerful, and she places herself in the lineage of this most sensitive of rural poets and radical fighters against enclosure – bravely so, given the tragedy of Clare’s later life. We must, she seems to say, be brave enough to be considered insane, if we are to deal with the insane social boundaries that enclose us.

Edward Bond, our greatest living playwright and the first authentic rural voice in British theatre since Shakespeare, also wrote about Clare in his play The Fool – and has argued, like Griffiths, that “we evolved in a biosphere but live in a technosphere”. Bond’s argument, in his Preface to Lear, is that the disjuncture between the human animal and its kith is what explains the irrational violence which has come to define human behaviour in late capitalism. Griffiths would agree with him. Indeed, the most important sections of her book are those which chart the ways in which enclosure and capitalism have asserted themselves over different classes and different cultures through actions of astonishing brutality. She catalogues the appalling violence perpetrated against children from indigenous cultures in the name of “progress” – the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Australians, the systematic abuse of Native children in the Canadian Residential Schools. “Civilization” (the word is derived from the Latin for “city”) is about removing people from the land, systematically destroying their culture, deliberately suppressing their imaginations.

It’s neo-imperialist ideology, not Griffiths, that aligns non-Western cultures with childhood and so infantilises the indigenous. Not, I suspect, that Griffiths or the indigenous people whose cultures she so admires would particularly mind. For me, the danger in Griffiths’ argument is not so much that it infantilises the indigenous, as that it could be seen to follow the very Western paradigm to which it apparently objects. Her narrative of a world in which humanity lived innocent and child-like in relation to nature, until capitalism came along and shut us out of the garden, reads very like a Judeo-Christian account of the Fall. That doesn’t invalidate it, of course, and Griffiths acknowledges that as a Western writer she is bound to carry within her some of the very thought structures she seeks to question and to overthrow – but I would have liked to see a more honest confrontation of this, and an engagement with indigenous perspectives on the same question. The Cree writer Tomson Highway has written brilliantly about the Judeo-Christian lapsarian narrative from an indigenous perspective: arguing that original sin was never a concept in Native American culture, and that therefore the “untamed” landscapes of his own kith, Northern Canada, represent an ongoing relationship with natural space that is a form of Eden: “we are still in the garden”. His ideas would sit well with Griffiths’ argument, and counter the possible objection that she follows, or imposes, Western structures.

I need hardly say that Kith is intensely provocative. That’s the point. The case it makes, building on her previous work, the brilliant Wild, is extreme. It is also irrefutable. And it begs the question that I hope Griffiths may address in her next book – now that we find ourselves in this appalling mess, what can we do? How do we fight our way back to a relationship with nature? How do we stop prioritising “economic growth”, and create a space for the personal growth, imaginative and spiritual, of our children?

So far, this sad, clear-sighted author has only begged these questions, not answered them.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How children matter, 4 Jun 2013
This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
I love this book. It's wise and generous, passionate, evocative and moving, with a real warmth towards children and childhood.
To support her case that modern western children are too often over-controlled and over-confined, whether by fearful parents or cynical marketing, Jay Griffiths assembles an impressive array of almost 350 references, from fairy tales and folklore to sociological and anthropological research. It's a massive achievement, all the more so for being at once lucid, persuasive, eloquent and readable. At times it's personal and poetic, too, a celebration of imagination infused with a real magic.
In a key passage, she states: "Those who would overrule a child's will ... fear disobedience and disorder. ... The true opposite of obedience is not disobedience but independence. The true opposite of order is not disorder but freedom. The true opposite of control is not chaos but self-control."
It's proving to be a polarising book, one which has flushed out prejudices in certain reviewers who don't seem to have read it properly. But I saw her at the Hay Festival last week hold an audience of 500 and I saw the queue for her to sign copies of her book afterwards. Kith has touched those who have allowed it to reach out to them. It is a book which will last and grow.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'Kith' from a rose., 7 May 2013
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This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
A Script Editor (whose seminar I was on recently) who worked on 'Four Weddings', 'Trainspotting' and 'The Full Monty' wrote, "Storytelling is the most important job in the world - BAR NONE!". I nodded and blithely agreed, only to be sharply reminded of this statement whilst reading Jay Griffiths new book 'Kith'.

"If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood." --Peter Handke

In 'Kith', there is confirmation of that universal truth not only in the subject matter and content and how it relates to children, but also in the use of language and text. Like all great works, it looks effortless, but to be effortless in any art or anything requires consummate skill, patience, wit, wisdom, desire, commitment and will. And that's just for starters.

Griffiths can take a loose thread most cannot see, tug it, unravel it, then knit it back together into a shape that we recognise and exclaim, "I knew this, I felt this, but I could not articulate it". Griffiths can see, like the Greeks of old, the 'two worlds' as Joseph Campbell said. The invisible world of myth and story and adventures and the world that we live in, and further how the invisible one gives support to the visible, as we support ourselves and our children. At least we used to. She does not suggest it is dead and buried, but that we are set on a path that is separating our children from their natural environment and will give them little or no regard from where they sprung. Frankly we've been doing this since the Industrial Revolution and though great the rewards have been, we need to recall our past through the ways of those who came before us and who knew wisdom.

There were times I admit, when reading it, that it reminded me of my own behaviour towards teenagers sometimes. I cringed, not unlike Arthur Smith when he cringed (from behind the sofa) watching 'The Office'. It was too close to the truth. How easily we forget our own difficult teenage years.

You may agree with much Griffiths says, you may not. You may argue with the figures her research provides, you may not. No matter. I would contend that what she does, like 'Wild', is to prick our consciousness and warn us that our consumerism is all lifestyle is slowly drowning our children's ability to learn by success AND failure, (with our support) and like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, we should allow them to find their own way into the forest and emerge from it grown, mature and ready to give back the prize they won to the community.

I read reviews and hear debates where 'Kith' is described as 'Romantic', as if that in itself was a fault, nay, a disease of some kind.

So the heart is just a pump then?

Not so. Poets and writers from those 'Romantic' eras were aware of the hearts ability to be the 2nd brain and a source of love and intuition which latest research shows that the heart cannot lie, though the brain may deny. Its rather like saying that Griffiths book is too 'Indigenous'. She does not suggest we rigidly follow every act they do, but that we reconcile some of their wisdom with our own and reflect that in the way we are with our children.

Whilst there is no single panacea to our ills, the manner in which Jay writes, urges, how we may raise our children, and that may just be our saving grace.

I read of a school in Mass. USA that had a terrible record and had a prison feel to it. Yet another head comes in to sort it out. He rids the school of security guards etc. and replaces them with art/music teachers. Its a different school. Not perfect but heading in the right direction.

Sir Ken Robinson (who knows a thing or two about children) ends one of his talks about childhood education with a Yeats poem, the last two lines being 'I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.'

Jay Griffiths romantic? I hope so. More power to her elbow. Buy 'Kith' and be 'bewitched, bothered and be-wild-ered'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wake up!!, 9 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
Essential reading full stop!

Beautifully written and easy to read, this book speaks to the depths of your soul, where you know truth is being spoken. Some would label me a middle class English Mum (if it is their want to label), and this is the world Jay is writing about; fear riddled adults as good as incarcerating children, blind to the damage this treatment can cause to long term mental, emotional and physical health.

As individuals we have much work to do in changing the way we think. Only when we achieve this will we be able to give children what they really need in order to be healthy in all respects and this book is a kick start, clarion call to wake up and do that essential work! Thank you Jay, wise, wise soul.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and original, 7 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (Hardcover)
The author has a totally original approach. She combines an incredible intellect with compassion and empathy and a way of using words that's quite stunning.

This book could change the way people approach education and child rearing.

What a book - plenty of facts, but drawn together to give food for thought.

Very very strongly recommended.
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Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape by Jay Griffiths (Hardcover - 2 May 2013)
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