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Jody Skinner (Universität Koblenz):
“What more can one want?”

In contrast to the thin volumes in Viewfinder Topics series, the Viewfinder Special is a very thick reader with all the plus points of the Topics series: beautiful layout with loads of full-color photos, illustrations, cartoons, charts; interesting articles, excerpts from literature and drama, factual reports of varying difficulty; exercises and suggestions for projects that are a boon for the beginning teacher and a welcome aid for experienced instructors wondering how to jazz up their lessons; a level of English that is simply unsurpassed among books published in Germany.

The one minus point is found on the very first page and is practically the only sentence in German in the whole book: "Lese- und Arbeitsbuch für die gymnasiale Oberstufe." Hopefully the Lektoren and very few tenured Räte who are most often responsible for cultural studies courses at German universities will simply ignore this badly placed subtitle and still use the book in their courses instead of bombarding their students with photocopies. I have my students buy the books at the beginning of the Cultural Studies I seminar here in Koblenz and continue using it in preparation for their lessons through the Proseminar and Hauptseminar. Since in my classes the students do most of the teaching (a method I learned during my undergraduate days at St. John's College and learned anew from Jean-Pol Martin's Lernen-durch-Lehren technique), they are also required to buy the superb teacher's book, which for some strange reason is the only title in the entire Viewfinder family with a German title: Viewfinder Special Lehrerhandreichungen. You have to order the teacher's book directly from the publishers, but the extra postage is worthwhile.

Not only does the teacher's book supply very useful background information, suggested answers to some of the exercises, a guide to using the material in the classroom but also contains legally copy-able information sheets about everything from a short history of the Internet with multimedia vocabulary to national newspapers in Britain to an up-to-date discussion of gun control laws in the U.S. Much of the information in the Lehrerhandreichungen is taken from the corresponding Resource Books, the companion books to the Viewfinder Topics, books which however anyone can easily buy from their local bookstore. Suggestion to the publisher: please make the Lehrerhandreichungen easily available to everyone, too. I really can't see any danger of sneaky pupils at German Gymnasien buying the book with the hope of getting the right answer before the teacher does!

The Viewfinder Special reader is made up of selected articles from the Topics series. I can't always see the reasoning behind the selection and look in vain for some of my favorite articles from, say, in the Religon in the US. or Los Angeles Topics books, so I often have my students purchase those Topics volumes that deal with topics in the lessons they teach. The editors of the Viewfinder Special haven't just made more or less good choices, they've also updated and expanded some of the information. The map with the states that have English as an official language from the Topics book From Melting Pot to Multiculturalism (see my review in the Neusprachliche Mitteilungen, 1/1996) includes the latest changes. Just one example of the attention to detail that makes the entire Viewfinder Series such a joy to look at. And with the brand new accompanying audio CD the Viewfinder Special is also a joy to listen to: 73 minutes of music from Rule Britannia to Jamaican reggae to Frank Sinatra, excerpts from speeches by Tony Benn, Enoch Powel, the Queen, Jimmy Carter, J.F.K. among others. There's also an accompanying Transcript booklet with all the lyrics and some context information for the excerpts.

The Viewfinder Special is one of the very few books in Cultural Studies that - even for me as an electronic reference fanatic - doesn't really need a CD-ROM. I, too, appreciate beautiful books, and the new web site Linkfinder with all sorts of wonderful Internet links arranged by subject (http://www.langenscheidt.de/linkfinder)* is in effect the fourth part of the Viewfinder Special: Reader, Teacher's Book, Audio CD and Linkfinder web site. Reading, learning, listening, surfing... what more can one want?

FMF Rheinland-Pfalz, Mitteilungsblatt Nr. 7, 1999

*URL updated, April 2004