Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Dying Art Of Reading?

It's World Book Day tomorrow (March 6th). What this means, I've no idea. Except that I suppose it's to celebrate books. Obviously.

As you'll have noticed if you've been here before, I like books. No, I love books. But I have too many, so last week I sold some to a second-hand book shop, for a pittance, but it helped keep the book shop going and as you know they're dying out. So it seems.

I won't blather on about how books are sacred and Kindle is shite. What's the point? People make their choices. But books from the past as objects have their obvious merits, not least the reading history you feel when holding them, along with cover art. And their cheapness when bought in a second-hand shop. Unless, like me, you also have a penchant for books deemed pricier than average by book-sellers.

It's futile to moan about books themselves dying out because what will be will be, although I don't think they will ever die out completely. Until us old-fashioned readers have all gone. And new generations either only read books on screen or just don't read anything except posts on the social network. There's a thought. Perhaps that's happening already. If you're raised on tweets and posts a book must seem daunting.

In October 2013 English 16 to 24-year-olds came 22nd out of 24 countries measured for literacy levels by the OECD. (The Survey of Adult Skills, OECD, October 2013). At least we're in front of The Kingdom of the Blind and America (joke! - my American friends). Is this down to the social network? Well, don't the countries who are ahead of us have computers? Only Germany are ahead of the UK when it comes to internet use. I wonder what their literacy rate is like. Perhaps all this explains the popularity of the Harry Potter books.

Not that I was reading Tolstoy when I was at school. I can't remember what I did read, which suggests I read very little. It was only when I left school and fell in with a crowd which included some bookish types that my serious reading began. Had I stayed in the village since then I'd probably own every Harry Potter book today.

The danger with advocating reading for the sake of it is that kids will always read literature for kids, even when they're adults. But they have to start somewhere. Perhaps they will only change course when they meet those who have already done so, as I did. Unfortunately, looking at those stats, this does not bode well for future generations. Who will be left to open doors leading to stranger, deeper, more interesting literature?

If it's about who you hang out with, surely there must be cliques around today who read books, just as there was in my day. Peer pressure in this respect is a good thing. You had to have read Kerouac, Sartre etc. But it was also about music. Whilst no genre dominated, the fact that we were all going to see The Clash, Human League, The Jam and so on meant something.

Don't get me wrong, it's not as if we were all super-literate and hip in our music taste, but reading and listening were bound together. At least in music I had a head start. It was, after all, a passion I found easier to embrace than reading. That's true of every generation, of course. What kids today are passionate about musically I do not know. I'm more curious about what constitutes an underground scene amongst teenagers. And do they read certain authors?

With everything available to them today via the internet they should be exploring, with ease, sounds it took us years to find. Here comes the old idea...that's the problem, ease of access and surfeit of sound. Like kids in a sweet shop - what to choose?! There's a lot of truth in that, no doubt. When it's all one click away, where's the sense of satisfaction that we derived from having to research, read, learn from others, then hunt the damned album down?

Anyway, to celebrate World Book Day tomorrow I'll be posting some Art from this...

Hopefully I'll be able to find some work that isn't already on the internet. Trust me, it's an amazing book.


  1. Oh, where to start?! Well, you've said it for me... but still I have to comment in agreement. So many good points articulated here, thanks. And that's a shocking statistic about literacy.
    Books are very close to my heart too, not least because I illustrate them and I thrive on the thought that they may be at least play a part in nurturing a love of books as things to keep and of reading, words and pictures in the very young... I just hope it's not all futile...


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