Thursday, December 13, 2007

You should read this

Last week, Doris lessing was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech, she had a number of observations that librarians and library users should consider.

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers. ...

Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and owe respect to our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning, but it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the working men's libraries, institutes, colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reading, books, used to be part of a general education.

Older people, talking to young ones, must understand just how much of an education it was, reading, because the young ones know so much less. And if children cannot read, it is because they have not read. ...

Writing, writers, do not come out of houses without books.

There is the gap. There is the difficulty. ...

In order to write, in order to make literature, there must be a close connection with libraries, books, the Tradition. ...

We are a jaded lot, we in our world – our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.

We have a treasure-house – a treasure – of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come on it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.

We own a legacy of languages, poems, histories, and it is not one that will ever be exhausted. It is there, always.

We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

Lessing speaks movingly about the way books and education are cherished by those people in want of them, but taken for granted and increasingly abandoned in developed Western society. She seems to blame the Internet & TV, but her bottom line is the need to cherish books and learning. That's hard to argue with.


bkopetsky said...

I guess I disagree with Lessing that television, movies and games are the bane of our intellectual existence. There are cases where the television show or movie is the driving force behind reading. Think of all the copies of Harry Potter that check out just before one of the movies are released. Or the people that continued on with the books after watching the movies because they did not want to wait several years for the next movie to come out to see what happens next.

Another example is books based on television or games. The books based on the video game Halo tend to be popular right now. I realize that these are not literary classics but we have to start somewhere and hopefully work our way up. Maybe if someone reads one of the Halo based novellas they may be interested in reading Larry Niven's book Ringworld which was the basis one of the landscapes in the Halo "universe." Than they may want to read about Freeman Dyson, the physicist who proposed the idea on which the Ringworld novel was based. I guess it comes down to the idea (hope) that reading begets reading.

Terry Dawson said...

I'm not in full agreement with Lessing either. I certainly love film as a literary form, I enjoy games etc. -- but I still read a lot of books.

I do understand the concern if there is a valid trend line of diminished reading. Some studies seem to indicate this is the case. I think the jury is still out but there's reason for concern, and we need to be mindful.