I’m home with a fever, which puts me in the right frame of mind for dropping the following excerpts and withholding comment in the time-honored lazy/irritable blogger tradition. First via Maitresse and featuring Jeanette Winterson:
I suspect that the illiterate educated, who were given qualifications by a
well-meaning government determined to prove that we are all equally bright
and able, are now filtering through into the system, and that their
illiteracy is going to affect us all. Many people in jobs that require a
working knowledge of the English language really believe that their mixture
of television, tabloid, and texting argot is as good an English as any…
It is impossible to have high standards if we have no standards. If language
is evolving without grammar, without syntax, without spelling or
punctuation, writers will have a harder time doing what literature does –
expanding our emotional and imaginative range, by means of language. I have
said before that if the language-base shrinks, then so does our capacity for
complexity of any kind – complexity of feeling or of thought.
And on the failing libraries:
So what stays and what goes? In a nutshell, the least popular books
get the chop. Have you ever heard such a recipe for dumbing down?
Surely there is only so much Maeve Binchy and Wilbur Smith our library
shelves can hold. I am not knocking those books or the people who read
them – what needs a good kick is the criminal abnegation of authority,
the lack of balls to say "this is on the shelf because it is the best
and it will stay there for the same reason".
But then books-for-books’-sake has become less and less the raison
d’être for libraries. I should be pleased that Lambeth libraries are
finalists in the Love Libraries awards.
But the reason they made the final has nothing to do with valiantly
clinging to that shelf of classics. Apparently it’s because Lambeth
libraries put on evening variety shows for young people. Fandabidozi –
but what has turning the local library into the Kids from Fame
cafeteria got to do with reading or books? And it’s not just Lambeth –
none of the Love Libraries finalists list "promoting the best and most
challenging literature" among their achievements.
A reminder of why this matters walked in as I was about to leave.
Barely up to my waist, carrying a blue plastic bag bulging with books
to be returned, she excitedly asked where she can find more. She
deserves the best – doesn’t she?
Bringing it all together, another bit from Winterson:
You can seek out books, and some of us do, but
most of us don’t. It is because most of us don’t that I would argue for
higher standards of the written and spoken word in the media – the false
democracy of dumbing-down forces us all to the same abysmal low level,
instead of encouraging a bit of effort, a bit of concentration, from
Language is power, but language has to be learnt.