Reading is power!

26 06 2007

One of my daily technical writing Google Alerts (a great service, BTW) listed this “RIP into a Good Book” blog entry yesterday. Once I’d ignored the political mumbo jumbo (‘mumbo jumbo’ to me as I’m not an American and do not live in the US), and looked at the essence of what this guy was saying, I had to agree for the most part. Here are some of his pertinent points:

What the hell are these people [Library of Congress, Disney, et al.] thinking? WHY do they automatically assume that fiction is the highest form of reading?

As a writer of fiction — novels, short stories, “true” first person stories, etc. etc. — I decry but accept the reality that the vast majority of “reading” is nonfiction. Even more so when you include all of the reading that is never documented as “books” read or “magazines read.” Emails, notes from your spouse, cable TV synopsis screens, signs, instructions, medicine and food labels, and, yes, ads: all are writing that we read on a regular basis. And blogs, like this one.

But for many years, the well-intentioned institutions have been missing the point. Who cares if “Reading Is Fun?” Reading Is Power, baby. Why aren’t we advertising that?

Now, when you are selling “reading” why aren’t you selling the fact that reading and writing are the keys to power in nearly any field you care to name? The Southern Plantation aristocracy considered reading so dangerous to their power that it was banned on pain of DEATH. And you’re selling this … power as “fun!” That’s like selling Coke because of the neat swash on the can. It’s like selling a vacation to the Caribbean for the neat seashells you could find.

Bill Gates may have dropped out of college, but I have a feeling that without an amazing capacity for wading through reams and reams of dull technical writing he wouldn’t be playing gazillionaire globe-trotting philanthropist today. And many of us wouldn’t have the software that’s allowing this to be read over the internet.

Throughout history reading rates have fluctuated greatly, but one fact remains unyielding amidst the chaos of history: the literate classes have always ruled society. If there is 2 percent literacy, that two percent will be running things.

What has possessed generations of “educators” and “librarians” to try and sell reading as a competing media? You know, like playin’ on the computer, watching TeeVeee. Watching videos. Playing videos, surfing the ‘net … (All of which are better the better you know how to read, BTW)

Reading isn’t “fun.” It’s the power at the base of our entire civilization.

Reading ain’t “fundamental.” It’s elemental, and that’s power.

“Reading is Power, kids! So RIP into a good book!”

That’d sell reading. Might not sell a lot of copies of the Narnia trilogy, but it WILL sell reading. Not reading novels. Not even reading books. Sorry librarians, and sorry fiction writers.

Instead, what we have is a series of free ads for the Disney ‘Narnia’ movie (which they hope to turn into a franchise), coloring books, happy meals, fruit rollups, backpacks, notebooks, glitter pencils, etc. etc. etc. Why are our public airwaves being turned into a free ad campaign for a series of … books, and a WORSE movie from Disney?

That shouldn’t be what we’re selling. We need to sell that reading is essential to attaining power, status or celebrity in this society. That’s what we should be selling.

READING is power. Reading manuals. Reading news stories, reading supreme court decisions, reading the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual. Reading instructions, reading regulations, reading signs, reading charts, reading Monopoly Reading Railroad cards, you name it.

Reading is power.

Now, I have to add here that I was a school librarian in a previous career. One thing that always bothered me was the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude of some of my colleagues at the time who thought that the only ‘good’ reading was reading fiction. My view was broader than that. I figured that if a kid was reading – whether it was the side of the cereal box, the Illustrated Shakespeare, comics, car manuals, books on snakes, or whatever – then that was the most important thing. Not whether they were reading a particular type of writing – fiction.

I don’t know whether the “reading fiction is good” brigade was a uniquely female construct, but I suspect so. Most school librarians at that time were female, and girlsĀ  at school were always the biggest readers of fiction. Most pre-pubescent and adolescent boys (except those into fantasy and science fiction) avoided fiction like the plague. So all those well-meaning female librarians spent a lot of time and energy on trying to get boys to ‘read’ (read fiction, that is), when they weren’t the slightest bit interested in it. In some ways, their English teachers (again, mostly female) and the English syllabus were worse, as they forced certain fiction texts onto kids. At least in the library, reading fiction was optional.

Of course, I’m making some sweeping generalisations here, but in my long experience in schools and school libraries, I can’t recall it even being hinted that the ability to read was power. Reading (fiction) was promoted as a leisure activity. Maybe those days have changed – I sincerely hope so – but on reading this guy’s blog post, I suspect not.