Saturday, 28 May 2011

If you are not on Twitter

or Facebook you will have missed the wicked and timewasting "game" started by the Crabbit Old Bat (more kindly known as Nicola Morgan). It is called "less interesting books" and consists of people endeavouring to come up with twists on book titles such as "Lady Chatterly's Liver" and "Three men in a coat" or "Harry Potter and the Half Price Mince".
You need to know your books in order to participate and appreciate the fun. It could even become a book in itself - one of those small "gift-books" given as a birthday present to someone who has everything, including a sense of humour.
But, as I said, you need to know your books in order to appreciate the game. "Lord of the Files", with which Nicola began the game, is not funny unless you recognise "Lord of the Flies" within it.
This is all part of what is usually termed "cultural literacy"
Wikipedia defines "cultural literacy" as "the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions, and informal content that creates and constitutes a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical references to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and reflection of it. Knowledge of a canonical set of literature is not sufficient in and of itself when engaging with others in a society, as life is interwoven with art, expression, history, and experience. Cultural literacy requires familiarity with a broad range of trivia and implies the use of that trivia in the creation of a communal language and collective knowledge. Cultural literacy stresses the knowledge of those pieces of information that content creators will assume the audience already possesses."
I read Hirsch's book on "cultural literacy" when it first came out. Although I did not agree with everything he said he raised some interesting ideas. Since its publication in 1987 however the world has changed dramatically. The internet is now used by millions and the amount of information available has increased dramatically.
I doubt my nephews would have any understanding of the "less interesting books" game. They would be quite unfamiliar with the books - apart from those which were required reading at school. They read but they do not read what I have read or what my father has read.
I sometimes find myself explaining things they do not know which "should" be part of their cultural heritage according to Hirsch and others. My father will look at them in amazement and say "hasn't anyone told you about that?" He will then explain. My nephews have gone on to explain that nobody else they are acquainted with seems to know about a certain reference to the Bible or Shakespeare or an event in history either. My father then asks "what do they teach in schools these days?" and discovers that small children are no longer taught the poems of AA Milne - although they might know the Disney version of Winnie-the-Pooh.
It makes my collection of children's books all the more valuable. I now have two great-nieces and they may yet help to preserve our culture by reading the books. With respect to these it is a matter of "Tried and Prejudiced".


widdershins said...

That was one of the hardest things to wrap my head around coming to Canada from Australia. I had nothing to hang my cultural identity on. It's taken me these seven years of paying attention to 'stuff' going on around me, asking questions, making half-assed assumptions, asking more question, but most of all, observing, everything, for me to only now feel like I can have my new cultural ID card printed in magic indelible ink.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a seven year apprenticeship sounds about right - it was the same for me in reverse! Ros