Sunday, 11 December 2011

There will be a National Year of Reading

in 2012. Yes, I have known about this for some time now.
Yesterday a regular reader of this blog commented on the fact that I had not yet mentioned it here. She thought I would be full of enthusiasm and praise for the idea - and that I would be taking every opportunity to advertise it. I might. Next year.
In the meantime I have a problem. The problem is in the form of a "list". I know people love making lists. There are all those books of places, things, books, foods etc you must try before you die. There are lists of the fastest, longest, widest, most etc - think Guinness Book of Records and other things. There are every day lists and lists that form part of the school and university curriculum - and there are the other reading lists.
Now, we need reading lists. Reading lists are an essential part of any formal education. The problem is that they can be good, indifferent or bad and they can be used in a way which is good, indifferent or bad.
The National Year of Reading (NYR) is planning a list. It is planning a list of 8 books or, as Margaret Allen, chairman of the NYR puts it, "For 2012, we're creating a collection of books which, read together, describe the Australian experience."
For that purpose each state and territory has been given a short list of books by authors within their states. Readers can vote on these and one book from each state and territory will end up on the list. Read those and, apparently, you have read a description of "the Australian experience".
There are six books on the list for our state. The boy who works part-time in our local bookshop, a self-confessed "bookaholic" admitted he had not read any of them. The other staff member on duty that day had read one. We all agreed that the most likely name, that of Colin Thiele, was missing from the South Australian list.
And that is where the problem starts. There are things which, inevitably, have to be left off. There are things which, equally inevitably, do not interest me - and perhaps many others. I have read one of the books listed for our state. I have skimmed two and glanced at two more. The writing in them did not grab me, The sixth I had not come across but have just searched for online. I am not likely to read it. The subject matter does not interest me. The book I have read probably comes closest to the idea of "the Australian experience" - not just for me but for many others. It may not end up as the chosen book however because it is clear that there are other factors at work here. The list will not be just about reading, but about reading certain things. It is, all too often, the way these things works. I know why it happens but it saddens me.
The list will be a bad list, even if the books on it are "good" books. The list will be used as a prescription, a "must" read list if you are going to be considered "culturally literate". There will be too many people who look at the chosen books and feel failures when they do not read them - or do read them and do not like them.
If we must have such lists then they should be long, varied and come with the warning that they are not to be taken as prescription reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess some non-readers will read the books, simply because they are on a list (which you "should" read).

Readers will make up their own minds.

I like fiction books in libraries to be shelved together, paperbacks, talking books, crime, westerns, romance, all in one sequence. You never know what will take your fancy and please you when you read it.

Keith Waterhouse's "Office life" made me think differently - are some jobs there to keep people employed? is my/your job one of them? is this job worth doing? etc. I found the book when searching for a Donald Westlake book, and I found him by accident, too. The first Westlake I read was about a "journalist" who rang round dentists, say, until she found one who agreed with some outrageous statement, so she could quote him as an authority in the paper she was writing "advertorials" for. This made me more mistrusting of "experts" and information sources.

Neither of these are considered top-notch authors but they give me a lot of pleasure and have made me think and think about the world differently (if more cynically).

I doubt if they'd get on anyone's list of recommendations (except mine).

The trouble with things on a list is the things that aren't on the list. However, perhaps making lists means people will be talking and thinking about them.

There's probably a website for lists of suggestions of books to read...