Sunday, January 20, 2008

Doris Lessing and Reading

Doris Lessing didn't travel to Sweden last December to personally accept her Nobel Prize for Literature, but her acceptance lecture was delivered and can be found online.

It's lengthy, but reads like scenes from her novels. She begins with a trip to Zimbabwe in the 80's, where students (some who were adults) begged for books--they had none. She contrasts that with an immediate visit to a British boys school, very elite, where she learns that most of the students don't use the library and rarely read. Here's a quote:

"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."

I've worked with so many engineers and scientists--most with PhDs--who never, ever picked up a book for fun. Not all, of course--there were many who loved scifi or poetry, etc. But the idea of large numbers of well-educated men and women who never learned to enjoy reading, who use it only as a tool when information is necessary, is disheartening.

There's reason for optimism, though. Let's all kiss the ground J.K. Rowling walks on for getting kids (and some adults!) to read again. And how many people tackled Lord of the Rings because they couldn't wait for movies 2 and 3, after being entranced by the first film?

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