Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reading must be a Virtue because Books Change the World

Two newspaper stories in two different newspapers, but with similar themes have caught my eye today. First, Nicholas Blincoe asks in The Daily Telegraph

Do you think reading makes you a better person? I read an enormous amount, but not everyone I know is persuaded of my superior qualities. Even some of those closest to me think that I am an opinionated loudmouth. Yet it is generally held in the study of literature that a reader is more virtuous than a non-reader. All those people who took engineering or economics at university and wonder why the literature students were so annoying: it is because they had joined a cult that constantly reinforced the idea that they were the best, the cream of the campus.

and he closes with But if readers are the best people in the world, what about writers? Salman Rushdie has said: "When you write, you write out of your best self." Which serves to complete a virtuous circle, I guess.

Then in a similar vein, Ian Burrell in The Independent reports that Melvin Bragg is claiming It is not army generals nor scientists nor inventors that direct the course of human history, but the books they write. And to prove it, Lord Bragg has announced a list of the Twelve Books That Changed the World, a four-part special that will be screened next April on 'The South Bank Show'. The full details are available via the link above, but the 12 books are as follows:

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859
Marie Stopes, Married Love, 1918
William Wilberforce, Speech to the House of Commons, 1789
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792
Magna Carta, 1215
The King James Bible, 1611
Michael Faraday, Experimental Research in Electricity, 1855
The First Rule Book of the Football Association, 1863
Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine, 1769
William Shakespeare, First Folio, 1623
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica, 1687

I confess I rather feel that Bragg has stretched the definition of "Book" rather thin to include a speech to the House of Commons (not that I doubt the importance of that speech !), a Patent specification and Magna Carta ! Why not include John Milton's Paradise Lost, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, H G Wells' The War of the Worlds, Samuel Johnson' Dictionary or the Oxford English Dictionary, or J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings ? I can just imagine this list getting the purists up in arms ! (But perhaps that's why they've been chosen... ?)

Since I finished DWJ's Power of Three, I've started reading (and failed to complete) Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale - too great a tendency towards Horror, and Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love - too many modern pop-culture references that are lost on me AND a young protagonist who ends up falling pregnant by her father at the age of 12 (OK, she didn't know he was her father, but even so), has the baby and then it conveniently dies shortly thereafter of pneumonia ! I'm not a prude, I know girls (and boys) have under-age sex and end up pregnant, but I was so annoyed at the way Jones casually killed the baby off, that I couldn't go on with it. I'm now reading Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls which seems far more interesting - and I see that Farmer is bringing out a sequel in October in the UK, which according to Amazon, is called Sea of Trolls 2 (the note of doubt is because that seems like a rather unoriginal title !) Anyway more on the first book once I've finished reading it.

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