This has been sat on my desktop for some time now, so I’d better get it out. Books are my life. I feel depressed and hungry when I can’t read, I lose my sense of self when I’m not defining it in relation to a piece of literature. My primary horror in life is book burning and the destruction or repression of viewpoints and knowledge; I believe my first post on this blog, three years ago, referenced Rousseau’s comment on the sacking of the Great Library at Alexandria about the acceptability of the destruction of ‘wrong’ opinion. I couldn’t agree with him less. To steal a quote from John Stuart Mill from the American Library Association. ““But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty. Which is why the ALA’s list of banned books (they have the fantastic “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, which was banned for nudity and offensive language, the exceptional “Flowers for Algernon” and “Of Mice and “Men (an UK high school text) up there!) and their recommendations on action is such fascinating reading and why several of those are now on my Amazon Wish List. (In case anyone fancies helping the cause 😉 )
Anyway, for those of us who share the internal diktat to spread opinion/knowledge and also deem ommissions to carry as much ethical weight as acts, the failure to promulgate a variety of knowledge is immoral. Which is why the limited selection of texts on the THE FIFTY TWENTIETH-CENTURY WORKS MOST CITED IN THE ARTS & HUMANITIES CITATION INDEX, 1976-1983 is particularly interesting. Oddly, James Joyce is the only author to be regularly cited (perhaps because of the technical, experimental nature of his writing; I don’t find it enjoyable, but I do find it thought-provoking from a linguistic standpoint; he created many of the literary techniques that we take for granted nowadays, even if he didn’t really know how to use them.) Mostly everything else is doubtless-worthy but dry-as-bones useless stuff that will generate more of the same without challenging. At least Wikibooks provides genuinely useful knowledge through communally created textbooks; I’m tempted towards the opinion that the UK’s national curriculum should shift to using this (more for the lack of copyright and the fact that it’s free, than the libertarian implications of having an open-source knowledge source.)
Anyway, several of my friends appear to be taking advantage of the Nanowrimo “Write a book in a month” challenge. Very noble; I would have joined in, had I remembered. Perhaps I still can, but for those who have I urge you; write something controversial, express an unknown viewpoint, find the places that sting those who would limit us and prick the pricks. If you’re not going to do that, sign up to Librivox. Not everyone can read english or has the time; making audio books available to those, to the blind and the elderly is a good cause.