Suspend Your Disbelief

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"what they need is a damn good reading"

“Books were once subversive things, causing revolutions, and stimulating unimagined sexual awakenings…These days, opening a book – any book – is seen as nothing more than part of good citizenship, and something that might just help you on the path to prosperity to boot.”

Alastair Harper gets satirical on the Guardian Books Blog, raising questions about indiscriminate reading and experiments like OUP’s Project X:

There is a presumption that if the worst, most delinquent tearaways would just put down their machetes for a moment and sit down to read a good book, they would instantly see the merit in a well-tailored pair of galoshes, join the world Scout movement and behave with stiff-upper-lipped decency at all times forthwith. It is for this reason that Oxford University Press have launched Project X, aimed at getting boys to read. Its main tactic is to make books resemble video games and therefore appeal to today’s corrupt and tech-headed youth. Presumably, the first chapter runs along these lines: “Reader, the outside air was crisp. Above me the clouds floated. Small turtles rode them while attempting to drop bombs on my head. I was not to be defeated. I was a plumber with a dream.”

But I wonder why books – lumped together into a single medium, individual content unspecified – have come to be seen as the natural catalyst for wholesomeness? A book is as neutral as any container, but what’s inside might be explosive. When did we stop believing books were capable of corrupting young minds? To me it seems sad that indiscriminate “reading” is now seen as such an innocent activity: an indication that the power of literature has diminished.

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