A couple of weeks ago I overheard a WH Smith employee telling a customer that he’d looked up the author of a book and it was William Golding. The customer was looking for Lord of the Flies. That’s right, he had to look up the title of Nobel Prize winning, thrice adapted, on the GCSE, Junior Cert 1954 classic allegory Lord of the Flies.
Needless to say, I posted this on Twitter and FaceBook and got accused of elitism and snobbery. I’m not saying that someone working in a bookshop needs to know the author of every book under the sun, but a basic grounding in the classics couldn’t hurt.
I remember the first day I was old enough to be brought to the public library. I was luckier than most of the other kids in my neighbourhood in that I had parents that encouraged reading, but it wasn’t until I entered that dusty bastion of oak-wood and furniture polish that I really discovered just how wonderful books were.
It was in the local library where I discovered Enid Blyton, Asterix, the Moomins, Huckleberry Finn, and the Hobbit to the sound of a ticking grandfather clock and whispers of fellow readers. That hardened paper ticket was the gateway to a lifetime of learning, of enjoyment, and countless worlds.
During Ireland’s last recession in the 80s the building, which had been a public library since 1884, needed some work to be made safe and so was condemned as libraries in poor areas were considered luxuries. So we moved further afield and I found the many worlds of Clarke and Asimov, the joys of Adams, and had my noodle cooked by Ellison and Bradbury.
It was in a library that I met Roald Dahl. It was a library that started me programming. Libraries got me through school and into technical college and if it wasn’t for the groundwork laid there I’d never have made it through the Open University.
As Pullman points out, the fallacy of the market economy is going to drive out anything of worth in our society and it’ll be the less well off that will suffer. It is nothing more than greed and selfishness couched in the language of ideology and stewardship. A reduction to the lowest common denominator for those who can’t afford it, while the selfish classes get to keep more opportunities for themselves.
The Health and Safety Executive declined to comment on the issue, stating that it was a problem for the Swedish Embassy. The public is strongly advised to avoid the Oxford Circus area until the matter has been cleared up.