Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A book for all readers

Guy Laramee book carving
"When we survey the really illimitable field of human knowledge, the vast accumulation of works already printed, and the ever-increasing flood of new books poured out by the modern press, the first feeling which is apt to arise in the mind is one of dismay, if not despair. The reflection comes to our aid that, after all, the really important books bear but a small portion to the mass.  Most books are but repetitions, in a different form, of what has already been many times written and printed.  The rarest of literary quality is originality.  Most writers are mere echoes, and the greater part of literature is the pouring out of one bottle into another.  If you can get a hold of the few really best books, you can well afford to be ignorant of all the rest."

I have been studying the history of the English language and came cross this tidbit of interest.  Ainsworth Rand Spofford wrote "A Book for All Readers" in 1910 in order to give libraries and book collectors a list of approved texts.  He says:

"Weak, flabby and silly books tend to make weak flabby and silly brains.  We are told that for some unformed readers to read a bad book is better than to read none at all.  I do not believe it.  You might as well say that it is better to swallow poison than not to swallow any thing at all."

Strong words. I wonder what he would say about the libraries of today with their babysitter's club, geronimo stilton and diary of a whimpy kid?  I think he'd have a bird.  And to some extent I agree with him.  Just look at his vast vocabulary and eloquent writing style.  Even the best English schools in the country can no longer produce that kind of quality.  Then why do I, as a librarian, encourage kids to read fluff?  Because reading is as essential to the mind as food is to the body and kids these days don't understand the dangers of illiteracy.  If a child can't read, what is he/she doing? Because, unlike 1910, there are far worst things in the world today than "swallowing poison".

P.S.  My 10yr old son has a grade 10 reading level.  That is higher than 90% of the grade 6 kids in the country.  I let him read whatever he wants  because I'd rather have him reading Calvin and Hobbes safe at home than... who knows what.

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