Reading is nutrition – Part 2
I continue to argue that reading is directly connected to writing, and that it is necessary to be able to write properly to do many jobs effectively. I will even take it further and posit that reading and writing clearly are directly related to thinking, as distinct from mere feeling.
Gladstone Holder took that view to his grave. He used to say: “Reading will help you to develop in ways you can’t imagine. It will sharpen your vision. It will strengthen your confidence. It will give you greater control of your life. It will bring you fun, joy and satisfaction. Reading is the key to the main door.”
I will hear: “Who needs to write in order to communicate nowadays? The technology is always handy; you don’t even have to bother to search for the appropriate words to express certain emotions and nuances; all you need do is click on emoticons and select the facial expression you wish inserted in your sentence.”
Literacy has been taking a beating in other ways. A well-rounded education no longer confers a social cachet. No great value is attached to being articulate, which is a mark of having read widely. Indeed, the late John Wickham used to say, wryly: “Most people these days would like to have read.”
There is no particular incentive in terms of social acceptance for people to read good literature. We seem to have come to the juncture where the former social advantages of being well-read have become distinct liabilities.
A few years ago, after one of my fellow columnists was almost tarred and feathered after coining a nifty turn of phrase, I sent him a note advising him not to try that too often. We are not likely to see at work devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, euphemism, litotes, oxymoron, satire, pun, allegory, alliteration, metonymy, synecdoche, irony and the several others that enrich the English language.
Even onomatopoeia, the one most familiar to us in the Bajan dialect, is on its way “bash-ow” out the window.
It’s therefore easy to see how a prime minister’s promise to “move Heaven and earth” in order to get a job done on time, signalling his intention to pull out all the stops, could earn him the rebuke that he was “flying into the face of God” and risking eternal damnation.
A talk radio moderator also ran into trouble when he drew an allusion to “the sheep and the goats” as he referred to the process of children moving from primary to secondary education, when a regular babbler launched a weeklong assault accusing the moderator of “calling the people’s children sheep”.
Figurative language has all but disappeared in Barbados.
A wide vocabulary is like a wardrobe: the same sweaty shirt you wore in the garden this afternoon, you wouldn’t wear to church tonight; and the slippers you pushed your feet into to attend the cricket match would hardly be worn at the birthday party later on.
But what if you had only one shirt, or one pair of shoes? You’d have no choice!
To exercise an extensive vocabulary and display a wide knowledge of the world smacks of elitism in an age of equality. People who know how to use the language well can find themselves afraid to do so for fear of being thought of as snobbish. I’m not referring here to folk who show-off.
Perhaps the last remaining place of acceptance for such is the political platform from which the speaker can always be met with the response of “Talk yuh talk, skipper!”
Reading is here to stay, if only for practical purposes, whether by way of books or any new technologies currently in use, or coming in the future.
The big question for our civilization is not whether people will be able to read, but what they will read. If they only read enough to do their jobs, receive a tweet, or spread a piece of juicy gossip, progress – economic and otherwise – could be impeded by poor communication and a paucity of the disciplined imagination that makes for development of our society.
Mere functional literacy will do little to further our quality of life.
:In a collection of his essays titled More Than a Word, Gladstone Holder wrote in an essay Literacy and Living
“Thousands apparently derive pleasure from reading Mills and Boon, but it is an easy kind of pleasure, making no demands upon their intellect, their emotions or their spirit. Their vision of life may remain undisturbed and their prejudices intact. It is a way of killing time for which there is no punishment on the statute books.”
In reading, as in medicine or in living, it is quality that counts. Reading is not an end in itself; it is a means to a number of ends. At the most utilitarian level one reads to further one’s knowledge and to increase one’s competence in study or in work.
At another level, one reads to deepen one’s understanding of people and of that miracle which we call life, or to achieve one’s potential of living at a higher pitch of intensity which is a proper response to the recognition of that miracle.
I would hate to leave you with the impression that you should accept without question whatever is written in a book – or an iPad, for that matter.
Maimonides, the great Spanish philosopher of the medieval period, warned:
“Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.”