I don’t usually have gut reactions – apart from those related to my food intake – but it was whilst conversing with my fellow golfing partners that I was left utterly astounded. Flabbergasted. I started to talk about something which is of great interest to me, and something that is also a great passion of mine – literature. So, I asked two educated 16 year olds, more jokingly than probingly, how many authors they could name. It turned out, that between them, they could name two authors, and were struggling to name the texts which they had – famously – penned.
To me, this brings up a cultural and educational issue that has to be tackled. I fear that this not a one off case and that it is more common than one might like to think. I’m not suggesting that everyone must love literature, and should be a fan of the classic novels, but I think that there’s a whole other side to reading that my generation will miss out on if they are not prompted to read. Recently, to improve standards in the Department for Education, Michael Gove the Secretary of State, was asking his employees to read classic novels and contemporary journalists’ work to help them improve their basic literacy skills.
Despite my aversion to Mr Gove, due to his political stance, I do agree with him on this issue. Reading high quality pieces of literature will help to improve the general public’s literacy standard, and their appreciation for literature. I say this from the point of view of a pedant, a position which I shan’t deny. Grammatical errors infuriate me. Thankfully, I live in Scotland, and hear plenty of them. Never have I recognised the logic behind using seen over saw, done over did. Or my personal favourite; ‘jamp’ over jumped. So, I endorse any measure that will aid the population’s literacy, he says from his ivory tower.
Back to the books. People who just read books don’t get the full pleasure of a novel. They need to be studied; the themes understood, the connotations, the dialogue. Only when one delves into these matters does one fully appreciate a novel. I sometimes do this on a more regular basis, not just with books either, looking for a subliminal message in things. It was when I compared the grey sky to a building that it dawned on me: yes, I’ll probably end up being an English teacher.
I experienced one of the most sensational feelings, whilst reading a collection of George Orwell’s essays, titled ‘Shooting an Elephant’. I was outside in the warm summer sun, and I was reading this paragraph:
“They have nothing worthy to be called conversation, because emptiness of belly leaves no speculation in their souls. The world is too much with them. Their next meal is never quite secure, and so they cannot think of anything except that next meal,” and this struck me as potently relevant. We live in a country where we throw away food, but not too far away are those who die of starvation and malnutrition. What Orwell is saying is that they matter, and we need to look after them. I agree, and it’s when I read passages like these that I feel inspired to make a change to the world in which I live. These novels aren’t just to be read, they are to be used to help inspire the next generation to better themselves and their predecessors.
I also feel that people, who aren’t familiar with literature, are losing out on essential cultural knowledge about their area. For example, where I live, a man called Hugh MacDiarmid was a revolutionary. He was a journalist on the local paper, a poet, a founding member of the SNP, and a leader in the Scottish literary renaissance. But how many of my fellow schoolmates would know about that piece of history? Or that the national bard himself, stayed over for a night in Hillside – the village in which I live – whilst commuting between destinations to water the horses?
So, I feel that literature has the ability to inspire and it should certainly be respected and studied. Viva la Revolution, and if people disagree with my thoughts, remember that it would always be a good conversation starter at dinner parties…
By Ronan Valentine
Ronan can be found on twitter: @RRJValentine97