For some time I’ve been throwing around the idea of writing a post along the lines of HOW FICTION WRITERS CAN SAVE THE WORLD or LET THE POETS TAKE OVER, or WHO NEEdS MORE BUSINESS SCHOOLS or WHERE HAVE ALL THE LIBRARIES GONE or THE IMPORTANCE OF READING AND THE GODFUL-NESS OF WRITERS.
I apologize for the all caps. But this is important. The world, we can agree, is a mess. Hey, I live in a country where the Prime Minister is destroying all our science libraries because who needs information when you can have pure dogma.
My thinking behind my all cap exhortations is that the world requires and needs to breed empathy, imagination, innovation and empathy and more empathy and to want less and do more. Let’s unleash the potential to empathize the hell out of greed until greed disappears. I am prepared to make the bold statement that the world needs, indeed requires more imagination. We need more fiction readers, poets and poetry readers. We need people to feel the heartbeat of others through words, to see other worlds, to imagine to reach beyond ourselves and into ourselves.
Books saved my rocky turbulent childhood. They were my older sister’s saviour and through her I loved them too. As soon as I could I worked at a library for Hazel who was a little old lady who taught me how to put books in order according to the dewey decimal systems. I would go to work and breathe in the calm atmosphere and lose myself in the stacks looking at books just as I would much later working in bookstores and then in publishing companies. I lived in many worlds and wore the heart and soul of thousands of characters. My world got bigger.
I escaped. I wanted to write an ode to books, to writers, to readers, to empathetic souls but someone beat me to it. I read this piece in the Guardian the other day…ode to the library and I couldn’t have said it better if I tried. I am coincidentally reading a Neil Gaiman novel right now “American Gods”. I reached for something utterly different this time because I want my world to be unimaginably big and bold and heartbreaking in ways that only new things, new words and experiences can bring to you. So thank you Mr. Gaimon and thank you all you librarians and fiction writers and poets out there. This is a long piece but read it all. Read it all and pass it on.
It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members’ interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.
And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I’m an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living though my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.
So I’m biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.
And I’m here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read. Continue Reading