Monday, January 22, 2007

Mommy, What is an Illiterate?

I am, as you may know from reading this load of egocentric musings, a booky kind of person. Not only because I - duh! - love to read, but also because I am thoroughly convinced that reading an interesting and, more particularly, a difficult text can truly expand your mind (in that it keeps your brain physically sane in the long run), broaden your always too narrow view on this world and, lastly, because, you actually might learn something. Rather self-evident, you say. You really think so, hey? Think again!

Last year I decided to get myself a certificate so that I will be able in the near future to work in the municipal library, so that at least I can be in the vicinity of books all day.

So now I am following lessons with some 25 people who aim for the same certificate. And if I would state that at least half of them have not read a book in years, some even never, then I am probably underestimating the facts. There is even a girl (the kind of girl who never will grow up to be a woman, that kind of girl) following the course who already works in a small municipal library. She, quite bluntly, admitted to me once that she never reads any book whatsoever.

If you subtract from who remains the people who consider reading being equal to chew pseudo-books by Nicci French, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling or John Grisham, then I guess you will end up with a core of some 6-7 people who actually read books. Whether they are reading any good books? Please, let us skip that question, in order not to loose complete faith in the brain-functions of humanity.

Second example. The last few weeks I have been working in a bookshop somewhere in a suburb of Antwerp. My colleagues there were two 24-year old girls. One of them reads books ('real' books actually - can you imagine? - although never in any other language but Dutch), the other one probably only knows books as being different from non-books, cookbooks being the only kind of book she can do something with.

Now I am asking you, why the fuck do you work in a bookshop if you never ever have read any literary work in your life?!? How can you seriously consider yourself a bookseller who needs to advise people on which book they shoud read, when you (incredibly dirty words censured)?!?

And then those awful clichés people always come up with when you tackle them about the fact that almost no-one at all takes the time anymore to read an interesting book. "It is better that people read stupid books, rather than not reading any books at all." What kind of reversal of values does such a cliché imply? I mean, that is a bit like saying "watching porn is better than not having any sex at all" (which, in turn, reminds of another sorry cliché - mostly stated by the prostitutes and pimps themselves - that states that "prostitution saves a lot of marriages"; yeah right! they actually mean that it saves the face of some marriages). Another one: "Reading solely the Coran (or the Bible for that matter) is better than not reading at all".

Me myself have, by reading alone, mastered the English and French languages and acquired at least a passive knowledge of German. [It is, dear readers, an illusion that you could ever learn a language by following lessons in your average secondary school, the level being much too low to acquire any fluency whatsoever.]

What I am trying to say here - because in my anger I too frequently digress, must work on that - is that people consider reading too much as an onus, while it is in fact one of the cornerstones of education as such.

And to prove that I am not complaining about nothing, this week came the rather horrible news that 800.000 of the 5.5 million people living in Flanders, have trouble with reading and writing an even simple text. That is, as you can deduct (do not laugh, dear reader, the news also stated that most of the people belonging to those 800.000 cannot make a simple mathematical calculation like an addition or subtraction), one out of six people.

My question then: how can you any longer state that you are one of the most developed regions in the world when confronted with these kind of numbers? We are doomed, dear readers, we are doomed.

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