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Friday, 21 December 2012

Stuff about reading and then one thing leads to another and I'm off down another road.

Recently I read James Herbert's latest offering Ash, followed by the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon book The Prisoner of Heaven, third in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series (they are a delight). Then I read a short story by Stephen King called The Doctor's Case, a Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson solves the mystery (found in his third short story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes).

Currently I am engrossed in the unputdownable The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a wonderfully touching story of simple humanity.

Why am I bothering you with this information I hear you cry (or was it bugger off Jonathan I'm busy and not the slightest bit interested in what you are reading).

Well, two reasons actually.

Firstly I love reading and, just as much (maybe even more) I love to talk about books I have read and to hear from others about their reading adventures. I used to be in a reading group, many years ago, and loved it. And I miss it.

Secondly, all the books I mentioned above are borrowed from my local library, and I love libraries as much as I love reading. I worked in the library service for eleven years. And that's exactly what it is. A public service. There for the public. To serve them.

I visited Chelmsford prison library once, because I had the opportunity and was interested. Something very interesting came from that visit and it was the statistic that, amongst the prison population the general literacy level can be low, compared to society in general and, alongside that, the reoffending rate (those who get out of prison and then commit more crimes and go back in) is high (around the 80% region if I recall).

Quick summary 1: Low literacy levels = high offending and reoffending rate.

Now then, before we get all panicky and upset let me ensure you I am not saying that this explains the whole history of crime and offers a simple solution. And I am not saying either that all those who commit crimes are thick or can't read. I am making an observation that there are proven links between low literacy levels (the ability to read and write) and crime. Especially amongst the young and the poor. As well as not doing very well in life, underachieving, etc.

Books, access to books, and the sheer pleasure of reading have benefits beyond just the sheer pleasure of reading. They inform, educate, challenge, stimulate discussion and provide jobs and subjects for study at school, university or when home alone.  Also I recall an interview with Michael Caine (Sir Michael?) with him saying how important libraries were to him as a means of learning about the world when schooling hadn't provided it (Sean Connery said the same).

Quick summary 2: Books and libraries (a means of accessing books) can open doorways to higher literacy levels, improve confidence and help people to achieve, in life. And maybe steer people away from crime? Not all crime of course, not serious, planned crime (It's alarming actually how intelligent some criminals are, super intelligent even, but maybe that's another issue).

Libraries also provide access to the internet, another public service. Everything is going online now. Try booking something, or finding a job. More and more public services are going online. Not everyone has access to the interweb at home.

And what do we have going on currently, amongst other things? Funding cuts and library closures. So we have a situation where, in response to criminal negligence and mishandling of (other peoples) money by governments and financial institutions we are in a financial crises. To alleviate this we bring in 'austerity' measures, cut funding to public services which leads to job losses then, get this, start publicly abusing those who have lost their jobs and call them scroungers and workshy. And punish them by removing benefits etc when they can't find a job. Even though there are less jobs to find.

To find a job you need internet access (did I say that already?). If you have lost your job and can't afford internet access you can get internet access free from libraries. So let's close libraries then, they only provide stuffy old books and no one reads books anymore everything is online and downloadable.

Ah right. Ok. And the madness goes on. And on. I wonder sometimes if our current (unelected) coalition 'government' really wants people to have jobs and needs a certain amount of unemployed and poor to create fear and to make themselves feel wealthy and superior. No. Surely not. Just me being cynical and grumpy.

Makes me want to go to the library (while it is still there) and reach for the next book. Maybe even write one!