Saturday, 26 March 2011

Reading Maketh Something I've Read

So, Michael Gove thinks children should read 50 books a year. Seems a lot to me, that’s one a week with a fortnight off at Christmas presumably, but what do I know? Reactions were as to be expected. Some people boasting that fifty was not nearly enough, one on-line commentator threatening violence if any of the fifty were Harry Potter or Twilight books, which seemed hard, and most agreeing that quality not quantity was the issue. I have to say, I’m not so sure.

Reading is many things. At its basis, it’s a way of sharing information with others. It’s a form of pleasure for some. For others it is a kind of moral duty and there are some for whom it is a way to parade their superiority to others. Each, save the last, seems valid. But it is the idea that there are books that should be read (and by serious and worrying implication, books that should not be read) that I find truly troublesome. I know I failed that test badly as a child by spending a year obsessively reading Enid Blyton (the Famous 5 and the Adventure stories to be precise) which confession casts me into the outer darkness as far as some are concerned. In the pre-video/i-player days I read novelisations of my favourite television series, Dr Who and Space: 1999 in particular. As a teenager, or Young Adult as they are now designated by the publishing industry, it was Alistair MacLean and science fiction. Then as an older Young Adult (if that makes sense) I discovered Penguin Modern Classics and dismayed my friends and family by always having one in my pocket, green spine to the fore so that it could be seen, identified and admired. And of all of them, I cannot think of a single book that I have ever regretted reading and that, surely is the important thing. The act of reading is neutral and to attempt to indoctrinate children into thinking otherwise is as dubious as not allowing them to read at all.

Anyway, must dash, got a DVD I want to watch.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Goodbye, Mr Bond

I don’t like the James Bond novels anymore.

I’m a bit sad about that as for most of my life I did and it’s a bit like an old toy finally falling irrevocably apart. I also no longer enjoy the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser, but I’m not sad about that. Tastes change over a life and it’s curious, to me anyway, which are mourned and which are not. Like Mr Banks, I feel a surge of great satisfaction, though for me it is the knowledge that I shall never again read The Lord of the Rings, that burden has been taken from me. On the other hand, I was upset to discover that I now find T H White’s The Once And Future King almost unreadable. That was the first book that I read after my university final exams and as I studied Eng Lit, was therefore the first book I had read out of choice for three years. I loved it. Tried it again just before Christmas, didn’t like it and felt a pang of loss. But the Bond novels are a special case. I partly defined myself as a reader of Bond books, defending them from criticisms that seemed to mainly arise from snobbery or ignorance. Furthermore, I am now nervous about the films. What if I no longer enjoy them? After all, the reason I write is because of the James Bond films. I adored them as a child and was horrified to discover that Ian Fleming was dead and so no longer writing which, I reasoned, meant that there would come a day when there would be no more Bond films, a horrifying prospect. Then I noticed that someone else had written a Bond novel, one Robert Markham (a pseudonym for Kingsley Amis, no honestly). The relief was overwhelming and with a prelapsarian ignorance of the laws of copyright, I wrote a Bond story myself. It was the first thing I ever wrote because I wanted to as opposed to being told to by school. It was called One By One, had a Russian villain called Ivan (after consultation with my brother had elicited the information that Ivan was what most Russians are called, and him a Man From U.N.C.L.E. fan) and featured a cunning plan to kidnap scientists. I then wrote a Bond screenplay, I forget the title, which was set on a cross-channel ferry and had 007 thwarting a hi-jack attempt. Sadly, both manuscripts are lost, but I’m sure if Barbara Broccoli calls, I could put something together.

And of course I may return to the written Bond, because, as every fan of the films knows as a certainty:

James Bond Will Return.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Vote for Me is a Vote for Something Else

Another by-election, another small turn out and doubtless soon to follow we will have the usual laments about voter apathy which always seem to have the sinister undercurrent that the whole system should be abolished and we should resign ourselves to autocratic rule by those who know best. There may well be laments about how more people vote in X Factor or whatever than vote in elections. But as Mark Steel has pointed out more than once, people don’t bother to vote because they can’t be bothered with democracy, they don’t vote because they can’t see the point. Their votes have no concrete effect. He may be right. On a local level, Tesco recently failed to get permission to build a new shop near where my mother lives, said permission turned down by the democratically voted local council. Tesco then trotted off to London to get that decision over-ruled by a government made up of two parties who failed to win the last election. David Cameron wants to privatise just about the entire state which I don’t remember being mentioned in the TV debates and Nick Clegg justifies breaking his university fees pledge on the grounds that not enough people voted for him which is not so much realpolitik as petulance. ‘Manifestos are poetry, policies are prose’ says a character in The West Wing. Maybe, but I reserve the right to get annoyed if I am sold a book which is advertised as being by Oscar Wilde but is in fact written by Jeffrey Archer.