Thursday, 6 December 2007

DollyReads and Keitai Shosetsu

I'm beginning to think I should rename this blog 'Oh for goodness sake!' or 'What are we coming to?' - I love the name of the popular Grumpy Old Bookman's blog - catches the note of exasperated vituperation.

So, what's exercising me this week? First, in the 'What have we come to?' category - what, indeed, have we come to when country star Dolly Parton makes it her mission to bring literacy to infant Britons? Yesterday, she promoted her 'Imagination Library' project in Rotherham at a former steel mill. (Perhaps this can also go under the title of 'You Couldn't Make It Up'). Every child born in Rotherham will now be sent a free book every month until they're five. Today, Rotherham - tomorrow, the world. Of course, Dolly means well and her interest in literacy stems from the extreme poverty of her own childhood in Tennessee, so all credit to her if she brings any children to a love of literature. The sad thing is that the need for schemes like this echoes the survey this week that Britain has plummeted in the league table of nations for literacy and numeracy. In our era of visuals and digitals is trying to cultivate a love of books printed on yer actual paper equivalent to Cnut holding back the tide? Hope not.

A while back I mentioned the rise of what I suppose we could call 'text lit' - or should that be 'txt lt'? The Times has an article today about the increasing popularity of publishing on mobile phones (yes, you read that right!) especially in Japan. Once again, I suppose we should be grateful for anyone reading actual wrds, even in abbreviated form, but it's oh so sad that 'Japan's fiction bestseller list is dominated by books published, read and, in several cases, written on mobile telephones, most of them by young women in their 20s.' Apparently books like 'Love Sky' are written for downloading on mobile phones, then published in book form. The stories - 'keitai shosetsu' - seem to be highly melodramatic and emotional and have given rise to debate and concern: one critic worries that 'young readers are being exposed to immature expressions and stunted vocabulary' which will 'accelerate illiteracy and damage their ability to express themselves.'

Given that my A level students often lack basic knowledge of spelling and grammar and have failed to acquire through reading any inbuilt instinct for the look, feel and rhythm of words, I too am worried. An Orwellian inability to articulate thought and experience with any sort of precision is upon us.

Or am I just a grmpy nvlst?

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