On book hunger (part III)

«Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and owe respect to our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning, but it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the working men's libraries, institutes, colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Reading, books, used to be part of a general education.
Older people, talking to young ones, must understand just how much of an education it was, reading, because the young ones know so much less. And if children cannot read, it is because they have not read.
But we all know this sad story.
But we do not know the end of it.
We think of the old adage, "Reading maketh a full man" – and forgetting about jokes to do with over-eating – reading makes a woman and a man full of information, of history, of all kinds of knowledge.
But we are not the only people in the world. Not long ago I was telephoned by a friend who said she had been in Zimbabwe, in a village where they had not eaten for three days, but they were talking about books and how to get them, about education.
I belong to a little organization which started out with the intention of getting books into the villages. There was a group of people who in another connection had travelled Zimbabwe at its grass roots. They reported that the villages, unlike what people reported, are full of intelligent people, teachers retired, teachers on leave, children on holidays, old people. I myself paid for a little survey, of what people wanted to read, and found the results were the same as a Swedish survey, that I had not known about. People wanted to read what people in Europe want to read, if they read at all – novels of all kinds, science fiction, poetry, detective fiction, plays, Shakespeare, and the do-it-yourself books, like how to open a bank account, were low in the list. All of Shakespeare: they knew the name. A problem with finding books for villagers is that they don't know what is available, so a school set book, like the Mayor of Casterbridge, becomes popular because they know it is there. Animal Farm, for obvious reasons is the most popular of all novels.
Our little organization got books from where we could, but remember that a good paperback from England cost a months wages: that was before Mugabe's reign of terror. Now with inflation, it would cost several years wages. But having taken a box of books out to a village – and remember there is a terrible shortage of petrol, the box will be greeted with tears. The library may be a plank under a tree on bricks. And within a week there will be literacy classes – people who can read teaching those who can't, citizenship class – and in one remote village, since there were no novels in Tonga, a couple of lads sat down to write novels in Tonga. There are six or so main languages in Zimbabwe and there are novels in all of them, violent, incestuous, full of crime and murder.
Our little organization was supported from the very start by Norway, and then by Sweden. But without this kind of support our supplies of books would have dried up. Novels published in Zimbabwe, and, too, do-it-yourself books are sent out to people who thirst for them.»


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