tiz the season for book memes

December 11, 2010

Not that I’d put any of these on my Saturnalia wishlist (mostly because what I like I already own), but let’s have at it (found via Micheal at a Nadder):

Bold for those you’ve read fully, italics for partially read. The BBC thinks the average person’s read 6/100, according to Michael (source of the stat not included in his post). Consider yourself tagged if you want to share yours.

1. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (does Pride and Prejudice and Zombies count?)
2. The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee (which reminds me..gotta reread this for our Banned Book Club meet this week.)
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
11. Little Women Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
13. Catch-22 Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare
15. Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams (coming home with me for the holiday. Also due a reread)
26. Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck (had every intent of starting)
29. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll (should at some point)
30. The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis
34. Emma Jane Austen
35. Persuasion Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe CS Lewis (this bugs me. It’s already in #33)
37. The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernières
39. Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh AA Milne
41. Animal Farm George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney John Irving
45. The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery (I think this miniseries was on CBC every damn Christmas for a while. Always loved it.)
47. Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood (might suggest this for the next Banned Book meet)
49. Lord of the Flies William Golding
50. Atonement Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi Yann Martel
52. Dune Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon (fantastic piece of work. Fantastic. So well done, loved this one!)
57. A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
62. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov (been suggested for our Banned Book club)
63. The Secret History Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
72. Dracula Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession AS Byatt (FOR HIGH SCHOOL NOT PLEASURE!!1!)
81. A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
94. Watership Down Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet William Shakespeare (under duress..grade 12 I think)
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
100. Les Misérables Victor Hugo


Knowledge vs spectacle

October 20, 2010

Alternet ran a good piece recently about the media circus and the price viewers will pay by believing everything they see (breaks added).

Mass entertainment plays to the basest and crudest instincts of the crowd. It conditions us to have the same aspirations and desires. It forces us to speak in the same dead clichés and slogans. It homogenizes human experience. It wallows in a cloying nostalgia and sentimentalism that foster historical amnesia. It turns the Other into a cartoon or a stereotype.

It prohibits empathy because it prohibits understanding. It denies human singularity and uniqueness. It assures us that we all have within us the ability, talent or luck to become famous and rich. It forms us into a lowing and compliant herd. We have been conditioned to believe—defying all the great moral and philosophical writers from Socrates to Orwell—that the aim of life is not to understand but to be entertained.

If we do not shake ourselves awake from our electronic hallucinations and defy the elites who are ruining the country and trashing the planet we will experience the awful and deadly retribution of the gods.

Oh, there’s no need to bring silly god beliefs into this. Our own hubris and ignorance will bring us down, just wait. I don’t know who ordered the bread and circuses but you’d think at some point people would start to wonder what else there was to eat and do. At some point you’d think…wouldn’t you? Or are people forgetting how to do that, if they ever properly learned in the first place?

I read a book by Chris Hedges, the author of the above article, some weeks ago and I’m just getting around to writing about it now. It’s called Empire of Illusion: the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle. It’s a fairly short book and he breaks it down into five different illusions: literacy, love, wisdom, happiness and America.

About literacy from page 44:

Functional illiteracy in North America is epidemic. There are 7 million illiterate Americans. Another 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application, and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. … A third of high-school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42 percent of college graduates. In 2007, 80 percent of the families in the United States did not buy or read a book.

And don’t be thinking Canada’s doing better; he claims 42 percent of Canucks are in the same semi-literate boat. That’s appalling.

When writing about the illusion of love, he focuses on the reality of the porn industry. It doesn’t matter that women are often paid far more than men (who make a third of the cash a woman can according to page 77) to take it up the pussy or the ass. What is the continued support of this industry doing to women and the men who objectify and abuse them? Page 87:

Porn glorifies the cruelty and domination of sexual exploitation in the same way popular culture … glorifies the domination and cruelty of war. It is the same disease. It is the belief that “because I have the ability to use force and control to make others do as I please, I have a right to use this force and control.” It is the disease of corporate and imperial power.

He gets a little godly again here by claiming that instead of sacred pursuits, humans “worship power, control, force, and pain” and replace “empathy, eros, and compassion with the illusion that we are gods. Porn is the glittering façade, like the casinos and resorts in Las Vegas, like the rest of the fantasy that is America, of a culture seduced by death.”

Wouldn’t he be a fun guy at a party? I don’t disagree with him, though.

Wisdom is next. He relays an anecdote about doing three years of seminary but still being unable to grok what a classmate said about the related work she was doing. Real wisdom is getting replaced with buzz words and esoteric turns of phrase that mean fuck all. Private dialects, language and terminology reserved for the “elite” segregate people into those who can Know and those who can’t. Even educators are stripping the history and reality out of the very books they claim to be teaching. Page 97:

Writers from Euripides to Russel Banks have used literature as both a mirror and a lens, to reflect back to us, and focus us on, our hypocrisy, moral corruption, and injustice. Literature is a tool to enlighten societies about its ills. … In the hands of academics, however, who rarely understand or concern themselves with the reality of the world, works of literature are eviscerated and destroyed.

He’s hard on ivy league schools and other institutions that pride themselves on their architecture over what their kids should be learning inside. He points to the pursuit of wealth over intelligence as the biggest problem. If success is determined by the size of our bank accounts instead of how well we actually do across the board, then we’re getting a skewed perspective of what’s most important.

Happiness isn’t what’s most important either. I dog-eared page 117 when I read that page and it must have been because of the positive psychology paragraph. Corporations wind up spending a shit load of money on conferences and getaways where the whole purpose of them is to try to teach their people how to think positive and create success through the tricks of positive thinking. There are scads of business books where that’s all that’s in them for advice – catchy slogans and pithy pseudo-smart phrases that look enlightening and helpful but mean squat.

On pages 119-120 He calls this all a

flight into self-delusion [that] is no more helpful in solving real problems than alchemy. But it is very effective in keeping people from questioning the structures around them that are responsible for their misery. Positive Psychology gives an academic patina to fantasy.

By page 129 he’s explaining another reason why this is problematic.

The promotion of collective harmony, under the guise of achieving happiness, is simply another carefully designed mechanism for conformity. Positive psychology is about banishing criticism and molding a group into a weak and malleable unit that will take orders. Personal values, those nurtured by an independent conscience, are gently condemned as antagonistic to harmony and happiness.

So basically, if you refuse to fit in, you’re out. Out of synch, out of a job. They play on the fear of unemployment to really drive this business. It was never meant to be a mood booster. He’d probably call it a corporate conspiracy.

He’s hard on corporations in the last part of the book. Corporations have a stranglehold on the American government, he claims, and not just in terms of defense contracts. NAFTA made setting up shop across borders easier for corporations but the result of that was job losses in every town that relied on those industries to survive. Social services like health care and welfare systems are also in jeopardy. He mentions a book (and film) called The Corporation where they’re compared to the list of attributes usually reserved for psychopaths. They’re also treated like individuals with the same legal rights to donate to candidates, fund lobbyests and advertise how great they are compared to competition (if there is any). Page 182:

Individualism is touted as the core value of American culture, and yet most of us meekly submit, as we are supposed to, to the tyranny of the corporate state. We define ourselves as a democracy, and meanwhile voting rates in national elections are tepid, and voting on local issues is often in the single digits. … Our corporate elite tell us government is part of the problem and the markets should regulate themselves–and then that same elite plunders the U.S. Treasury when they trash the economy. … There is a vast and growing disconnect between what we say we believe and what we do. We are blinded, enchanted, and finally enslaved by illusion.

Which is where I’ll leave off quoting. He finishes the book with the same advice Madeleine L’Engle used to end A Wrinkle in Time, and it sounded just as hokey when I was twelve, as it does now: love conquers all.

Doesn’t make him wrong about the power of that, though. Hope and love and bravery. A willingness to do what’s right in the face of adversity. To show we care about other people, demonstrate that we want to change how things are to make the world better for everyone, no matter what personal risk we’d be under when we attempt to do it. But we’d have to do more than just say it.


Additional: I’m not the only one writing about this topic today. Via Hurtling Through Space I learn of Seth Rogan’s Blog and his take on it.


Word on the Street is on in Saskatoon today

September 26, 2010

This sounds like fun.

Saskatoon & Region Family Literacy Advisory Group will be hosting an informal, fun information area to promote several of its local literacy organizations. On behalf of this group, staff from READ Saskatoon and the Saskatoon Public Library will be providing larger-than-life word-based games and activities for the entire family. They will be joined by volunteer artists from Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming (SCYAP) to perform face painting for children.

Several authors will be on hand to read some of their work, I presume, and it’s running at the Farmer’s Market from 1-4 pm. Bring the kids and support literacy!


Mom breaks library law; won’t return “offensive” books

May 20, 2010

She’s breaking bigger laws, too, as far as that goes. I’d found the article earlier this month but any day is a good day to talk about censorship. The story comes out of Florida:

Longwood parent Tina Harden was so disturbed by references to sex and drugs and foul language in the world of fictional teenager Jenny Humphrey that she is ignoring overdue notices and phone calls from her neighborhood library and its bill collector.

Harden refuses to return several books connected to the Gossip Girl series that detail Humphrey’s life, even though she’s had them since 2008.

“If I turn them in, they will be put back into circulation and they’ll be available for more young girls to read,” said the mother of three, who keeps the four books hidden in a closet. “Some material is inappropriate for minors.”

Surprisingly, she’s not asking to ban the things entirely; she just wants warning labels on them.

The library refused but has agreed to re-shelve them in the adult-reading section.

“If we denied access to this particular title, it would be censoring,” said Jane Peterson, the county’s library services manager.

That’s not good enough for Harden, who said that as a taxpayer she should have a say in which books land on the libraries’ shelves. “They’re supposed to be public servants,” she said.

Saskatchewan has signed on with a company that’s providing the whole province with a new computer system in use in the States, maybe even in Florida. One thing the system does is restrict child level cards to child level material. That’s as much about a kid’s ability to read and process information as it is to protect them from the grittier stuff their older siblings and parents might want to borrow. They still might flip through the book, or sit and watch the movie with everyone once they’re home. We don’t know and we don’t care. Young adult cards also have a restriction – the system makes it impossible for a teen under 18 to borrow a restricted DVD. But again, we don’t care if a parent lets them watch it at home anyway, it’s just the way the system sorts itself out.

The system is also capable of creating a Child-Friendly searching catalogue that our library has tried not to implement. We don’t want kids restricted to child-level material when they search for projects or entertainment. Their child cards restrict them from borrowing most of it anyway but allowances might be made for non-fiction. We shelve many lower reading level books with the adult collection that a ten year old probably could wade through for an assignment on planets or animals or history. We want to provide equal access to pretty much everything that’s in there, leaving it up to parents to decide what’s best for their own children – but not everyone else’s.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, said it would be unconstitutional for the library, a public institution, to restrict access to books. Labeling alone would raise legal issues, she said. Movie theaters are different, she pointed out, because ratings are created and enforced by private entities.

“Somewhere in every library, there’s something to offend everyone,” she said. “You tolerate that because the library is trying to serve the needs of the community.”

She said books such as those in the It Girl series can help “teenagers confront life situations in the safe environment of a book.” She said those books could also appeal to teens who otherwise might not read.

Both of those are good reasons for a library to buy books. Literacy is so important and I know our selectors work very hard to buy a range of materials that will cater to any interests, popular or fringe. We rarely say no to a patron’s request for purchase. If someone wants it, we’ll do what we can to provide it – within limits, of course. Porn’s still out but our fiction librarian does purchase erotic fiction once in a while so get one of those and use your imagination.

Books with plots that mention sex and drugs and have characters using sex and drugs wind up being kind of important at a teen level because they are issues kids are facing at a younger and younger age all the time. While Harden has hopes her daughter won’t get involved with anything that will damage her (she’s quoted as saying, “The whole book was filled with everything I don’t want my daughter to do or be.”) the sad fact of the matter is, other kids aren’t going to be that lucky. Harden’s daughter may even know some of them.


Any Saskatchewan Library users reading this?

October 21, 2009

I don’t have all the details yet and so anyone in province who knows more about it can enlighten me, but I’ll explain what I know is coming up.

I don’t think this includes the university libraries but the rest of the province is on the cusp of a giant library revamp. Currently every region (I think) has their own library catalogue, Provincial Library has one and Saskatoon and Regina each have one for city-wide use.

Within the next couple months, everyone will use the same catalogue. Readers will no longer be limited by selection within their town, city or region – they will be able to see items available across the province and request them with a click. Saskatchewan will essentially be a million people city as far as the Single Integrated Library Service is concerned. Anything in a university or not available in Saskatchewan will still require filling out Interlibrary Loan forms though.

As to other changes I’ve heard about: adult material fines will be 30 cents (even for seniors, I think), and no staff exemptions; children’s material will be 20 cents; and all DVDs will be ramped up to a dollar per item per day with a $7 maximum, and a $10 max fine on the card so any fees aquired over that will have to be paid down before you can borrow more. High hold items will have a reduced loan period (two weeks instead of three). Request list is limited to 50 items total, but you can have up to 100 items on your card if you want. Every patron will be issued a brand new Saskatchewan card good for use across the province, no matter what city or town you might be living in or visiting, as soon as the province-wide patron database is operational. You will also be able to return stuff anywhere in province, too, and I suspect it’ll get checked in at that location right away, rather than you having to wait three weeks or more for the items to clear off your card.

And no, I don’t know when any this comes into effect. I’ve heard too many dates to accurately predict one. There might not even be a point in asking at your library about this yet either. Many of us haven’t had a lick of training with the new library catalogue system yet so don’t know how to train patrons on its use. I think some areas might be getting better training than others, better information than others. The whole launch of this thing has been muddled from the get go. Too much going on at once maybe, but it’s all stuff that has to be done before we go live with this.

I’ll add more info about this when I know more.


Illiteracy should alarm educators anyway

October 4, 2009

They don’t mean people who can’t read though. The article is focused on the fact that people who don’t read the bible might not understand biblical references. Is this a bad thing? Bible ignorance can be good for laughs:

Half of American high-school seniors surveyed recently thought Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

“Oh, sweet Gomorrah, how your hair glistens in the starlight.”

“Ah, Sodom, your giant package alarms yet delights me! Live up to your name, sweet jester! Deliver it to my temple through the back door!”

The survey questions were taken more seriously than I can manage, of course. Should we be bothered that kids don’t know what “patience of Job” means these days?

Isn’t that what Google is for? If they want to know, they can look it up for themselves. (It’s all about putting up with shit from your elders when they’re trying to make a point, kids. Rebel by ignoring them!)

An art history teacher in France found children were mystified by the “strange bird” (a dove representing the Holy Ghost) common in Renaissance paintings.

Well, is that the fault of schools, or just the fact that not everyone’s expected to understand artistic symbolism anymore? That’s a class I never took in university and part of me wishes I had. I always thought a flower was a flower. Now I find out colour and placement all tells more than the picture shows? Wild and crazy, man! Why can’t it just be about flowers!?

Until recently, such confusion was little more than fodder for faculty-room jokes, evidence of the increasing secularism of Western societies. But educators attending a conference at McGill University yesterday heard there is growing recognition in Europe and North America that religious illiteracy creates serious barriers between cultures.

Nobody seems to be suggesting people need a complete understanding of the Talmud and Qu’ran as well. No suggestions to read and fully memorize the Bhagavad Gita either. Just the Bible? Doesn’t that also create barriers between cultures? The world contains more than just atheists and Jesus lovers after all.

Canadians have to learn to live alongside newcomers for whom religion is central to their identity. “We’re going to survive as a country by bringing in people from different religions, and many times that is how they define themselves,” he said. “Whether you think it’s a good thing or it’s a bad thing, it’s there, and you have to be respectful.”

You have to respect the people. Their beliefs may truly deserve to be mocked and ridiculed, though. But changing city codes just to remind newcomers that pork is served and stonings aren’t allowed – well, that not the best way to welcome immigrants, as the city of Hérouxville, Quebec discovered. Cripes.

Isabelle Saint-Martin of the Paris-based European Institute of Religious Sciences, began yesterday with an anecdote about a popular children’s text used in French schools in the early 20th century. Authorities at the time insisted that a character’s reference to his father being “in heaven” be changed to, “My father is dead.” An exclamation of, “My God!” was changed to “Alas!” New French texts have created waves because they include excerpts from the Bible and depictions of Christ’s crucifixion, she said, as part of an explanation of the cultural significance of religions.

Are there other books in use that quote the greatness of Allah or whatever? It’s awfully one-sided to only offer stories focused on one particular belief set, even if the majority claims to follow them. I think I prefer the bowdlerized versions that took religious references out. That way everyone can enjoy them without needing to recognize a god of any kind.

The fact that a lot of old books were written by Christians who were well versed (hah!) in biblical lore does cause problems, though. At the time, the writers could assume everyone had the same literary background because their audience likely did. Can’t trust that assumption these days, though. Specialized references will just get lost if most of the audience hasn’t had a similar experience. It all comes down to that meme thing in the end. I think it’s a step forward in a lot of ways if people don’t automatically understand biblical references. It’d be nice to be rid of a few of them, frankly.

Ms. Moore, of Harvard, said religious content should be incorporated throughout the curriculum and not restricted to a single course. “Religion permeates all dimensions of human life,” she said. She identified a wide range of problems caused by a lack of religious understanding, including anti-Semitism and the equation of Islam with violence and terrorism. She said it also leads to the portrayal of religion as “obsolete, irrational and oppressive” found in the works of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

But it IS obsolete and irrational and oppressive. There are no new gospels, beliefs are all based on the beliefs of others in the distant past who may or may not have experienced what they claim, and every single one of them has something positive to say about slavery or dominating women or abusing children or who’s worthy of death for thinking like a heathen. Why should we want to continue to support that crap?

And don’t try and say you can work around that and toss the bad stuff and give us the good. Sorry, this isn’t like coffee grounds in your pot of java. The bad shit’s all over those religions like milk scum left in your mug, and it doesn’t matter how much good coffee you pour into your mug after, the milk scum is still there, still noticeable. And once it’s mixed, it’s forever fixed. The only choice is to dump it all, or get a brand new mug and something else to drink.

Mr. Boudreau is optimistic that the emerging generation is more open to studying religion. Strident secularism in Quebec was a product of the Quiet Revolution, when the province emerged from a period of Church domination referred to by some as the great darkness. “The kids aren’t there any more. They’re very curious, they’re very open,” he said. “The religion classes at McGill are full. The students want to know more.”

And knowing is half the battle. Know how the religions started, where the beliefs took root, why they took root. Really understand how they function, how they unite yet alienate. How they teach and what people actually learn and use in their lives to justify both great things and treachery. Understand just how man-made they all are. Compare creation myths. Compare old ideas with current knowledge about the world and universe. Don’t take faith at face value. Don’t scoff at a pantheon just because monotheism is currently the fad.

If after everything you manage to discover you can still turn towards God with a smile, go for it. But don’t be shocked when you see more turn away.


Literacy lifts a life

October 3, 2009

Thanks to a crafty librarian who understood a boy — one who felt he had to steal what he needed lest people know that what he needed was a book.

The book was The Treasure of Pleasant Valley — and it had an alluring cover, especially for a teenage boy.

Neal remembers it being “risque — a drawing of a woman who appeared to be wearing something that was basically see-through. But the symbolism was really great for me at that age of 16.”

There was just one problem: If Neal took the book to the checkout counter, he was sure that the girls who worked on the counter would tell his friends.

“Then my reputation would be down, because I was reading books,” Neal said. “And I wanted them to know that all I could do was fight and cuss.”

Finally, Neal decided that he ought to steal the book, in order to preserve his reputation. So he did.

A week or two later, Neal had finished the book — so he brought it back to the library, careful to replace it in the same spot he had found it.

And where it was supposed to sit was another book by that same author. So, Olly switched them, and did the same thing again, and again, never realizing until later that the librarian and her assistant were secretly helping him. They were going out of their way to get those Frank Yerby books for him because they understood the conflict he felt between being the tough thug his friends expected, and being somebody else entirely, one who could enjoy reading without fear of ridicule. He believes he made it to law school in part because of their kind assistance.

Nifty.

Go to a library today. Talk to a librarian. Take a moment to realize how vital their work can be.

One person can make a difference.


In honour of International Literacy Day…

September 8, 2009

Drop Everything and Read! At 1:00, that’s what I’ll be doing.

A small mob is using the same time this afternoon to visit Saskatoon’s Chief of Police to read him his rights – Reader’s Rights. I don’t know if they’ll use this list or The American Library Association’s version:

The right to not read.
The right to skip pages.
The right to not finish.
The right to reread.
The right to read anything.
The right to escapism.
The right to read anywhere.
The right to browse.
The right to read out loud.
The right not to defend your tastes.

What are you reading?


Losing touch with more than heritage

December 9, 2008

The good news first – there are other dictionaries.

The bad news – Oxford is dumping necessary words out of their junior edition to make more room for up-to-date word usage.

Oxford University Press has removed words like “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire” and “monarch” from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like “blog”, “broadband” and “celebrity”. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.

The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society.

But academics and head teachers said that the changes to the 10,000 word Junior Dictionary could mean that children lose touch with Britain’s heritage.

Aisles are also found in grocery stores, not just churches. Bishops are also found in chess. Chapel, well, besides Nurse Chapel I’ve got no example. But why dump empire and monarch? There is such a thing as a monarch butterfly and there is such a thing as an empire waist on some styles of dress.

The more words a kid can learn and understand and use properly in sentences, the better off they’ll be, won’t they?

I see they removed more than they put in. Look at this list!

Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe

Dwarf, elf, goblin

Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Right, because they’ll never need to know about bran or poultry or spaniels.

But, some people are more upset about the loss of church-related terminology:

Lisa Saunders, a worried mother who has painstakingly compared entries from the junior dictionaries, aimed at children aged seven or over, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, said she was “horrified” by the vast number of words that have been removed, most since 2003.

“The Christian faith still has a strong following,” she said. “To eradicate so many words associated with the Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”

Why? Won’t the kids in Christian families be exposed to those words at home or church anyway? I’d be far more pissed off over how many plants and animals got the axe so kids could learn how to spell “celebrity” and “cut and paste.” I just hope they’re encouraged to read a lot so they get exposed to all these words. They’re going to need them eventually.

In all honesty, I didn’t think much about how it was decided what words to include in a children’s dictionary. I had a copy of the Charlie Brown one when I was a kid but not for school use. At school I had a real dictionary, not a junior edition. I had a thesaurus, too. That thing was damned handy in English class. I suspect a lot of kids have never seen one in use.

Words are power. That’s the reason why the pen is mightier than the sword after all. When you take away someone’s ability to describe the world around them, you limit them.


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