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Has Electronic Life wiped out Books?

I recently read an article about Jacqueline Wilson (link) and amongst the views attributed to her was that she believed that “Electronic life has wiped out books.” This seems like a strong statement but what is the truth behind it? According to the Washington Post (link) there has been over a 16% decline in adults who read at least one literary work per year from 1982 to 2015 from just under 57% to 43.1%. I find that quite shocking as the percentage in 1982 already seems low. 
Apparently there are more things to amuse us nowadays. With our smartphones we can surf the web or read our emails, play games or watch more television programs. I am a fan of television series and do watch a number of films and programs a week but one important thing I find with the cinematic art form is that while it may exercise your brain with issues brought to the fore, it doesn’t drive your imagination.

Surely imagination is the well spring for creativity. Without imagination our whole society would struggle to function. How would we develop, how would we grow without that capacity to think what would be and then working out how to get there? And surely books are the playground for that creativity.

I’m not saying that books are the only playground for any of the creative arts will do that. Sculpture, basket weaving, drama, embroidery, painting, etc.. are all pastimes that will drive the imagination. But when we simply hover over what I would call static detail, that which is fixed and cannot be changed, then our imagination will die.

I don’t think Jacqueline Wilson is totally right, well, not yet. But she certainly has hit the nail on the head with how things are heading.

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Are you Decent Enough to Show Some Decency?


I have been thinking about the purpose of writing recently. One common thread I hear from some fellow writers is that they are writing for themselves and it doesn’t bother them if they are never read. I find it strange but fair enough, I suppose. It doesn’t fit in with my idea of writing. Making a living with it would be good but I struggle to see why I should write if not to be read. Otherwise why not just think? But if that’s your bag then alright.
For those of us who want to be read the issue remains why? Are we there to just entertain, or are we trying to influence. I believe books influence whether we set out to or not. Like any media, the written word changes people, for better or for worse. The influence of written material from the Bible to Mein Kampf, from To Kill a Mocking Bird to Animal Farm all cause changes in the reader. Sometimes slow, maybe subtle but always a change.

So what are we passing on? Here’s a few ideas:

“I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence – providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.”

Studs Terkel

“I feel deeply my responsibility to teach sacred things. I am so aware that the world is changing and will be vastly different from the one I have known. Values have shifted. Basic decency and respect for good things are eroding.”

James E. Faust

The above quotes show writers prepared to set an example towards decency, one showing what they believe already exists within us and the other trying to pull people back to what is perceived as a better time. Writing is such a powerful medium for engaging someone with a message like this. By taking time aside to read, the person is also taking time to think whether they consciously desire that or not.

“Our scientific age demands that we provide definitions, measurements, and statistics in order to be taken seriously. Yet most of the important things in life cannot be precisely defined or measured. Can we define or measure love, beauty, friendship, or decency, for example?”

Dennis Prager

Maybe the importance of writing is in trying to explain and promote these qualities that cannot be measured but have to be shown. Whether we write non-fiction or fiction we portray these qualities, or lack of, in our characters thereby asking our readers indirectly who they are closest to. Is this not why reading is sometimes uncomfortable. A solemn duty as Prager describes these things as “the most important things in life”.

“Never assume, no matter how strong the temptation, that other people are low-life lying manipulators without a shred of human decency.”

Dinesh D’Souza

Here, D’Souza pleas for hope in all people, saying we all have decency to some degree within us. Is our writing therefore a heat lamp, a drop of water, seeking to grow that seed.

“I’m under the impression that this notion of decency is disappearing from our society where conflicts are made worse on cinema and on television, where people are nasty and cruel on the Internet and where, in general, everybody seems to be very angry.”

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren relates how she thinks that creative arts can actually create the opposite to the decency we have talk about. It is quotes like this that make me believe we do have a responsibility in what we write in that we know it will influence, for better or for worse. Where your lines of good and bad are drawn may differ from mine but let us never entertain the idea that our work is standing alone in this world. It will provoke a reaction, in manner and belief, not just in words.

Last word to Mary McAleese.

“That past is still within our living memory, a time when neighbour helped neighbour, sharing what little they had out of necessity, as well as decency.”

Mary McAleese

So is your writing decent enough to promote decency whether by showing the benchmark or the poor example, consequence or folly? Or do we just entertain? I don’t believe so.


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What do you Burn?

This week, our environmental (certainly by comparison with the devices that formerly heated our house) wood pellet boiler stopped. In classic comic timing, it also stopped just as we started to get frost on the ground. Through insight, or possibly sheer luck, we have a back-up stove which is capable of heating our whole house but with coal. Quickly it was brought into action while we waited until Monday to call the fitters to remedy our problem.
Whilst the whole episode was a pain in the behind, it got my old ticker thinking: How do you keep the writing fire burning? I’m not talking about writer’s block but rather making sure the fuel is there in the back boiler of the mind so that the creative burning processes up front are not starved! How does one ensure an ever ready supply of ideas and situations to colour our minds?
Writing, by its nature, can be such a solitary pursuit. Ideas are often rampaging around our heads while the outside world is blissfully unaware of the turmoil inside. So I tried to distil what it is that supplies the fuel to myself. I have come up with three items, which are by no means the only sources available. They just happen to be the uptakes that I require the most.

1. Observation – Just sitting and watching people. A dangerous pursuit to be sure and one best achieved at a distance. The stories of lives generated in my head by looking at people’s actions without knowing their purpose is like my own personal mine. And its being attacked with charges, not pick-axes! Sometimes I can sit for an hour or two happily telling the story of the blank canvas in front of me. It’s similar to when they made the old cartoons. There were different layers in each frame, one of which was just the character on its own. This is what I see and my mind fills in the background. No doubt it would be a disturbing reveal to the poor subject of my thoughts! Little did they realise they were hiding from the spawn of an ancient demon, summoned by a cult of long and twisted history!

2. Read Real Life – There is nothing weirder than real life. If I think of all the bizzare fictional stories I have read, none compare to the weird happenings we get in real life. So sometimes it is justified to read those trashy tales in either glitzy magazines or the obscure “enquirers”. Often when I come up with an idea that I think is either unique, or just !way out there”, a review of things I have read within the last six months shows where that idea came from. There is nothing new under the sun it seems!

3. New Places – For atmosphere and ambience creativity, you cannot beat a trip to somewhere you have never been. It doesn’t need to be exotic, nor popular. This is because it’s the little details that you pick up and use in another vista that matters. Like cartoonists we build layer upon layer with our locations, each frame drawn from something we have seen, smelt, touched, tasted or heard. Like how even the sea air varies depending on which beach you are on. A little change does you good!
These are my three bags of coal, lumps of wood or pellets to burn. What are yours?

Originally posted 29 November 2014 on Blogspot