First Awfully Big Post of 2011! I was going to write about my new Kindle; but I think that'll have to wait, because the more I think on't, the more it seems to me that 2011 is going to be one of those years in which we have to stand up and shout a lot. And by 'we', I mean anyone who cares about books and believes that the ability and opportunity to read are crucial to social mobility and a cultured and civilised society. Oh, and who believes that social mobility and a cultured and civilised society are things we should be concerned about.
Now, I'm not one of those who thinks that the recent decision to completely cut government funding to Bookstart proves that Michael Gove is really a two-headed alien lizard from the planet Aaarg hellbent on domination of the human race*. No, I just think it means that we have a government that (a) is desperate to make cuts because of the genuine financial crisis in which we find ourselves, and (b) doesn't understand stuff. Important stuff, like the fact that there are children who start school not knowing what a book is and lacking the concept that text carries meaning, and that this is a Bad Thing.
Similarly, I don't think the local councillors who are proposing to cut library budgets by as much as 43% are evil geniuses plotting the overthrow of civilisation from their secret lairs under volcanoes. I just think they're a bit stupid, or at least genuinely ignorant of the good that libraries do and the purposes they serve.
Unfortunately, this sort of ignorance isn't confined to politicians. There's a letter in yesterday's Observer about Bookstart (fifth one down, just beneath the one from Shirley Hughes) whose pomposity is matched only by its cluelessness. I do hope the writer looks at the comments on the website. Similarly, there do seem to be a lot of people who honestly don't see the problem with tearing apart the library service on the grounds that we now have computers and X-Boxes and Tesco sells books anyway.
It's been great to see authors, librarians and teachers standing against the barbarian tide that threatens to overwhelm us, but we can't just leave it to those big enough to get their names in the paper. I know I'm in large part preaching to the converted here, but I hope that in 2011 we'll all resolve to get involved. If you haven't done so already, please sign up to Alan Gibbons's Campaign For The Book (contact form at the bottom of the page), and check out the Library Campaign website to find details of things you can do nationally and locally.
Happy new year!
*I know that announcements have since been made that Bookstart will not disappear, but as far as I know no specifics have been announced, and no-one's said that government funding will be restored.
John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com