Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I have seen the future, baby: it is murder

Call me Cassandra, but everyday, the drip, drip, drip of bad economic news is worrying me; especially what is happening within publishing and literacy. I understand the need to make fiscal cuts to reduce the borrowings in the UK, but cuts of > 25% and more in UK library budgets are worrying. As a child, our family lived on a very tight budget and the library was a refuge for me, a place of escape and a place to help a developing mind understand the world.

It seems that many writers feel the same.

From Library Journal [US] annual report

"I'm a writer because of libraries," asserted best-selling author Dennis Lehane. "Libraries say to working-class and poor kids that they matter, that they can read the same books as the children of the hedge fund managers."

Jeanette Winterson at Herald Scotland agrees

The author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, speaking in Edinburgh at an event to celebrate the 25th birthday of the publication of her most famous book, said she is worried about future young readers, who, unlike her when she was growing up in Accrington, Lancashire, may not have access to literary classics such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Winterson said that as a child her one escape from her oppressive home life was to go to her local library.

Yesterday she said she would “start at A and read Jane Austen and move to B and read the Brontes and go on from there”.

Winterson, 50, said she had been dismayed to visit her old library in Accrington to find it stocked with DVDs rather than books, and said that the less well off, less well-cared for children would not have the same experiences as she did. She said she also feared for libraries under the “Cameron cuts” in Government expenditure and the future of literature as it changes in the digital age.

I know I ‘bang the drum’ about the importance of reading, and how oppressive regimes use illiteracy to control populations – but in these days where the march of technology combined with the economic woes we face, form a perfect pincer-movement against literacy.

We need people of influence, who understand the importance of reading to speak out, like Jason Pinter pointed out in his recent article at The Huffington Post –

As Lev Grossman states in his TIME profile of Franzen, the quotes were taken somewhat out of context, and Franzen did in fact thank Oprah during his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards. Because after all, in our sound bite, knee-jerk culture it was easier to cherry pick the juicy quotes rather than try to understand that, at the time, Franzen was a relatively obscure writer coming to terms with suddenly being a literary post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio. And so now Franzen appears on the cover of TIME, is profiled in Vogue, and has riled up the literary community in a way that would make you think he'd spent the last nine years GTL'ing on the Jersey Shore rather than penning his next novel.

So why the animosity? Why the jealousness? Why are people taking potshots at Franzen rather than celebrating the recognition of a writer who is being put out there, front and center, to represent the importance of the written word, to tell people that his profession is worthy of recognition alongside the most important issues of our time?

The sad truth is, with few exceptions, writers are not recognized by the mainstream population or media. My guess is one hundred people could identify Snooki over every one who could identify Toni Morrison. The celebration of being famous for being loud and sloppy has usurped being famous for the act of actually creating. For once, someone who has created something, who is one of us, who not only knows the value of a book but has devoted his life to them, is being presented to society at large as our representative. And some people scorn this, as though they would prefer writers as a whole to remain anonymous, who seem to believe there is some odd nobility in remaining chained to the same desk chair in which you write your books. Or they would rather feud over who deserves what and why until the whole literary culture is fragmented into tiny crumbs that can be ignored and swept under the carpet.

Read More from Jason Pinter Here

When the written word is only available in digital platforms, and our libraries closed, bricks and mortar bookstores closed, then the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” will become a chasm that no one can traverse.

Then it will be too late, but we’ll all be singing this song below – Unless you do something!

Talk about books to your friends, colleagues, contacts, be seen reading a book, always have a book on you, pass books to friends - Reading is important in making people think for themselves, not be 'directed' by forces beyond our control.

All together now –

The Future © Leonard Cohen
Give me back my broken night my mirrored room, my secret life
it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby, that's an order!
Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left and stuff it up the hole in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I've seen the future, brother: it is murder.
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned the order of the soul
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
You don't know me from the wind you never will,
you never did I'm the little jew who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear,
to say it cold: It's over, it ain't going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future: it is murder
Things are going to slide ...
There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms
There'll be fires on the road and the white man dancing
You'll see a woman hanging upside down
her features covered by her fallen gown
and all the lousy little poets coming round
tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson and the white man dancin'

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby: it is murder

Things are going to slide ...
When they said REPENT REPENT

The Future © Leonard Cohen


  1. I spend every Saturday in bookshops and frequently visit libraries to talk to book groups. It's great when readers buy signed copies of my books, and of course that's one of the reasons I'm there, but the real significance of my visits is to meet people and talk about books, and create a buzz about bookshops. As an author and a reader, I'm passionate about supporting bookshops and meeting an author is an experience readers can't get online.

  2. Oh, but Amazon's Jeff Bezos has a passion for reading. That's why he's released a new Kindle with a 50% brighter screen!!!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. Hmmmm GIN required!