Saturday 7 January 2012

The not-so-Famous 5

It's laudable that Schools Minister Nick Gibb wants children to extend J K Rowlings (well-deserved) fortune still further but what are the chances of that happening in the age of instant gratification via the Internet?

Growing up in the nineteen sixties I read voraciously, but what I consumed depended very much on what was to hand and although I got my mitts on Enid Blyton, I had never heard of the likes of Arthur Ransome, CS Lewis or Roald Dahl until many years later. Weirdly, I distinctly recall wading through the turgid and incomprehensible Lorna Doone way before I was old enough to understand it. But it was there so I read it. Not that I didn't also read comics of every ilk as well and I recall that there were often dog-eared copies of Reader's Digest lying around. If it was in print, I'd pore over it. Reading was its own reward and without it I'd be lost.

But once again we come down to the real problem. Those parents who do read, those wholly literate families, are not part of today's problem. Just as they instil the work ethic, behavioural norms and a sensible morality, those parents - we used to use the term 'good' parents, but I expect that is now considered pejorative to those who aren't - don't need preaching to.

The ones Nick Gibb needs to reach are those for whom retreat into the pages of a brilliant book has never been an option. Those whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents (probably in their mid-fifties now) have never read a book for pleasure. The chances of many of those kids being aware of anything other than Harry Potter are vanishingly slim and that awareness is likely to be only via the movie franchise.

I can't afford books! I bet that's what they say, isn't it? (Like I can't afford proper, locally sourced, real food - only stuff that I illogically pay other people to stuff full of sugar and salt and fat and preservatives, then can it, store it and ship it around the globe) I can't afford 'proper' books - only them ones wot you get on the telly... by Walt Disney and wossname. Arguments that don't hold water, presented by those who don't have the language to state their case.

The Story of Hal 5 and the Haywards was my first proper hardback book. I must have been about six or seven years old and this little volume, which I read and read and read, probably had as much to do with my life view as my love of reading. In one bookseller's synopsis it says "Hal 5 is a little car, with just room for four passengers. who was bought by the Hayward family because he was less fashionable, less shiny and less expensive than the other cars." Forget about privileged upbringings, mythical histories and sorcery, what is wrong with a story about the realistic ambitions and aspirations of ordinary people?

Hal 5 is long out of print now - it's the blue cover in the montage above - but I managed to find a second-hand copy online and I just ordered it. I'm going to read that little book one more time then pass it on to a family that might appreciate it - Hal 5 deserves to end up in a good home.

If you want it, let me know - first come, first served.