On the eve of October 13, 2013, Neil Gaiman, the celebrated author of the Sandman series, defended libraries at the second annual Reading Agency lecture in London. The U.K. government is toying with the idea (some of this already well in motion) of shutting down libraries, about 400 within three years, to save money. Gaiman was super mad about this, and said that shutting down libraries would be like cutting vaccination programs, especially for children.
The Independent, covering the speech, quoted Gaiman as saying, “To remain a global power and have a citizenry that is fulfilled and fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations we need literate kids and literate adults.” Gaiman fervently stated that reading even a bad book could help open the doors to preferable ones, fantasy fiction being a great catalyst specifically. Reading at a young age helps with empathy and basic intelligence, and cultivating creative solutions for problems. On a scary note, according to Gaiman, the U.S. made an algorithm that could predict how many prison cells the country would need by plugging in literacy rates, and the results seemed all kinds of dark.
I would have to 100% agree with Gaiman on every word he says. As a kid, I indulged in fantasy and science fiction, and am pretty sure it upped my empathy stats a fair deal. Even schlocky fiction helped when it came time to harvest creative and in depth thoughts. I can’t imagine not being exposed to creative fiction in my formative years, let alone not reading at all. Illiteracy is for some reason still a widespread problem, and breeds illegal activity and folks that can’t empathize with one another in fruitful, intelligent ways.
My father has stated multiple times in his ranting about humanity that what is lacking here is basic goodness, a Buddhist concept. In brief, it’s the basic awareness we all must share, something reading can only bolster. The search for knowledge and the enjoyment of finding connections with characters in a fantasy universe both scaffold the development of wisdom. So yeah, Neil, it’s one hell of a good idea to keep those libraries open, affording knowledge and imagination to a generation that may not have it. Kids these days (as older folks say) are bombarded with dumb-ass information in micro-quantities; reading a novel cover to cover is not only an imaginative journey but one of basic discipline as well.
Sometimes I imagine, say, a world without Harry Potter. Gaiman pointed to the fantasy genre as having reinvigorated kids’ interest in reading, and he’d be correct. J.K. Rowling’s insane success is not only financial, it’s ideological. The Harry Potter series paved the way for admittedly lesser quality books, but highly proliferated titles nonetheless. Some highbrow literati may say that HP is trash, but it can’t be argued that Rowling saved an entire generation of potential readers. I’d much rather have a lot of kids wanting to be wizards than crime lords (I’m looking at you GTA5). Gaiman even said that labeling books as good and bad was a dick move, and all books had the power to attract kids to reading, whether they be Twilight or Great Expectations. I still prefer Roald Dahl, but as long as it’s a book, we’re going to be fine.