Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What a load of Farsi

I just read my latest email from the fantastic Grist, which may explain the punchy and slightly irreverent headline. They have mastered this art form - as well as environmental journalism that is informative and entertaining. That's my endorsement for the day.

Except that I also have to mention another website that sends me incredibly useful emails, though everyDAY!, and that's Shelf Awareness, which had a link to an article I wanted to send out on this blog.

So the article is from the UK's Guardian newspaper - which, for those not in the know, is kind of like the New York Times insofar as it is smart and very arts-friendly, but it is openly considered somewhat left-leaning. The Nation it ain't - but maybe like the opposite of the Washington Times? (No, no link) Maybe not - I don't know just how rightwing that rag is. I often go to the America section of the Guardian site for good news on our very own country! And I look forward to their launching of an American version of their paper.

Anyhow, the article today is by Saeed Kamali Dehgan about publishing and literature in Iran, and it's quite fascinating (if too brief). Naturally we can't help but read this and wonder "could this happen here?" It's incredible to imagine turning in manuscripts and waiting for government approval to publish, or worse, to prepare a publication and have it blocked by the government.
A new regime of censorship began when Ahmadinejad took office. The cultural ministry imposed rules requiring renewed permits for previously published books. As a result, many books have been deemed unsuitable for publication or reprinting.
But I'd like to hear more about what he mentions at the opening of the piece:
There was a time when great Persian poets such as Hafez, Rumi or Khayyam were present in people's daily lives, permeating their speech even in the very rural regions, but now books scarcely figure in a country once recognised by its literature.
So was there a time in America where literature was discussed in the countryside, by even those who were not been fortunate enough to receive a strong education due to living in an impoverished community? I recently read Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre, which was about poor country folk down South. This man, now in print with a university press, wrote bestsellers about this contingent, but I don't know if poor folk were reading him.

As we all celebrate the reading happening in the middle class thanks to Oprah's book club, should we be settting our sites higher? I guess I'd be interested to see statistics on working class folks - though it's never clear how such a demographic is defined - and their reading habits. While working at Borders near a few working class communities, we sold a good deal of mass market books to folks, and of course library use would have to be figured in as well - and those are probably under-funded, as libraries often are these days. Those stats must be out there. Is there great literature mixed in amongst the sci-fi and romance novels? Where are the classics figuring into the reading material of people making closer to minimum wage, and can we include audio in the term "reading material?"

I know most people, regardless of class, get home from their jobs, irritated and/or unsatisfied, and switch on the television, leaving it buzzing all night. But I also know I grew up with parents who turned on the tv every night AND opened a book, so I'm not ready to give up yet. But hell, my livelihood depends on it, so I could just be clinging to the raft here.

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