I can remember my mother, an avid reader and crossword puzzle devotee, now deceased, buying me a book each week from the local supermarket. If my memory serves me correct, I think they cost 15c for a hard cover book! I was in primary school, maybe grade four. She introduced me to W. E. Johns ‘Biggles’, and from there, C. S. Lewis ‘Narnia’ series. I read Nicholas Montsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’ when I was in grade six…four times! I can’t remember where I ‘found’ it, but it was one of the first ‘grown up’ books that I owned; I lost myself in the landscape of words.From there, there was no stopping me; I read everything I could get my hands on. There was no local library available until I went to high school, when I discovered the Sunshine library while riding my first bike, a Malvern Star Dragster. I remember hiding my bike in the adjacent paddock to go inside, where I found my paradise of books. I had to have my parents’ authority to join the library as a junior member, and vouch for the return of my books. There was never an issue as I would be there every few days. The borrowing limit was three books, which sometimes equated to three days!
I have a cast of favourite authors whose work I chase down and devour remorselessly until I have gorged upon their entire repertoire, then find myself at a loss until a new volume is issued, or another artist captures my attention.
I have enjoyed spirited discussions with clients who note my copy of “God is not great” by the late, great, Christopher Hitchens – probably my favourite author and certainly one of my favourite books – which enjoys permanent residence on my desk. Hitchens use of language, logic, and well-crafted argument never fails to engage me. My use of English is rudimentary at best, having hailed from the western suburbs of Melbourne, where one could get by with a very short list of words that could be utilised as noun, verb, or adjective!
In this latter part of my life, I have enjoyed partaking of the Australian authors; Jane Harper, Peter Corris, Gary Disher, and Nevil Shute. Though it was not so long ago the Scandinavian authors captured my attention after the brilliant Millennium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson enthralled me, and lead me to explore the work of other fabulous Northern European authors such as Henning Mankell, Jussi Adler Olsen, and Jo Nesbo.
Now, where is all this leading, you may ask…This is not a rant but a reverie, and a self-indulgent one at that, boring old fart!
But wait, it’s coming…
I have heard many opine about the current generation, who appear to have lost the love of literature, spending all their time on screens, to the detriment of their use of language, and their capacity to demonstrate literacy. My own children have not followed in my footsteps as avid readers. I still read every night, sometimes to the wee hours if I’m trapped in an engrossing volume.
Yet I would argue that this is not a reasonable yardstick of intellect or cognitive capacity. The sheer volume of information available now through the internet, and social media, dwarfs that which I had at my fingertips in my developing years. I envy the current generation for the opportunity it has to grasp knowledge with such ease. A few key strokes and you have vast amounts of data upon which to feast. In my childhood, this would have entailed a 30-minute ride on my trusty dragster in the hope that I would be able to find that which I sought among the shelves at the library!
Now ‘Google’ (or Duck, Duck, Go) is my library. The generation emerging impresses me as vastly more educated in ways that matter. They are technologically savvy, environmentally, sexually, and socially aware, and don’t suffer bullshit easily. They are not afraid to call out my generation, who are prone to perpetuating the old myths, and dedicated to maintaining the patriarchal status quo.
Hence, are we witnessing the decline of the power of religion, once the bastion of male domination and power, and subjugation device of women? The long overdue rise of female equity in our society, showcased by the #metoo movement, among many others, bears testament to what seems plain common sense; one’s gender does not equate to ability in any sphere of endeavour, and women can – and will – excel in any field, when given equal opportunity.
The pro-democracy movements gaining momentum in places as distant as Hong Kong and Iran, and the world-wide climate change movement, derive energy from the youth of today. I admire their courage and their drive. I suspect the survival of our species may depend upon them.
I am not a fan of the ‘good old days’. My latest literary enjoyment is Naomi Wolf’s ‘Outrages’. This splendidly-researched tome outlines so much of what was unconscionable in the ‘good old days’. It details instances of unjust treatment of gay writers, academics, artists, and others in the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain. I commend it to you; the world today faces a great many challenges, but man, have we come a long way…and there is still a long way to go.
Dr Alan Underwood
December 2, 2019