It’s Literally Literary Snobbery

Why do less people read now than, say, 50 years ago? Is the answer really just “Xbox”, or are there other reasons that the general public choose to avoid books?

Laziness is often blamed. Lethargic language: people no longer have the discipline to speak the Queen’s English, let alone read. Phrases have been shortened, “textified”, people don’t even communicate between each other in the correct manner, let alone have the commitment to read and learn from the minds of authors.

Language is a key issue. In the world that’s around us, it’s used differently compared to how it appears in books and the majority of mainstream media. Look at the presenters on pretty much any television channel – who do they really represent?

If reading has become such a hardship, at what point do we start to question the industry, rather than pouring scorn on the individuals not wishing to embrace it? The beauty of language is its ability to evolve; it can shape to any environment in which it’s used, morphing into the most useful tool that is required in any given circumstance.

Doctors use medical abbreviations to speed up procedures, journalists use shorthand to record large volumes of data, Creole is still used by the African Caribbean community as a symbol of black identity and to counter racism. Why should we hold desperately on to the same words with the same meanings, used in the same way with the same connotations for eternity? Surely that’s lazy.

The creation of new syntax, expressions, words and idioms and the reinvention of the language system is a creative art form in itself, and should not be ignored. Excluding these linguistic shifts in the way we communicate serves only to keep literature an exclusive domain.

Even the terms used to classify books appear out of touch. Take the genre Contemporary Literature. What’s modern about great authors like George Orwell or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Contemporary in genre? If that’s how we need to label it. But it’s an interesting choice of term given these authors were born in 1903 and 1927 respectively. “Ha, ha, ha, you stupid boy, Contemporary Literature has nothing to do with anything modern. Go and wait in the corridor”.

Reading should not be restricted to the confines of a system most cannot grasp; it should be an opportunity to learn from the minds of others and project your own, regardless of how those words are arranged on a page. It should remain a form of expression and art, and of freedom. If many of the books we read (or choose not to) ignore the language being used by the majority of the population, how likely is it that this population will choose to listen?

If the literary world around us fails to truly represent the world around it, based on an antiquated notion of self-importance, and if we continue to ignore sub-languages and cultures as they continue to evolve, then literary snobbery will indeed cost the readership of a nation.

Daniel Marsh

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