“I was never an avid reader until I was 11 or 12,” writes Alastair Harper on the Guardian Books Blog. “Before I started reading,” he remembers, “I was a rather subservient, slow little boy who never really did anything wrong, but never did much right either. Books inspired me to be very naughty indeed; and, with the simple moral logic of youth, I perceived them to be on my side, not authority’s, which was what made me want to read them.
Harper is responding to a flurry of public projects aimed at getting more kids to read. These initiatives tend to assume that reading is edifying, producing well-behaved, wholesome citizens, a logic Harper doesn’t really understand.
“Perhaps a little bit of literature does make you well-mannered,” he concedes sarcasticly. “A sprinkling of Austen will probably be fine. But the government should point out that an excess of reading can be very dangerous indeed. Acknowledge that many books are far more horrifying, perverse and immoral than anything in Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps print warning labels on dust jackets. Now, if that happened, a real children’s reading revolution would begin!”