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Reading in Decline?

I was delighted to see that the 60 second interview in yesterday’s Metro was with P J O’Rourke. His book Modern Manners (‘The world is going to hell. All we can do is behave in a way that makes us look good on the trip.’) contains so many laugh-out-loud sentences, I am surprised that reading it on public transport was not proclaimed illegal. Mind you, so many things appear to be acceptable on public transport these days.

I didn’t learn very much about P J O’Rourke, except that is 63, has been unwell (sorry to hear that) and is now better (fantastic news), and thinks Kurditsan looks like Switzerland.

I was , however, interested in views on the devaluation of the written word: “I’m mystified by the vast increase in the need for content – all the crap that goes out over the internet and all the TV channels on 24 hours a day…The demand is up, the supply one would thinkk would be contsant but the price is decreasing.”

P J O’Rourke worries about shortening attention spans. His only source of reassurance is this: “…we say people don’t read any more. The fact is people never really read. For most of human history (hello, this is me speaking – having watched The Origins of Us, I now have some appreciation of exactly how low this is. For millenia we invented nothing beyond hand-held tools, and then boom! it took off all of a sudden) there was nothing to read but, ever since literacy was invented, the number of people to take advantage of it has always been small.” Nothing, it seems, is new.

Which brings me back neatly to Modern Manners.  First published in 1983, before we lost all shame about speaking about private matters loudly and in public, and our thumbs were not permanently attached to miniature keyboards, it is no doubt horribly out of date. (So much material for an up-dated version? Did I mention that, on the return journey from Richmond last week, a mother sat opposite me, put her child on the seat next to her with feet on the seat, then put her own feet on the seat opposite . It remains, however, a bloody good read. Still available on Amazon, or scour you local second-hand bookshop and buy one for the first person who tells you that they don’t really like books.