A cupboard filled with books

Reading to Understand The Past

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When I read books i read to be transported back to a different time and a different way of thinking. That’s why i read James Bond books, among others. The books are old-fashioned but it is that obsolescence that makes them interesting.

They take us to a time before travel as we know it today. Imagine reading about being sun burned and sun oil. Imagine reading about speeding cars. Imagine reading about a time before road safety laws and speed limits. Imagine reading about when scuba diving was still exotic and more.

Recently people have been reading old books and destroying them by changing words and meanings. By editing books to be socially acceptable today we are behaving like the priest with a bell in Il Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. Do you remember the scene. Clang clang clang, insert a paper into the film reel where the kiss has to be spliced out.

The morality police isn’t splicing kisses or sex. It is neutralising gender, offensive terms and more. Words that make children giggle and laugh are being removed by grown ups.

They, the adults, see this as a social good but I don’t. In the age of Brexit, COVID denialism and a shift by political parties to the Far Right why are we worrying about books when the real social ill comes from what politicians are saying, of how populism is being used, to mislead people to vote against their own best interests?

A book is just a glimpse into the past and i am worried about the present.

My view on books is that we read them to understand how people saw the world before, whether from the 90s, the 50s or a century ago. We read Jane Austen A) because our English teacher told us to, but second to understand a different age and way of seeing the contemporary world. The world, contemporary to the writer, not to us.

I remember reading The Tiger that came to tea, thinking, “this is old fashioned and sexist” but that doesn’t stop me from reading it for a sibling’s offspring. Instead, it would be an opportunity for a well brought up child to say “but that tiger was not kind, that tiger was rude, and so was the dad when he came home.”

This brings me on to “All Creatures Great and Small”. “Oh I do wish you would pay attention” and more. Siegfried tells James off on a number of occassions for what he told James to do. James gets angry, but doesn’t say anything.

The issue with sensitivity readers is that they are moving on to adult books, with adult themes. James Bond is old fashioned, but if it is re-written then it loses some if its allure. I read James Bond while working in a humanitarian organisation. I knew that it was written in a different age, when people had different values and norms.

I worry about what contemporaries think, say and write, rather than what people wrote 60 to seventy years ago. The past is the past. Modern conversations, and modern books should reflect modern values. Will old films be re-edited to remove smoking? Will old films be edited for modern values?

Where will the line be drawn, on changing the past, to suit the views of people today?

And Finally

Roald Dahl was edited for modern audiences but the originals are still available, so you can have the “modern politically correct version” or the old fashioned historical version. Will you read the old fashioned version, and have a conversation about values, or read the sanitised version, and skip the conversation on morality and ethics?

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