Literacy: Friend or Foe?
“Books are a load of crap,” Philip Larkin famously wrote in his 1964 poem “A Study of Reading Habits.” Although we are hopeless, incurable readers at Polite, we tend to agree. Yes, yes, literacy is a vital skill, essential for honors classes and Ivy League admissions and humanities degrees and whatnot. But in terms of helping you to get a girl or fix a radiator? Literacy is useless.
In tangible terms, the restless hyperliteracy with which we are afflicted has brought us nothing but neuroses, dyspepsia, and social retardation. We can’t seduce a woman without comparing ourselves to Prufrock. We can’t get blind drunk without realizing that doing so is a cliche. We see the holes in all of our blackmail schemes and murder plots. Whenever we play the lottery, our thoughts turn to Shirley Jackson. We know who Cyril Connolly is. And we hate ourselves for it. In a more abrupt era, we would have been exiled or hanged. These days, we start stupid magazines in order to justify our affliction.
Because there is strength in numbers, we asked a number of hyperliterate friends, acquaintances, and transients to consider whether literacy is a blessing or a curse. The result? A field guide to the wilds of the written word; a compendium of dubious benefits; a study of reading habits for the postmodern age. If that sounds pretentious, we apologize, but we can’t really help it. Damn you, book learning. Damn you to hell.
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