The other morning, a group of schoolchildren got onto the train, along with the appropriate adult supervision. (This seems to be a regular occurrence. I’m not sure where these children are going; I’m sure school trips were much less frequent when I was in primary school).
One girl picked up a free paper that had been discarded by a commuter, and was promptly told to put it back, with words to this effect: “Put the newspaper away, please, if you’re not reading it. It’s not for children.”
I think the teacher or classroom assistant was probably trying to protect the innocent minds of her young charges from the horrors that appear in the news on a daily basis, but this hardly seemed like the right thing to say.
The caveat “if you’re not reading it” failed to detract from the idea that she should not be reading it, and would possibly get into trouble for doing so. Avoiding newspapers doesn’t make children immune to the idea of ‘unpleasantness’, which they hear of, and often experience, regardless.
The solution is to explain things in an age-appropriate way when faced with the inevitable questions. To put a child off reading, even with good intentions, is no way to protect them in the long run.
The idea that books (and newspapers) are not for reading surfaced again today, when I was searching online for vintage and antique books. There were a number being sold on Ebay as job lots, with descriptions suggesting them as ‘authentic’ decor for pubs or wedding centrepieces.
I love a good-looking library as much as the next person, if not a little more, but the idea of books as ornaments above all is a little dispiriting.
That’s not to say that looks aren’t important – everybody knows they are. That’s why publishers spend time and money hiring designers to come up with covers that will attract the reader’s eye from the shelf or in the listings of the search results on Amazon. I’ve looked up a book’s synopsis before having seen a cover on Pinterest or featured on a design blog.
The difference is that these covers are supposed to attract readers. That’s the ultimate goal.
I’ve also seen books advertised by colour, for people looking to fill their living room shelves with coordinating leather-bound volumes, and I can’t help thinking of Owl Eyes rummaging through the uncut books in Gatsby’s library.
As somebody with an interest in visual art and design, I’ll always be drawn to a good jacket. But I’ll carry on buying books for their content.