arnold bennett

Reading expert, arbiter of all things

November is the month that causes a turkey’s and a librarian’s thoughts to turn to next year’s summer reading program. And October, and September, and maybe even part of August. It never leaves our thoughts, really. But, ah November! The time to order reading logs, stickers, posters, and little bitty plastic things to give away to young readers. Every year, librarians mutter to themselves that this will be the year it gets easier. This year,  we will have simple reading logs with simple instructions, we will be able to account for how much reading was done, no one will lose their reading logs, and even an adult librarian will be able to understand how the whole thing works. (Ooh, cheeky.)
So, in this time of hopeful planning, before the depression associated with reality sets in, let me offer a few words of charity from summer reading expert and library supporter, novelist Arnold Bennett (1):
“Literature, instead of being an accessory, is the fundamental sine qua non of complete living. I am extremely anxious to avoid rhetorical exaggerations. I do not think I am guilty of one in asserting that he who has not been ‘presented to the freedom’ of literature has not wakened up out of his prenatal sleep. He is merely not born. He can’t see; he can’t hear; he can’t feel, in any full sense. He can only eat his dinner.” (2)
You see? Tell that to the little children when they ask what the heck it’s all about. Not the plastic compasses and t-shirts. It is so that they may be able to eat their dinner with a certain self-satisfaction, and possibly a summer reading-themed cup.
1. I have no evidence to support this claim, but why should that mean anything?
2. From the excellent Literary Taste and How to Form It, 1909. And if the young ones need more counsel from Uncle Arnold when they have a question such as, “Which should I read first? Silas Marner or Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo? tell them this: “You do not exist in order to honor literature by becoming an encyclopedia of literature. Literature exists for your service. Wherever you happen to be, that, for you, is the centre of literature.” Very apt, sir. Thank you.