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Larkin told me she would have found it unconscionable to change her book to please a dictatorship. People ask: "What price liberty?

The beginning of silent reading changed Westerners’ interior life

The publisher, from the home of Jefferson, Madison and the first amendment, decided last week to accept the ban and scrap the book. Globalisation has turned the world upside down. Reader's Digest was so anti-communist in the cold war that its enemies muttered that the CIA might as well have been funding it. They sneered at its middlebrow manners as much as its politics — "I mean condensed novels for Christ's sake. In , the sight of Solidarity, a genuinely working-class movement, rising against the Soviet occupation of Poland, disoriented the western left.

Susan Sontag, who knew how to hurt when she had to, wiped the smiles from a few lips by raising the despised Digest. At a meeting at New York town hall attended by the publisher of the Nation , and many another eminent figures from the American left, she told her listeners that they had been so keen to defend the victims of McCarthyism and American capitalism that they had forgotten about the victims of Soviet communism. Imagine if you will, she continued , "someone who read only the Reader's Digest between and and someone in the same period who read only the Nation or the New Statesman.

Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

The Reform Era

The audience booed her. But although you can find many on the left as indifferent to universal human rights today, I'll say one thing for them: no one can smack them over the head with Reader's Digest now.


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During the cold war, business had to be anti-communist. The communists wanted to take capitalists' money and, on occasion, to kill them too. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the state capitalist dictatorships in Russia and China, defending free speech, defending even the right of an author to criticise torture in passing, may risk the chance to profit. For if China offers the cheapest printers and a huge market, who wants to alienate its leaders? No one, if the grotesque spectacle of the "market focus on China" at last year's London Book Fair was a guide.

The British Council and the British book trade kept the Communist party sweet by refusing to invite any Chinese "visiting authors" whose work had upset the regime. Now it guarantees profits, Reader's Digest censors on its behalf.

Now Putin is in the Kremlin, they ensure that the first aim of David Cameron's advisers in the Ukraine crisis is to do nothing that might "close London's financial centre to Russians". Everyone knows LP Hartley's line: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. For most people, the present is foreign and frightening.

A Reader in Nineteenth-Century Chinese History

The intellectual left that Sontag so magnificently upbraided in had little real power. You only had to look at it to see that.


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By contrast, the publishers, banks and corporations, who have taken over the role of deferring to Moscow and Beijing, have power and money and the ability to use both. Topics Reader's Digest Opinion. If silent reading was in fact rare or rude in ancient times, then at some point the expectation of readers in society shifted. It took place in workshops, barns, and taverns.

It was almost always oral but not necessarily edifying. But by the time Marcel Proust was writing in the late s, his narrator hoping for time to read and think alone in his bed, reading privately had become more of a norm for wealthy, educated people who could afford books and idle bedroom rumination. This came with the spreading of literacy and diverse kinds of reading material. Writes Darnton, records from until as late as showed that people who could read had only a few books: perhaps the Bible, an almanac, and some devotionals, that they read and re-read.

Modern Reader on the Chinese Classics of Flower Arrangement - Tuttle Publishing

As reading shifted away from the social, some researchers believe this helped create what we now call an interior life. But with silent reading the reader was at last able to establish an unrestricted relationship with the book and the words. The words no longer needed to occupy the time required to pronounce them. This strange new trend of reading to oneself naturally had its detractors.

And worse: It let people learn and reflect without religious guidance or censure.

Best Chinese History Books

Silent reading by the late 19th century was so popular that people worried that women in particular, reading alone in bed , were prone to sexy, dangerous thoughts. Saenger hypothesizes that a shift in the way words were laid out a page facilitated the change. Latin words once ran all together, makingithardtoparsethem. Saenger argues that Irish monks, translating Latin in the seventh century, added spaces between words to help them understand the language better.