Sunday, February 19, 2006

Libby Purves wants law changed

Also in today's blog

Steve Biddulph's changed title
Collapse of English culture?
Bookworm Opinion piece
The Book Magazine's launch

Women journalists and writers are lucky because we can usually combine our careers and hands-on motherhood without any of the conflicts affecting women in other fields. My son spent his early childhood confined inside a large play-pen while, having retired after ten years of staff reporting, I typed my books in the next room, out of sight but not out of earshot.

Could that time behind bars be the reason he's spent a lot of his adult life exploring faraway places? No, his wanderlust is more likely to be genetic. His father set off to see the world at 16 and most of his great-great-uncles were Empire builders.

On Tuesday, columnist and novelist Libby Purves wrote an interesting piece in The Times headed "The under-3s should be at home with mum. That's why the law and the workplace must change."
She went on
"Babies have always been plagued by theorists. So when you find a guru willing to change his mind when evidence and humanity prompt, you rejoice. For me, Steve Biddulph - one of the most popular ones in the world, with four million books sold - is the man... Now he risks his neck by cautioning that putting children under 3 into nurseries all day may seriously damage their development. He saw the best nurseries "struggle to meet the needs of very young children in a group setting". The worst were "negligent, frightening and bleak - a nightmare of bewildered loneliness that was heartbreaking to watch". He supported early nursery once; he has looked and recanted."

At Steve Biddulph's site I read
"Fifteen years ago, some close friends of the authors went through a painful and shattering divorce. Feeling powerless to help, as friends usually do, Steve and Shaaron began a long term project to understand, for themselves as much as anyone else, how to make love work.
Most marriages experience growth phases which if not understood or supported properly, often blow their partners apart. Conflict, and what looks like an impossible incompatibility between men and women overall, is in fact the thing that burns off immaturity, selfishness, and lack of awareness, and can lead to deeper happiness over decades, than anything which young lovers can experience.
Practical, funny, powerful, and intensely personal, this book is the least known of the Biddulph's books. It is also the one that readers most often stop them and say 'thank you' for.

I went to Amazon UK to see what readers had to say about it. But the title The Making of Love brought up a list of books about sex. Eventually I found that, at least for the UK market, the book has been re-titled The Secret of a Happy Family: Stay in Love As a Couple Through Thick and Thin and Even With Kids.

I wanted to ask the author the reason for this change, but his site doesn't have a contact link and probably he's already on tour promoting his new book out next month.

Collapse of English culture?

Early on Friday morning I read one of the most disturbing and stirring opinion pieces I've come across for some time. It was headed "Ignorance of the past makes us impotent before the present" and here is an extract
"Is it any wonder that, with no sense of our past or identity - as, in other moods, politicians increasingly complain - we are a culture obsessed with celebrity, football, and reality television? Most of our population know nothing else, and they have no yardstick from either history or culture with which to judge. As long ago as the 1920s, the great (classicist) poet T S Eliot stared at what he saw as the collapse of European culture: "These fragments I have shored against my ruin." Most of us have no knowledge now even of the fragments. We, or our children, will have only a desolate sense of loss, but we won't know what it is we have lost. Welcome to Rammell's world."

Bill Rammell, I discovered later, has been Labour Member of Parliament for Harlow since 1997. After the May 2005 General Election he was made Minister of State at the Department for Education and Skills with responsibility for lifelong learning, further and higher education.

The article,which gave some worrying statistics, concluded
"We are depriving our children of knowledge of all of this in our futile efforts to be modern and focused on the instrumental. We are forging a new dark age, in which the decline of the study of history is also to be welcomed. Mr Rammell would apparently have us rejoice in the fact that we have no sense of the past; but a person with no sense of the past is a person who is a stranger both to his or her own roots and to the human condition more generally. For human beings are not creatures of nature; we are inheritors of the history that has made us what we are. Not to know our history is not to know ourselves, and that is the condition not of human beings, but of animals."

This passionate accusation, deeply disturbing to all parents and grandparents who want their offspring to be educated well, was written by Professor Anthony O'Hear, Garfield Weston Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Department of Education at Buckingham University.

He is also Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, editor of the journal Philosophy, author of many books on the subject and a former government advisor on education and teacher training. Feeling I should like to read his book Plato's Children, I went to Amazon UK to read about it.

Here's the synopsis.
"10,000 years ago, Man [sic] lived in caves following their instinct with little knowledge; today, we have the most sophisticated understanding of our environment ever in the history of man. Yet, British popular culture feasts on feral impulses, such as mouthiness, exhibitionism, binge-drinking and child criminality, as opposed to achievements and intelligence. More than two millennia have passed since Plato coined the image of prisoners tied up in a cave mistaking shadows for reality to represent the human preference for diversion over difficult truth. He could not have known how prescient this image was. In today's world of TV and gratification, where celebrities represent our standard of ultimate success and media are our guide through reality, Plato's image is more relevant than ever in history. In this insightful look at the icons of modern culture, Anthony O'Hear investigates what has happened to our society, now that Plato's figure of speech has become a reality supported by a whole branch of industry. Weaned on a diet of visual stimulants, is our society disconnecting itself further and further truth? In a cross between John Gray's "Straw Dogs" and Francis Wheen's "How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World", media philosopher Anthony Hear [sic] argues that modern culture is creating a world of ideas in which truthfulness, responsibility, talent and achievements have started to mean less and less."

There were also several laudatory reviews, though one of them did mention that "the book has been badly proof-readen [sic] and has numerous typographical and punctuation errors." The publisher being unknown to me, I discovered that
"Gibson Square is a new publishing company founded in the Spring of 2001 by former Commissioning Editor of Duckworth, Martin Rynja. It publishes new titles under the Gibson Square imprint, and modern classics under the New Editions imprint. The launch of Gibson Square coincided with the award of the Pulitzer Prize 2001 to Hirohito, the controversial biography of the Japanese wartime Emperor he acquired for his previous publisher."

Bookworm piece in The Bookseller

[Note: there was a problem with the next link first thing this (Sunday) morning, but The Bookseller's site was out of action too, so the situation may right itself during the day. I'll keep an eye on it.]

If you don't subscribe to The Bookseller, you can read online a piece I wrote for their Opinion feature which was published in Friday's issue. It will be interesting to see if having my blog address published there leads to a noticeable increase in blog visitors.

Book Magazine launch

It was kind of fellow blogger Adrian Weston to alert me, via the Comments button, to the launch on March 4th of The Book Magazine. Years ago there was a good magazine called Books and Bookmen to which I used to subscribe, but eventually it folded.

The Book Magazine's website won't be fully functional until March 5, but the contents of their first quarterly issue are listed. They're having a nationwide survey of readers to find out who is the greatest living British greatest writer. That's a tough one. I would have voted for Patrick O'Brian had he still been alive. When I asked Google, V S Naipaul was the name that came up most often. I've read him but don't have a row of his books on my shelves.