Any which way

<p>Picture this. January 2008, a Prime Minister, campaigners, children, teachers, all behind that famous door of No 10 talking about illiteracy rates, about the undeniable relationship between lack of reading skills and lack of opportunity. The dream of a reading nation.<br />
Now picture this. A future January, a different literary landscape. Most children leaving school appropriate reading skills. Fewer adults disabled and marginalised by their inability to negotiate the forms put in front of them. More readers, whoever and wherever, borrowing or buying books. The truth of a reading nation.</p>
<p>The challenge will be to find a way, beyond the confines of a year or two of campaigning, to glue the initiatives of today to the mainstream mass of publishing, writing, promoting, and reading activity that goes on in libraries, bookshops, editorial meetings, studies and kitchen tables. We are in search of a literary ampersand.</p>
<p>Glancing at the 2007 bestseller lists, the majority of the top 20 hardback non-fiction titles seem to owe more to tele-vision than books. It struck me that, if I were a publisher or author of &quot;pure&quot;&nbsp; non-fiction, I might be frustrated that&nbsp; all the top slots were filled by stars of the small&nbsp; screen&mdash;Russell, Richard, Jamie, Nigella. But then again, maybe not.</p>
<p>The perennial discussions about quality versus quantity, art versus commerce will continue to run and, of course, the highest literary standards are essential to build a long-term literary legacy in all its forms. But this debate does not lack oxygen. Instead, let's go back to the charts in the context of embarrassingly high illiteracy rates and accept that if the memoirs (ghosted or self-written) of film stars or chefs or soldiers set the tills ringing, then that's all to the good in our quest for a reading nation. And acknowledge that it's all part of the same serious intention that sees authors, book festivals, literary awards, bookshops and publishers attempting to engage with potential readers. (As a postscript, we need to challenge the prejudice against youth that implies that younger readers&mdash;pace Lily Allen, say&mdash;have no opinion or contribution to make. And, that only writers can be good and effective readers!)</p>
<p>The industry goodwill is in place, the political purpose strong, and the media watching. And, if so, there's a good chance of turning ourselves into the reading nation we all&mdash;publishers, authors, booksellers, publishers, librarians, parents and teachers&mdash;dream of being part of. Just a thought.</p>