“Our minds thus grow in spots; and like grease spots, the spots spread. But we let them spread as little as possible; we keep unaltered as much of our old knowledge, as many of our old prejudices and beliefs as we can.”
Such is the sad state of affairs that we find ourselves in, in our own little African paradox. It is a paradox because while in Africa and specifically Kenya there is concern about the culture of reading that Kenyans maintain – or lack thereof, Kenya also boasts of having the highest concentration of an educated black force in the west. Certainly where Africa is concerned, our ability to be Anglophone is a subject of pity, admiration and even envy in the minds of other Africans.
The words quoted at the beginning of this thought were not by me, but by James Truslow Adams, who coined the commonly used, widely recognised phrase “American Dream” in his 1931 book, The Epic of America . Of course, his meaning of the phrase was rather different and far broader in its scope. To Adams , the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
How do I know this? Because I read it. No, I am not a historian nor am I a scholar worth anything. It is just that I understand that if I read I shall pick up some information that may be completely useless at the time that I encounter it, but then proves invaluable when it is needed. It comes in handy for example when I meet my lawyer and brief them in the clearest terms what sort of structure I want my business or affairs to take or my doctor when I put him to pains to explain in simple language what the whatever-isis is.
At the very least, reading enables me to put together in flawless English, my thoughts – whether they are collated or not to a piece of paper or a computer screen so that someone may enjoy reading a simply crafted word-sculpture and perhaps – in the case that the thoughts are not thought out, that someone may make some sense of my none-sense.
It is a tragedy that the educated are not usually the well read. They simply took more examinations. This is why you will as an employer sit across the table from a man or woman who professes to be learned and then discover that you, a well read, little examined individual, know considerably more than they do about the business they claim to have studied.
I think that the ultimate purpose of fostering a reading culture at the end of the day, however, is twofold: first to enjoy the craftsmanship of wordsmiths, and second, to hope to make some sense out of the none-sense that we live through everyday. Of course if this happened to feed a writer somewhere one cannot object.
Margaret Fuller was one of the leaders of the transcendentalist movement of the 17th Century and she used to have a quip that will terrify any Gikuyu individual having to say this quote in public: “today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
Of course, if you don’t know what in the world the transcendentalist movement or transcendentalism is, you have an opportunity to read about it, and then perplex an audience in future about it – as I have you.