Economist on Chile: “Let Them Eat Kafka”

Hubby and self are listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor (same piece we heard at Davies, when we were with son, two weekends ago now). So nice to skip the football-watching for a change!

Self still has piles of English 1B papers to grade. But she’s taking a break from that and reading good ol’ Economist, where she soon encounters an exceedingly interesting article describing attempts by Chile’s President (a woman, natch), Michelle Bachelet, to get Chileans to read more. Following is the article (from the Oct 27 – Nov. 2) issue :

Ask Chileans what they are reading and the answer will probably be Isabel Allende’s “La Suma de los Dias”, a memoir by their country’s best-known living writer. If, that is, they ready anything at all: in a recent survey, 45% said they never read books and 34% did so only occasionally.

Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s president, wants to change that. To do so, she has come up with a scheme to give 400,000 of the poorest families a maletin literario or box of up to nine books each. After much pencil-chewing, a jury of literati this month selected a list of 49 works, from which officials will then choose those books they think appropriate for each family (each will get an encyclopaedia and/ or a dictionary).

The list comprises fiction and poetry for both adults and children. It ranges from Chile’s Ms. Allende and Pablo Neruda to J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” This is unexceptionable fare. But is the book box the best way to achieve Ms. Bachelor’s laudable aim?

It could help. While some older Chileans lack functional literacy or were alienated by a rigid school syllabus, younger ones may be deterred from buying books by their price. This averages $14, higher than the Latin American average and the equivalent of two weeks of bus fares to and from work in Santiago. If books were cheaper, more Chileans would read them: pirated copies sell on pavements, while a lending library that operates on the Santiago metro has been a big success. With massive orders, the government could force big discounts from publishers.

Self sincerely hopes this sparks a trend. Bush II, GMA, are you listening?

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