Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Right To Read

This cold isn't a bad one as it goes and it seems to be moving quickly through the various stages. The worst thing is that I haven't been sleeping well and this worries me because usually it matters. But then I lost almost an entire night's sleep at the weekend with apparently no ill effect, so perhaps something is changing. Or perhaps not as I certainly feel like I could use some sleep just now.

Yesterday I was reading about the Books Before We Die campaign and the RNIB's Right To Read Charter. Apparently 96% of all books published don't make it into large-print, audio or braille formats. I didn't realise things were so bad. I have very good sight, apparently, but I have had problems reading because of various cognitive symptoms, which result in a kind of temporary dyslexia. The letters of the worlds slide together and muddle, the words within sentences do the same and so on. This doesn't happen as much as it used to, but for example I always read sheet music through coloured celophane and my computer is set up so I'm writing in black on an off-white colour - for some reason pale pink works best.

Some years ago (I was about to say a few but in fact it's six or seven) I was trying to do A-Level English Literature. I didn't finish it because my health relapsed. Anyway, I had to read Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as a set text. Jane Austen rocks, but it is not the easiest thing in the world to read*. I tried to get it as an audiobook and it being a study piece, I tried to get it unabridged. To my horror I discovered that this, a classic by perhaps one of the greatest authors that ever lived, was going to cost over fifty pounds to get as an unabridged audiobook. Eek!

So not only are the vast majority of books unavailable, but those that are cost an absolute fortune. However much Jane Austen rocks, it can't be worth fifty quid just to read one of her books. And yet, a lot of abridged talking books, of which I have experience for the reasons described above, are pretty naff.

These days, because the talking software packages are so advanced, a great deal could be achieved simply by putting books into electronic format. There is a big issue with pirating, but the fact is most sighted people want to read books on paper – it’s not like music where a CD produces the same sensory experience as music on a computer or iPod. The majority of people would still buy books in paper even if they could download the book onto their computer screens for free.

I think it’s a scandal there is so little provision. Most of us are going to experience a deterioration in our sight at some point if we live long enough and the idea that the only version of Captain Correlli’s Mandolin I got to know was the saccharine excuse for a film fills me with horror.

You can volunteer to go read to visually impaired people or record readings for the RNIB. Having become so incensed, I am planning to volunteer for the latter once my cold has cleared up and I can actually talk.

* The first sentence of Mansfield Park is as follows:
About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

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