The Forgotten Books Company publishes ‘forgotten’ books. By registering on its website, it is possible to download, every day, free of charge, a pdf of one of its reprints. So far, I have copies of works as diverse as Chinese Poems, some stories of O Henry, The Wonder Book of Engineering Wonders (produced around 1920), Some Mistakes of Moses (a late 19th Century critique of the Old Testament), Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, Canterbury Tales and today, some sermons of John Henry Newman.
Some of the titles are rightly obscure, but how else would the normal reader encounter a series of thoroughly charming Chinese poems translated by an English civil servant working in the Tung Wen Kwan Translation Office in Edwardian Shanghai? Or the convoluted tangled logic of Newman’s sermons, written just before he departed Anglicanism for the Roman Catholic Church?
This week on the radio, I heard someone complaining about the difficulty encountered by some students in writing their Personal Statements as part of university entrance. The speaker commented that in these days of social media some students are not comfortable writing English and should be allowed to use video and other media instead. Really? This person was seriously suggesting that we should contemplate encouraging university entrance by people not capable of writing a 4,000 character, say 500 word, description of themselves and their qualities in cogent English?
The problem with social media and videos, is that many people seem to be incapable of expressing their ideas without using the words ‘kind of’, ‘like’ or ‘kind of like’ seventeen times in each sentence. Writing decent English is a discipline that trains the mind to think clearly and succinctly – at least it does for some people. The charm of Forgotten Books is that, for the most part, they date from a time when clear expression in written language was paramount. I heartily commend Forgotten Books to everyone who still enjoys reading the quirky, obscure and unusual, nearly always written in clear and elegant English. http://www.forgottenbooks.com/