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Blyton The Landscape

A recent poll has discovered that Britain's best-loved writer is Enid Blyton - ahead of Rowling, Christie, Austen, and Shakespeare - let alone Dickens, Orwell, or Rushdie. I am not sure this says as much about Britain, readers, or books, as it first appears - maybe more about polls.

It does tend to suggest that the books, and authors, people love, are not the ones that our teachers, or critics, would want us to. Surely, for all her evident charms and pleasures, Blyton is not a major literary figure of our times - or is she? Then again, maybe this poll confirms what Eyewear has long-feared - that British reading habits are in decline. Fewer read poets, of course - but also, it seems, if this poll is to be believed, fewer read "the greats".

Why do most people read, most of the time? What do we talk about, when we talk about loving writers? Do we love their style, their content - or their ability to transport us, amusingly, via the imagination, to other realms we'd prefer to inhabit (albeit ones fraught with danger or adventure). The plot is one-eyed king of this blind world. When reading becomes simply another form of entertainment, or worse, a mere way to pass the time, we are almost doomed to idiocy, as a culture. Reading should be, among other things, a challenge.

If it diverts, the diversion may lead upwards, into darker regions, that offer complex footing; some may stumble, or be lost in the mist. Curling up with Blyton on a rainy day is great. But crack open Empson, too.

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