Authors, Austen and AI

I’ve just been reading this. I’m now more convinced than ever that technology is not for me. Having just read an article that tells me future books are going to be written by Artificial Intelligence. This is depressing. However, it isn’t as depressing as reading the AI attempts at classic literature.

Even more depressing, I read that the average reading age in the UK is somewhere between nine and eleven. There are a number of statistics around this, with a variety of measurements and interpretations, but it means that a lot of adults struggle to get by with reading. A significant proportion can’t read simple notes or road signs. I am worried by this for a number of reasons. Not only will these people not be able to enjoy the pleasure of Wordsworth or Wodehouse, but there is a distinct possibility that they are a danger to other road users. That, I suppose, is why so many road signs have pictures on them.

The state of the nation’s education system was first revealed to me when I was recruiting school leavers to work on a poultry farm. I told the careers advisor we would need people within reasonable literacy and numeracy skills but after they sent several illiterate candidates (because it was only a poultry farm) we reverted to advertising in the local paper.

I won’t even mention my view of careers advisors because I think we covered that a few days ago, but I was shocked to find that it was possible to pass an entire school career without learning to read and write.

blur book stack books bookshelves

Photo by Janko Ferlic on

So much depends on being able to read. In fact everything depends on it, including your academic results in other subjects, and your success (not necessarily monetary)  in life. Yes, you can be successful without being a great reader but it must be harder.

You can either believe me about this or you can search the internet. The only trouble with the internet is that there is so much information, often gathered and interpreted differently, that it’s hard work putting it all together. You read one list of the top ten nations for literacy and then you read another and only a couple of the countries are duplicated. Unfortunately they tend to agree that the UK is about 17th. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not very good either.

One of the sites I read had a question from a user asking if anyone out there had read 100 books. People were generally quite polite, but they did mention that they had read 100 by the time they left school or had read fifty or even a hundred in a year. It all depends on what you call a book. I’ve probably been going through three a week during lockdown, but we’re talking about Golden Age and modern cosy crime books, so they aren’t actually hard.

I really must start a better balanced reading programme, a few more classic novels and some non-fiction. That, however, is a diversion. We’re talking about literacy, not about me squandering my life on whodunnits.

I’ve tried various ways of reading a better selection over the years, but it always degenerates into a discussion of why I hate Don Quixote. I just re-read that post, from 23 April 2016, and found the sentence “I had muesli for breakfast as I wanted something smallish in case I set my socket off.”

No, I haven’t a clue what I meant to write.

I’ve just been reading the local literacy project website, and have decided to start volunteering once lockdown ends. Really, I should have been doing it for years.

The question is whether I volunteer to help adults or children.At least, by telling you all I am making sure I can’t back out.

boy in white and black school uniform reading book

Photo by cottonbro on


15 thoughts on “Authors, Austen and AI

  1. LA

    I was a reading tutor for many years, and a school volunteer. My daughter has been tutoring kids since March, when schools shut down and they clearly needed help. Today she was assigned a second grader. His cute little voice over zoom was priceless….

  2. Sharon

    ❤Yes Yes Yes! Reading affects everything and I blame not just an inadequate education system and there are lots of reasons for that, but also disinterested parents who can’t be bothered to take an active interest and part in their children’s education. Would love to see kids and adults read more poetry. There is nothing wrong with those golden age mysteries, they tend to stand the test of time for a reason and sometimes the wrong classic at the wrong time can do more harm than good, so pick your classics carefully. I would go with volunteering with adults. Although here in Australia we have a fantastic organisation called the pyjama foundation and you can volunteer to just buddy up with a child or children in care and read them stories or help them with homework, these kids usually have no adult that takes an interest in fostering reading for pleasure with them or to take an interest and supportive role with homework. The ability to read is the most empowering gift we can give to someone else. Great post!🌻

  3. tootlepedal

    I know a considerable number of people who spend lots of time reading, but just not books. Do texts and facebook and tiktok and other online stuff count as reading and if not, why not? I don’t read many books these days but I have read a lot in the past and can remember them. However I read lots of newspapers (two a day except Sunday), the LRB and online stuff. Does that count?

    I agree that teaching motivated adults is easier than teaching unmotivated children. However, getting unmotivated children motivated is very rewarding.

    1. quercuscommunity

      I’ve just been reading Wikipedia, as I often do. There’s no reason that a lot of it can’t be counted as reading. I have a subscription to Readly which allows me lots of magazine access for about £7 a month – I try to read at least one magazine a month that is new to me to keep expanding my horizons.

      As I said to Charliecountryboy – my kids used to read graphic novels and Pokemon magazines. Lots of stuff counts. I tend to think that anything which makes you think should count.

  4. charliecountryboy

    Hmmm, I’d go with adults, having spent the past 6 years with young people who basically don’t want to do anything. But some of the blame has to lie with a failed education system. I mean there must be other books in the world apart from The Inspector Calls and Pride and Prejudice which could be used for GCSE, isn’t there? 😂

    1. quercuscommunity

      You are cynical and prejudiced, though that doesn’t mean you are wrong. 😉

      On the subject of reading – I once apologised to a librarian for the graphic novels one of my kids was taking out of the library – she said all reading was good reading.

      The other really started reading when he wanted to know more about Pokemon characters.

      I’d be happy to see a graphic novel a year as part of the syllabus.


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