We Don’t Need No Education We Don’t Need No Thought Control!

Years ago, in a country far far away, when the writer was a wee sprout, and her manuscripts no more than a vague glint in her mind’s eye, she had a Portuguese teacher.  Yes, they were almost all Portuguese.  But this was a teacher of what is now called Language arts, and in the US used to be called High School English, or in Portugal, Portuguese.  One of those attempts to teach uncouth youths to use their mother tongue with a modicum of grace and charm.

Anyway said teacher was a Communist Party Member, though otherwise a decent human being (No, really, it’s possible.  She didn’t even ding me despite my rather vocal rebellion.)  In any case, she’d gotten a little heavy handed on message.  So, that morning we greeted her with a full choir rendition of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The writer, who at the time was more of a full time trouble maker might or might not have been responsible for orchestrating that.  Anyway, she gave us the sinal salute and said “Oh, for heaven’s sake, sit down” and the nonsense stopped.  So…

This morning I have a mild fever, and when I saw this article, The Wall started playing in my head at full volume, sang by form N8, all 32 scrubby schoolgirls, and emphasized with foot stomping.

I can’t give you that (did I mention I have a mild fever?) But I CAN give you gifs.  There is a type of crazy that has to be mocked with GIFS!

And so it starts.  With the title!

Way Too Many Books Are Being Published


Oh, wait, you’re serious!


I mean, by whose authority can you say too many books are being published?  Or too few for that matter?

So, in awe and trembling I read on.

In the past week, I’ve seen online a number of lists bearing some title to the effect of “Best Books I Read in 2017.”

I somewhat enjoy looking at these lists, both for their recommendations, and for the windows they provide into their composers.

But I must admit that I mostly find them stressful and anxiety-inducing.


They are yet another reminder of how many great books in various genres are being written, and of how little time I have to read them.


I could swear you just said that your lack of time management ability was the world’s problem.
It can’t possibly be right. Not for someone over the age of two and not wearing a straight jacket.

I don’t think I am alone in my anxiety. John Naisbitt’s line from his 1982 book Megatrends (which I have not read)—that “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge”—has become something of an anthem for many today. The internet and social media has given us access to a dizzying amount of information, and attempting to process through it frequently afflicts us with intellectual paralysis.

You don’t think you’re alone, blah, blah, blah, some pseudo profound quote from a book you haven’t read….

Help, Help, I’m drowning in knowledge! Stop it.

Sir, monks who copied scarce manuscripts by hand to preserve the scant knowledge available laugh at you just as I laugh at you. Wisdom might or might not be achievable, but knowledge is something completely different.  One does not preclude the other or for that matter include the other.  This is like saying “We’re drowning in chocolate but we’re lacking in pencils.”


Contributing to our information overload is the explosion in book publishing. In the U.S. alone there are over one million new books published each year (two-thirds of them are self-published). Those are added to the pile of the over 134 million unique titles estimated to have been published since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. And apparently, even more books are on the way. According to one survey, 81% (!!!) of Americans feel that they should write a book.

As a culture, we can be somewhat proud of having this problem of too many books. It’s indicative of civilization that has enjoyed several hundred years of uninterrupted intellectual development. Plus, arguably the greater problem is not that we in America are inundated with books, but that one-third of American adults did not read a single book in the past year.

So, the people who haven’t read a book are drowning in information?  And we should be proud of it but it’s a problem?  And all those things about since Gutenberg?  What does that have to do with the price of potatoes?  In fact, do you know that 9/10s of all potato chips made since Ogg the cave man cut a potato with his flint knife and dropped it in the fire are being crunched today?


Wouldn’t the fact that one third of Americans haven’t read a book in a year mean that you didn’t publish anything that would get them to read?  Wouldn’t that mean that too few books are being published today?


At the same time, however, I cannot help but feel that the exponential proliferation of books is a sign of our culture’s loss of an ultimate, shared purpose to life, and a consensus on how to achieve that purpose.

SHARED purpose to life?  SHARED?  You mean you don’t have an individual pursuit of happiness?  You need everyone to have the same?


Devoid of this consensus, each of us is left to search for the fragments of truth (or more often than not, mindless entertainment) in our frantic, scattered regimen of reading each year.

A Regimen of READING?


That’s kind of like a regimen of chocolate!


If you feel the need for a “regimen” of each, as if you were taking medicine, well…



In an essay for First Things, Russian author Eugene Vodolazkin (who is most known for his fabulous novel Laurus, which I have read!) pronounced that the postmodern age is giving way to “the age of concentration”—one that turns “toward inner strengthening and social reconsolidation.”

And he bases this on what exactly, other than a vague nostalgia for communism or the apparent uniformity of the age of mass media.  (It wasn’t uniform but really, how would you know, since the average person had no access to mass communications?)  I mean, newspapers are dying and giving way to more individualized blogs.  The big book publishers are in trouble and indie is flourishing, but…. this is an age of “social reconsolidation.”?  Son, just because you want it, it don’t make it so.


And neither is the Russian Author who came up with that rasper.


As part of this “age of concentration,” I feel that we in America need to begin an effort to determine which books are truly essential for our citizens to read and assimilate.

You FEEL?  You FEEL?


We need to identify the key texts that should act as the foundation of our shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge.

We need an intellectual harbor that can help prevent us from drowning in all the information.


The “shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge” can’t possibly be based on what actually sells.  It’s not like The Martian or — groan — fifty shades of grey didn’t make it pretty quickly to the common shared reading content.

We need an intellectual harbor, established by our betters, to lead us by the nose to right thinking and proper education.  Because it’s all about education, and reading is just supposed to imbue us with right thought.


And since there are too many books being published, I suspect this authority would also decide what gets to be published and what doesn’t, right?


Why is it that the more free things get, the more someone is screaming and crying, begging to go back to chains?

Just because you’re like this:


It don’t make it our problem.  It would have to be a big problem indeed, to demand control over what we get to read.  And you know what, I don’t see a big problem.


But you can’t because all in all you’re just another… another brick in the wall.

And we’re like:



  1. While I sometimes “feel” that Americans have “lost a common ideal”, I doubt that person and I would agree on “what the common ideal” should be.

    I definitely wouldn’t want the government to decide what books are have the correct “common ideal” and what books don’t have the correct “common ideal”.

    Especially if the government decided that only books with the correct “common ideal” would be published. 😦

    1. If they want a common ideal they should start with:

      “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

      And I think that’s pretty good going from memory. 😉

    2. He wouldn’t like my list.
      I think the poor dear would have the vapors over something as anodyne as Locke’s Two Treatises on Government.
      Imagine him having to read, and demonstrate understanding of, Hayek.

    3. Playing devil’s advocate: the writer said nothing about dragging in the gummint.

      Just from this article, he would seem to be trying to *pursuade* everyone in America (or maybe the English-speaking world… nope, just America. So why did he bring up Gutenberg? Never mind…) that we should all get together and pick, say, a couple books we all agree to read. Because that would be good for us, for some value of “good”[1]

      Hey! Mary! Have I got a job for YOU!


      [1] Possibly: national unity around a shared positive identity is a good thing. Probably this can be achieved, or helped along by, a shared knowledge base. The which would, necessarily include books. If so, Americans should see to it that its citizens haveall read many of those books.

      Congratulations! You’ve come up with a pedagogical theory for public education!

        1. I started to read read the same article last night. Thanks for taking one for the team and producing this.

          Note that folks who opine “there are too many choices!” never seem to offer what the optimum would be.

          I think their problem is that there are too many choices they personally don’t want, and they feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

          Feelz before realz. Heh.

  2. Unexpected gifpost is unexpected!

    So, another ‘intellectual’ site proclaiming how we need to have less variety have less get by with less and have it approved under central control.

    This is my surprised face. 😐

    And i would not at all be surprised if the author was in CA. That kind of thing has been the mantra in CA for the last several years as their economy continued to tank, and has been ratcheted up in the last.. oh… year or so as their economy kept tanking as it improved everywhere else.

    1. As They welcome an influx of people from a really different culture that does not value book-learning the way They value book learning, and They jigger the schools so far too many kids can’t read or are taught to loath reading… *double face paw, middle claws extended*

  3. As part of this “age of concentration,” I feel that we in America need to begin an effort to determine which books are truly essential for our citizens to read and assimilate.

    How about we start with The Declaration of Independence. Follow it up with The US Constitution and for dessert we top it off with The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers.

    1. Yep.

      Another, “oh look, government schools are a mess, let’s take out their failures on innocent bystanders!” piece.

      Because too many vested interests and rent-seekers make it dangerous to point out the actual problem.

  4. We had something of a shared consensus for a while. The schools got rid of it, saying that Western Civilization is no good, and that it shouldn’t be passed on.

  5. Hmm. So if 81% think they should write a book but 33% haven’t read a book in over a year, then that’s a minimum of 14% who are non-readers but want to write books. Did the survey make sure it excluded coloring books? 🙂

    1. > minimum of 14% who are non-readers but want to write books.

      I’m fairly sure I’ve had the misfortune of buying some of those.

      They were all proper name-publisher books, and therefore supposedly agented and edited. There were multiple levels of fail before they hit the shelf.

  6. Oh, the HURT!

    How DARE the peasants decide for themselves what they will read? Who do they think they ARE!

    Slightly off-topic – after Gutenberg’s invention, do you know what the most popular books were (other than the Bible)?
    – How-to books – practical books that taught people how to do useful things
    – Porn

    Let the people go free. Just let them decide for themselves what kind of life they want to lead, where they want to live, what they want to read, watch, sing…

    If they want to act like a$$holes, well, OK. If they have kids that are being neglected/abused, take them away – without apologies – and put them with people who have a track record of raising successful children. Give them a SHORT time to straighten themselves up, then terminate their parental rights if they don’t.

    Other than the kids – it’s all on them. Drink/drug yourself to death, have no money, lose your home. It’s YOUR problem. I don’t have to fix it.

    Mentally ill (REALLY mental, not just wanna-be)? We’ll take care of you, put you in a place where you can be watched over, if you won’t take your meds.

    1. I always figured the second thing off the Gutenberg press had to be Porn, because it’s man’s nature to take any invention or discovery and see how it can be used for sex.

  7. As an ‘Ancient Beast’ (of sorts) I think I will exercise my, er, privilege to speak for The Past…

    $Daniel_Lattier: Too many books!
    $HISTORY: So you have an ‘overproduction’ of knowledge and entertainment to go with the ‘overproduction’ of food and all those miracle medicines you call vaccines? And you call it a problem?!!
    $Daniel_Lattier: Yes.
    $HISTORY: Wanna trade? PLEASE!!!?

    1. I now get an image of every time traveler ever flung forward mugging some poor guy and sending HIM back in time instead so they can stay.

  8. Starting at the top, “Intellectual Takeout” definitely took out the “intellectual” part. Good on ya, I.T.
    People can recommend books I “should” read, but they can’t make me read them. And especially not the SFWA cabal.

    1. Even if it’s not a book I end up liking, I’m always fonder of the enthusiastic ones that run up and go ‘YouGOTTAReadThisBookSoCool!’ than ‘You should read this, it will be good for you.’ or any form of praise of how ‘insightful’ it is or how much social commentary there is in it.

      1. They both put me off. I’ve been burned too many times with a YOUGOTTA[whatever]THIS! to the point where it’s a turn-off. A lower-key recommendation is much more effective. But yeah, even that is better (if not by much) than “it’s good for you.” Seems every time something is “good for me” I don’t like it, but someone else derives some perverse pleasure from having inflicted it on me.

        1. Hmmm… I like both, depending.

          Basic Econ by Mr Sowell was billed as “good for me” as was Joy of Cooking. Said billing came from two people I trust. I like learning things so I appreciate good tips in that direction.

          The Oyster fellow has been a blessing here directing me towards authors I’ve come to love. The free samples help, of course.

          (Note to authors: Don’t be stingy on the sample size. You get paid the same whether I got the first 5 pages or first 5 chapters for free. And the latter is more likely to hook me)

          Of course, when a teenager comes running up to me demanding that I read such and such book because “my god it is so awesome I love it so much you to read it!” it’s also good for me, because I do need to know my audience.

          1. It’s like writing reviews. Why should they like it, even if you think it’s the best thing invented since sex?

            So, reader/reviewer being wise, he puts down things like “It reminds me of Super-Duper-Orc Battle, but with less phlogiston,” or “What would happen if Bones and Spock’s love child went after the Borg with malice aforethought.” Signs to point the way. Even if the book isn’t “for you,” one can make that sort of recommendation, if one’s reading has been broad enough. “It was like reading an account of the most boring lecture you ever read in college, with lemon juice dripped into your eyes the whole time. If you loved “Pain, pain, pain, and why its awesome to bleed,” Hillary’s Totally Factual Biogrpahy is for you.

  9. One more Leftist screaming SHUT UP!!!11! in a futile attempt to shove the Internet genie back in the bottle.

    This is my favorite part: “We need to identify the key texts that should act as the foundation of our shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge.”

    This guy wants to make -me- stop writing. By which I mean, me personally. Because I assure you, my work does not support his notion of “shared cultural knowledge.” Quite the reverse, I hope.

    Come and get me, hipster twinkies. Molon labe.

    Oh, and by the way. For all you literalists now snidely laughing up your sleeves at the notion of something so gauche as The Phantom claiming personal oppression, I’ve got something special for you.

    Lets consider this: what happens to a guy/girl/transgendered-whatsit who writes something outside “the foundation of our shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge”? Well, we’re all drowning in information, aren’t we? There’s too many books being written! Something has to be done!

    De-platform those friggin’ writers! If they manage to get printed in some vanity press, because of course no -reputable- publisher would sully their presses with such trash, then refuse to stock their books! Don’t sell them! They are damaging the Collective with their non-conformist chatter!

    Which is essentially where we are right now in SF/F tradpub, isn’t it? One bookstore, five publishers, then the undifferentiated “not real authors” rabble on Amazon Kindle. There is a very unsubtle push in tradpub circles to silence that rabble and take away that ebook platform.

    You’ve heard that old Communist saw, “the personal is political.” The reverse is also true. The political affects me, personally. Yes, buddy wants -me- to shut up.

    Not happening, bitchez. Pry this keyboard out of my cold, dead fingers.

    1. You forgot to mention that only the the ones you didn’t have the ammo for or time to shoot them could do that after climbing over the mound of the dead…could do that.

    2. I see that Flopatron is having a little tantrum over at his bog o’ woe, and thinks this post of Sarah’s has something to do with Occam’s Razor. Then thinks he’s making his point by posting -half- of my comment. While of course blocking me from commenting, because civilized discussion is so bourgeois, I guess.

      China Mike has been reporting on my postings while blocking me as well. It is good to have fans, I suppose, but I could wish for higher quality. The guy linked me, and traffic didn’t change at all.

      Hilarious that they are both reduced to scraping other people’s comments for something worthwhile to talk about.

      Gentlemen, if you want to benefit by posting the things I say, perhaps you should consider not playing f-around with my comments at your respective blogs.

        1. Seriously, what kind of asshole BLOCKS you on his site, and then uses your comments -elsewhere- to create content for his site? A new low in trolling, achievement unlocked!

          And there’s TWO of them doing it. For fuck sakes, boys, get a hobby.

  10. We need an intellectual harbor that can help prevent us from drowning in all the information.

    Because we don’t want you to get the wrong kind of information.

  11. On the other hand, the wealth of indie publications does tend to demonstrate the wisdom and truth behind Sturgeon’s Law.
    Sifting through the crap to find the gems seems to get harder every day.
    But then we have MGC and the like to provide a glimmer of light to counter the mists of Amazon.

  12. Epic rant is, well, epic. I can just see Sarah writing this on a clifftop, with a cast of tens of thousands of soldiers marching into battle, punctuated with artillery salvoes every few minutes from the Russian artillery divisions, air support from A-10’s with quad-linked miniguns, B-52’s overhead opening the bomb bay doors, all four Iowa-class battleships offshore supported by the Royal Navy circa 1917, background music from the 1812 Overture.

    All targeting the formless blob of ignorance and stupidity of this writer……
    And we’re not sure who’s winning…

      1. I have nothing against aircraft carriers, I think they’re cool. I just didn’t think to include a cameo appearance in such a short post. 🙂

    1. You forgot the orbiting space weapons. Nothing like a nice terawatt x-ray laser, I always say.

  13. One of the ways I’ve found that works when trying to sell my book is to tell mothers that it’s the book she wouldn’t want her teenage son to read and that’s why he might actually read it. I’m shocked how well that’s worked.

    But I think I’ve come to realize something through the process; mothers with sons know damn well that something’s wrong with the books schools try to indoctrinate with and that they’re not only not books that appeal to boys but books that actively repel boys. Books that tell boys that reading is not only not for them, not only that reading is for girls, but that boys at a fundamental level are flawed and the only way they can be ‘better’, is by being girls.

    I’m exaggerating, but not by as much as I’d like to be.

    Mothers with sons see the problems though and are eager to try and give their sons books that might actually be read (with violence, and hot girls, and action, and jokes, and masculinity, nobility, honor, stupidity, all the good stuff in life basically). Not all boys want those kinds of things, many are well served by the current pap on offer, but those that aren’t have no recourse but to abandon reading entirely.

    Or learn to love soy.

    Wear pyjamas.

    Apologize. Constantly.

    Mothers with daughters understand on an intellectual level there’s a problem but without that emotional connection of seeing their progeny actively pushed away from reading they don’t seem to see it as a major problem. (As in; ‘Boys should read more but only if they read what I want them to read’.”


    1. I did so well, this last Christmas season – when I went and deliberately went out hand-selling Lone Star Sons to teenage boys. “Here- I have a book I have written for you and boys your age! Take a look!”
      Did very well at markets with it this last season. All about working the crowd…

  14. Who knew that all we really needed was a mandatory reading list and fewer books? I feel enlightened already. All that stuff about ramifications and variety isn’t important, is it?

  15. I am reminded of the statement attributed to Caliph Omar on the burning of the Library of Alexandria: “If the books are in agreement with the Quran, they are superfluous. If they are in disagreement with the Quran, they are heretical.” [1]

    I conjecture that “Intellectual Takeout” refers to Lattier and his colleagues having removed their brains.

    [1] This may not be a true attribution; there are many stories about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria (probably it was a series of events). Certainly ISIS operates that way, though.

      1. I have a vague idea about a time travel series where researchers from the future try to rescue lost books: the library of Alexandria, Love’s Labor Won, etc.

  16. Now, to take a slightly contrarian view. There ARE certain works everyone should read in order to have a degree of cultural literacy. Some of the works of Shakespeare, for example, Huck Finn (To take a book the article author probably abhors), most of Heinlein. Okay, the last is my opinion, but I don’t expect much pushback….

    But you see what I’m driving at. Maybe she meant something like that, but she blew it.

    1. The Comanche Barrier To Southern Plains Settlement.
      Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution
      ESR’s Jargon File
      Tom Kratman’s novels and essays.
      Steven Denbeste’s best and most important political and anime essays
      and so forth…

        1. For purposes of determining which books make a good foundation, fun can’t enter it, because everyone’s going to find some of them No Fun At All.

      1. I had Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn inflicted (that’s how I viewed it then… and now) in school. Almost gave up on Twain entirely. Then I happened across The Mysterious Stranger (TV production) and it spoke to me… not long after I was reading almost anything Twain I could get the library to lend me. Three exceptions: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Life on the Mississippi (folks were watching a TV adaptation [mini?]series of it and I just couldn’t stand it.

          1. Very likely. The stuff I selected myself, even if for some class, I recall with more fondness – some I wish I’d recorded the title & author. And while I can see the value of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn… there is no desire for them. But No. 44, New Series 864 962? Yeah, I’ll read of him again. Or Phillip Traum. Or Satan (named for his [in]famous uncle or such).

            1. Twain’s short stories are excellent, as is his non fiction.

              But don’t read “Coopers’ Literary Offenses” unless you never plan to read Last of the Mohicans.” Twain is completely hilariously unfair, but it ruined the book for me.

  17. We once had a common core of literature that was taught to most Americans. It included the Founding Fathers, our greatest literary products, and books WORTH reading. All that was swept away and replaced by – – – dreck. The reason we have “one-third of the population” that hasn’t read a book in the last year is because far too many school teachers DESTROYED the joy of reading.

    I buy — and read — at least a hundred new books every year. I also re-read that many, or more. I would probably read that many again if a) I could afford it, and b) there were books available that were worth reading. I’ve downloaded at least 50 books from new authors in the last two years. I’ve completed maybe a dozen of them, and would recommend maybe half that many to others. There IS garbage out there. Quite a bit of it is published by the major publishing houses, and there is also a large “slush pile” from self-published authors. I don’t see a lot of difference between the two.

    1. Once I asked my 8th grade students to take unfamiliar stories from the Bible and rewrite them for little kids. Then we would go read to the kindergarten. (I’m not the English teacher just FYI.) I was appalled at the heavy-handed results, and finally asked if the students felt it was necessary to smack everyone with the moral and … They said …. Yes. And I can say with certainty that they thought I just didn’t understand seeing that I wasn’t the English teacher. I weep at what they are missing.

  18. What the author is talking about is essentially the job of the schools, which should concentrate on books which retain their relevance to our culture and history. As for what people read outside of school, I definitely don’t want anyone deciding that for us.

    Thanks for the amusing commentary on an opinion which well deserved to be mocked. 🙂

    1. The schools are too biased to be trusted. Why do I say that? Some curious silences and oversights in the history I was shown in primary and secondary school. These were for the most part publicly funded schools, and by purest coincidence did not include some bloody bits of local history that indicted the faction most closely tied to the teachers and administrations. Okay, they couldn’t entirely cover things up, but they did a lot of hand waving about ‘switching parties’. If you combined a knowledge of how American political parties work with state political oral history, it is self evident that no such thing happened in that state.

      1. It’s true that school districts have plenty of bias. This particularly shows up in the teaching of American history, and I remember reading that only the schools in one state give a balanced understanding of American history on average, neither wholly negative or positive: South Carolina.

        But, if any institution were worthy and competent to devise a list of books which people ought to read, it would be the education system. Daniel Lattier is referring to a concept found in E. D. Hirsch’s (the author of the What your Nth Grader Needs to Know series) book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch’s idea was that there are certain people, ideas, books, and historical events which every school should teach. The end result would be that Americans had a shared pool of knowledge relevant to their fellow Americans. But, the problem is that education is so politicized that neither the Left nor the Right trusts the other to come up with a content standard for education. So, parents must take full responsibility for their children’s education.

        The difference between Hirsch and Lattier is that Hirsch never meant for his idea to be applied outside of the education system. I’m shocked to see that Lattier doesn’t realize that what he’s promoting in the article comes down to government censorship, which right-thinking people detest.

        1. I suspect that if Lattier did realize it, he would be completely fine with the idea–as long as he believed that people with his politics would be doing the censoring.

  19. Oh! I have just what the author wants! There are indeed societies out there with a common intellectual core – they even come with a Commandmant’s Reading List, segregated by hierarchy…or at least rank!

    Yes, yes, all he needs to do is to Join the armed forces, and while he’s grunting and sweating his way through boot, he’ll be held to a higher set of standards, and have a reading list he should be partaking with his fellow soldiers!


    1. Won’t that make their heads (metaphorically) explode? Or is that the “unintended” aim of the exercise? If so, I take my metaphorical hat *tips fedora* to you madam, your deviousness knows no known bounds.

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