LETTER: ADAM SMITH WOULD LIKE PUBLIC LIBRARIES

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From Mr H. R. F. Keating

Sir: Madsen Pirie (Polemic, 24 February), as one might expect of the president of the Adam Smith Institute, has his head stuffed full of misconceptions. Just two: (1) that public libraries were created to bring literacy to the masses. Wrong. It was to bring books to the masses, beneficial books; (2) that Deighton is justified if he leads to Dickens. No. Deighton is justified because he is a fine novelist, showing us what life at a deep level is about.

Even had Mr Pirie chosen a fiction writer much cruder than Len Deighton, he would still be atrociously blinkered. What he has failed to grasp - like, let me say, not a few others - is that what fiction does, even at a low level, is to force readers to see through others' eyes. And books, because they make a small demand on their readers, do this much more effectively than skimmy TV.

A nation where people can see the other's point-of-view is a happy nation. Any government should make sure libraries are there in numbers and fully stocked.

Yours,

H. R. F. KEATING

London, W2

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