Marc Lambert is the chief executive of Scottish Book Trust, Scotland’s national agency for the promotion of reading and writing.
A former merchant banker, his career path turned to literature when he was employed as a fiction buyer for Waterstones, then Penguin Books, before becoming Assistant Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Marc has worked as an editor on volumes of poetry and Scottish writing. He writes book reviews and comments on literary issues.
"We were never born to read ... Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we changed the very organisation of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species."
So writes Maryanne Wolf in her brilliant book on reading Proust and the Squid. And here we are, on the cusp of Book Week Scotland – Scotland’s first ever Book Week – which starts on Monday November 26th. It is terrifically exciting.
The Trust continued Andrew Carnegie’s work of funding library buildings and the public library service from its inception in 1913.
But that was nearly a hundred years ago. It’s a very different picture now. Public library services are under threat of cutback and closure, and some politicians are even questioning the value of the service itself.
As Amazon announced recently, the ebook is king. Just two years after the Kindle was introduced, ebook sales now outstrip those of traditionally printed books, a consumer revolution which has authors, publishers, traditionalists and bookshops chewing their nails down to the quick.
And readers? Well, they are quite happy, or should be. The cost of an ebook is a fraction of a printed book, and you can download it at home without the bother and hassle of a city centre shopping trip. What’s not to like?
Her books on Mary Bell, the child murderer, Franz Stangl, commander of the Treblinka death camp, and Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and war minister, are landmark studies which will never be surpassed. But they go beyond even this to transcend questions of genre and history: put simply, they are books without which it would be impossible to fully examine the tortured moral landscape of the 20th Century, or indeed of the human soul.
Their complaints are undeniably true. But this isn’t just a modern problem. The truth is that most people struggle with grammar and punctuation and always have.
Take this exchange with Anna Akhmatova, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, recorded by Lydia Chukovskaya, her friend and amanuensis:
It is often said, by those who are made desperate by the poor reading habits of others, (usually their children), that it doesn't matter what they read, as long as they are reading.
But this is true only up to a certain point. Because, no matter what age you are, it does in fact matter what you choose to take into your brain by way of reading content.