I know, I know. I’m always going on about illiteracy, all those people who don’t read and who would much rather squat in front of the demon screen totally absorbed by brain-damaging twaddle. But I have to admit that watching television is considerably cheaper than buying a book, even a crappy paperback. And herein lies a central issue that impacts devastatingly on the whole matter of reading (as well as, by implication, writing) and being generally literate. I remember saying to my wife some years ago: “That’ll be the day when I pay a hundred bucks for a paperback novel!” Little did I know at the time that I had vowed never to purchase one again. The rand continued its perilous decline, and, in no time at all, I was paying between R130 and R150 for a distinctly thin, almost anorexic paperback, and over R200 for any text with a bit of substance. Of course, it doesn’t help to suggest that VAT, import duties, and whatnot should not apply to books. I suspect the reasons the powers that be do not wish to pursue that course of action are (a) they don’t purchase enough books for the issue to matter, (b) they have already spent that tax money, and (c) they wouldn’t like to have a population of sharp questioning minds; unquestioning sheep-like souls are infinitely preferable if you’re trying to dupe most of the people most of the time. Worse still, when it comes to scholarly books, the problem takes on aspects of the phantasmagorical. For example, I need two books for the research I’m currently busy with. They’re not big books: one is 242 pages long; the other, 192 pages. The price of the first text is R2372. Should I write that out in words? That’s right. More than two grand; that’s R9.80 per page. The second work is R4387; that’s R22.90 per page! If I buy a page a month, one will take me sixteen years to buy, the other, twenty years. So? Become illiterate! It’s so fashionable. It’s so easy! Everyone can do it!