Are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens science fiction?
Now, my title question might strike you as bizarre, if you know the least thing about literature. However, it is a question that my life experience posed for me, recently.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Times Bookshop in Sri Hartamas, in Kuala Lumpur. I had gone in search of a book for Ainan. (He wanted a copy of Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, since he had enjoyed Life, the Universe and Everything. Of course, I already have copy many thousands of miles away in England, but that is not much use to me here!) So, there I was browsing the shelves for Douglas Adams’ work. Despite the most careful search, it was clear that they didn’t have a single book by the amusing Mr. Adams. However, they did have something most strange. In a very prominent position, on the top shelf of the Science Fiction and Fantasy section, was a pile of books by Jane Austen. You know the ones: such “science fiction” classics as Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Next to this, were some books by Charles Dickens, such as A tale of two cities. At this sight, I pause a moment, in reverence at the stupendous obtuseness, of the person who had categorized these books so.
Did I miss something? Has period literature of the 18th and 19th century been reclassified as “Science Fiction/ Fantasy”, whilst I was looking elsewhere? Is the modern attitude to the past so distorted, that works of relative realism about past times, can now be seen as so outlandish that they must be filed in “Science Fiction/Fantasy”?
This incident does make me wonder, however, whether the bookshop assistant who did this, is actually able to read the books he or she so files. Are they completely unable to recognize what type of book, a book is, from a brief glance? Do they not know the reputations of some of the most famous authors in history? I would have thought that anyone who had studied English literature for even the most basic qualification, would be familiar with the type of oeuvre of famed authors, even if not with the works themselves. Perhaps this incident is an indicator that a little more effort, in the education system, could be put into the humanities. Like most parts of Asia, the sciences and maths are emphasized, often to the detriment of all else. This is harmful. A scientist who does not read, is probably one who cannot write – and that is one who cannot communicate his or her work. I would suggest, therefore, that an appreciation of literature be inculcated, in Malaysia’s youngsters, in addition to their grasp of maths and science. Otherwise, oddly categorized books, in bookstores will be the least of Malaysia’s problems with its workforce, in the long term.
It should be noted that, although I saw this happen in Malaysia, that it is very easy to believe it could happen in Singapore, too and other South East Asian countries. Here, in Asia, science and maths are all - and the rest can often be forgotten, to an unfortunate degree.
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