The poor and the affluent are not communicating because they do not have the same words. When we talk of the millions who are culturally deprived, we refer not to those who do not have access to good libraries and bookstores, or to museums and centers for the performing arts, but those deprived of the words with which everything else is built, the words that open doors. Children without words are licked before they start. The legion of the young wordless in urban and rural slums, eight to ten years old, do not know the meaning of hundreds of words which most middle-class people assume to be familiar to much younger children. Most of them have never seen their parents read a book or a magazine, or heard words used in other than rudimentary ways related to physical needs and functions. Thus is cultural fallout caused, the vicious circle of ignorance and poverty reinforced and perpetuated. Children deprived of words become school dropouts; dropouts deprived of hope behave delinquently. Amateur censors blame delinquency on reading immoral books and magazines, when in fact, the inability to read anything is the basic trouble.
A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.