When I worked in North Carolina I once carried out a survey on students' reading habits asking them if they has ever read a novel by Charles Dickens.
A few had "heard of the dude," and some even confessed to having ploughed their way through Great Expectations.
But some hadn't the dickens what Iwas talking about.
"He wrote The Raven, didn't he?" asked one girl, referring to the Edgar Allan Poe classic.
"Didn't he write Charlotte's web?" one student of Elizabeth City State University asked.
Over at Elizabeth City's library the woman looked at me blankly when I asked her when somebody had last taken out a novel by Charles Dickens.
I expected her to say: "Don't you know those books are just there to fill a state quota or to eat up space on the shelves."
It was further evidence, if any more is needed, that these are parlous times for the English language.
Those who care about language are now on the front lines of a battle that's looking about as desperate as Verdun.
Kid's don't write full sentences anymore. They text.
Maybe one say I will attend a meeting at a godforsaken library at the end of the world where we'll sit around a candle and talk in hushed and revential terms about vowels.
It's all a great shame. I recently rediscovered Great Expectations and managed to separate it from the bad experience I had at school.
There can be few novels of the 20th century that match Dickens for his clever characterization. And Dickens is genuinely funny.
Mrs. Joe who thunders around threatening Pip and Joe with a cane, which she has named Tickler, is the heir to a whole host of frightening matriachs depicted in subsequent TV shows be it Hattie Jacques' terrifying matrons in the Carry On Films or Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances.
Nor should other classics of the Victorian era be left rot in a jar labelled The Past. There are no shortages of cynical social climbers in the 21st Century but there can be few better depictions than Becky Sharpe in William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair.
Emily Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights may seem more disconnected from present times but it is really? In this era of broken homes many youngsters live with sorrow and the spectre of brutal and bullying father figures such as Healthcliff.
Nor should we leave out classic American authors. In the depths of the recession John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath serves to remind us we have been here before and it was a lot worse then.
So make for the library and grab as many classics as you can before it's too late.