I went into the local Oxford Bookstore the other day to get a hold of Aatish Taseer’s new novel, Noon. I’ve been reading the reviews this past week and decided it was worth buying. As I walked past the young adults section, one employee was engaged in helping a customer select some novels for someone. They were also standing in front of the discounted books section which I was looking to rummage through, so I stood around waiting patiently for them to move.
When the lady took her purchases to the counter, another customer, a man this time, decided to ask the employee a question.
“What’s a good book for a sixteen year old girl who is a devoted reader?” he asked.
“Do you know what kind of books she likes to read?” the employee questioned back.
He didn’t. But he had already picked up a copy of Twilight and I resisted the urge to stifle my disapproval and then looked away. I continued to listen in on the conversation though.
“Oh, that’s a great book,” the employee said to him.
At this point I was trying very hard to resist the urge to turn around and say “Are you kidding? That a great book? Seriously? Have you even read that book?’
But I didn’t.
She went on to explain how it was a part of the Twilight series and that he should consider getting all three.
“Okay,” the man said. “What else?”
By then, I had eavesdropped long enough and decided it was my duty to intervene in what to me was a ‘Reading Emergency’ “Umm,” I said. “Excuse me…”
Here’s what a sixteen year old avid reader could be reading (If she hasn’t read them already) and I handed him a copy of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants ‘ by Anne Brashares. This is one part of a five part series that I would recommend’, I said. ‘I’ve read the reviews and it’s worth a read.’ I didn’t think it was necessary to tell him I had also watched the film!
‘But please whatever you do, please don’t get Twilight’, I muttered under my breath.
To quote Jane Austen, partially of course, ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that’ the printed word is losing out to the moving image with a new found vengeance. It is also losing out to the on-screen word. I think book lovers world over are under the misconception that people today don’t read enough. I disagree. In a rapidly advancing world, people who spend hours on their email, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr accounts, are in fact reading a huge amount. The problem is, they are reading fairly self-centered, low-brow, superfluous stuff. It’s not that reading is in decline; it’s that improving of one’s reading is; and this decline– among both adults as well as children is not entirely the fault of the internet.
I think the adults in our society have a vital role to play in creating and encouraging a culture of healthy reading. The tendency today is to ignore reading anything that could be perceived as ‘difficult’ and fixate ones attention on the trashy, easy reading that abounds all around us. Be it gossip magazines, comics, tabloids or new-age websites, these days young people are exposed to and ingest some of the most harmful reading material.
I myself have educated friends who never read a newspaper or a difficult book, and never even watch the news on television. It’s not as if they’ve completely replaced the printed word with online words either. In fact, they still buy quite a lot of magazines – but they are picture dominated celebrity magazines; and their reading barely goes beyond the caption beneath the photos of celebrities caught unaware in the most embarrassing situations or the most hideous outfits.
These are people who hold professional jobs. They don’t need to read serious stuff about the outside world to advance their careers; and there is no longer the general expectation of being well-informed and the diminishing number of visitors to public libraries and deteriorating business of leading booksellers and publishers confirm the growing indifference of the intelligentsia towards books.
Not many strategies can be employed to make reading popular again. Children may be uninterested and adults will resist interference with their regular habits. It may simply be the case that many will prefer to learn about the world and to entertain themselves with television and other media, rather than with the written word. But I have decided that even though it may be seen as interference, I’m going to continue to intervene and propagate suggestions for good reading whenever I stumble upon a ‘reading emergency’.
I agree that computers make it easier to read rubbish; but really it comes down to one fundamental fact. It is entirely the reader’s choice whether he downloads the trashy or the thought provoking.