THE World Book Day on March 5 went unnoticed like a wanted criminal. Did politicking of the recent past kill the book? Or is this a sign of a dying national habit?
Studies after studies show that great minds read a lot. And they read consistently, too. With them, reading is a habit. Not an occasional pursuit.
What’s more, science is for the turning of pages. Reading boosts the brain and expands our intellectual horizon. Having spent enormous years living a rich life, they “book” them like an Everyman’s Guide. Call it vicarious learning.
Behind every great man there is a shelf of books.
But Malaysians are a difficult lot to convince when it comes to politics and books. Maybe because both are a numbers’ game.
Let’s talk about books. Literacy data revealed in 2016 tell an impressive story: 85 per cent of Malaysians read regularly. But a deep dive tells a sad story hidden behind the number. Only three per cent read books.
We may be a nation of book buyers —aPicodi.com survey in 2018 showed that 76 per cent of Malaysians bought at least one book a year — but we may not be reading what we buy. Picodi also reveals a troubling fact: 24 per cent of Malaysians do not buy any books at all. With hope, they borrow to read.
People in developed nations read 40 books a year, an average of three books a month. We may not be a developed nation yet, but we should not be left too far behind.
There is also a gender divide in Malaysia when it comes to reading. Women get to the bottom of the page faster than men. Is that why women are, on average, better than men off the pages? Women or men, we must be a nation of readers.
This won’t happen without urges and nudges. And money and method. Reading must be caused, and at a very young age, too. Like it is in every reading nation.
Experts tell us reading isn’t like speech. To speak, all an infant needs to do is to be around people and in a year, he is all words. Not all infants are like that, of course. Some are known even to have taken five years to utter the first intelligible word.
Acquiring a reading habit is more complex. It needs more than being surrounded by books. We can’t leave a child in the national library and five years later expect him to give us a reading of Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. That will be a great expectation, indeed.
More is needed. And it must be done at the national level. Homes must be groomed to be a reading environment. So must the community. If the people cannot go to the library, the library must go to them.
Public and private sectors must come together to integrate resources and commitment to make a great reading public. There was such an effort in 2018 when the National Reading Decade (2020-2030) was shaped into being by the Education Ministry. Will it survive the fall of the government? Time will tell. In that time, perhaps a book or two should be read.