The Demise of Book Reading culture
By Fazal Baloch
There is no denying of the fact that books play an unparalleled role in shaping the destinies of both individuals and nations alike and nothing guides man more effectively than books. However, it’s a sad reflection that among several other positive social values, the culture of reading has also persistently been declining across our nation. As a result, we are growing more intolerant, biased and blinkered in our social attitudes and approach which is also the indicative of our intellectual decline.
The reading progress of the country can be gauged from the number of copies of books brought out in the market. According to an estimate, hardly a book runs over the three figures mark. In an interview published in Herald’s July 2011 edition, Hoori Noorani of Maktaba-i-Danyal says that in Pakistan a best seller book runs around 5000 copies. Though it is amazing keeping in view the nominal ratio of readership, the figure is quite low against the huge population of the country. Moreover, on one side the habit of reading serious literature is steadily declining, the trend of reading substandard religious literature is disturbingly thriving on the other side.
According to the statistics provided by Zubeida Mustafa in her article “Reading for Pleasure” (Dawn May 09), in 2011, 20 percent of the published books were based on religion. A scholarly book written on the subject of religion is always worth reading as among other things it offers something fascinating for spiritual pursuit. However, it isn’t the case with most of these books as majority of them lack the scholarly approach one needs to write on the subject. Mainly they were authored by biased writers. The rise in substandard religious literature is reflective of the grim fact that how badly a biased and intolerant mindset has penetrated into our intellectual domain. Besides, it also depicts that an emerging circle of biased minded readership is gradually replacing the reading class.
Gone are the days when book selling was regarded as a profitable business in Pakistan and people were in the habit of reading for recreation and pleasure across the country. Books were not only part of every household but they were discussed in social gatherings and public forums too. Lamentably, the circle of book-buyers has now reduced to a limited one as books are not something fascinating for the people anymore. American education Austin Phelps once said ‘wear the old coat and read the new book’ but in our part of the world people wear the newest (dearest) of the coats and even don’t read the oldest (cheapest) of the books. They have become more exhibitionists in their attires and costumes, and intellectual pursuit has almost tuned out of their life.
The root of the problem turning ours a non-reading society lies in our flawed education system. The fallacious curriculum doesn’t offer any room for general reading and creative writing. Teachers, just following the syllabus are rarely found motivating students towards general reading to acquire in-depth knowledge. Resultantly, most of the students are turned exam-oriented. They never read to develop ideas and expand the horizons of their vision but just to get through the papers.
Moreover, a materialistic objective has been tagged with education. It has been terribly commercialized in Pakistan and educational institutions once had been centers for learning have transformed into industries producing mechanical men for the job market.
For the revival of the diminishing reading culture what we immediately need is to inculcate the love for books in our children to lay the foundation of a book reading society. Besides, an extended network of public libraries and readers’ clubs can rejuvenate this fading norm. Likewise, instituting book fairs, reading festivals and literary galas on a regular basis would yield us the desired result.
Moreover, a media campaign can also play a vital role in rescuing this tottering culture as well. Keeping in view the effectiveness of its message it can safely be assumed that electronic media can serve as a catalyst. Ironically, it runs a wide range of programs for a diverse nature of audiences ranging from fashion conscious people to food lovers but lamentably offers nothing to satisfy the appetite of bibliophiles. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity that books discussed and recommended by writers and intellectuals on TV can relatively get a wider range of readership as compared to those get reviewed or discussed in print media as the former has a huge number of viewers in comparison with the fewer readers of the latter.
Besides, proper accommodation of literature in curriculum at least up to secondary level with special emphasis on the importance of general reading, creative writing and critical analysis would ultimately paves us the way for a book-friendly society.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that a country hardly progresses on its intellectual front where people have plenty of options for recreation except book reading. Given the current appalling scenario of our society where book readers are in few and far between, it can sadly be concluded that we are heading towards intellectual fall.