The writer stresses the importance of inculcating the reading habit if Malaysia wants to move towards becoming a First World nation.
TO DESTROY an entire community and its idealism, the Nazis had in April 1933 conducted a Biblioclasm, or book burning, to “cleanse” Germany against “the un-German Spirit’. Similarly, in 213 BC, and again when the communist movement found its grounds in what is now the People’s Republic of China, all books on confucianism and writings were burnt.
It is no surprise why books were burnt instead of buildings, houses, mills, orchards and food sources.
Literary purging was arguably one of the primary steps in silencing aspects of culture, ideology, and knowledge, given its ability to encourage deep thought in politics, philosophy and socio-economic changes which may be in opposition to the prevalent regime.
Books can be so powerful that Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “I fear four hostile editors than a thousand bayonets.”
Alongside the obliteration of Baitul Hikmah (the great library and research centre in Baghdad, Iran) by the Mongols almost 800 years ago, these incidents were strong manifestations of the magnanimous role of books in the proliferation of knowledge and human civilisation.
The Quran itself, advocates that one needs to read and write. It is obvious that reading, largely contributed and influenced the thinking of many great scholars of both the ancient and the modern world, and western and eastern civilisations.
Being literate is indeed a remarkable gift and the ability to record history is one of its many consequences. It is simply disheartening that not many details have been recorded by our ancestors.
There is still so much that we don’t know about Parameswara and the Malacca Sultanate, its economic governance, the warfare strategy used by Tun Perak, and the validity of Hikayat Hang Tuah, amongst others.
In contrast, China has documented its existence in detail from as far back as 4,000 years ago.
The National Literacy Surveys carried out in 1996 and 2005 by the National Library both concluded that Malaysians on average read only two books per year, as opposed to the Japanese and French, who each read 10 books a year. Leading the pack were the Americans and the Canadians, who each read an average of 17 books a year.
It is unfortunate that Malay-sians are not keen readers.
Intertwined with hedonism, audio-visual and digital-based entertainment, youth and adults alike no longer find pleasure in reading as a pastime or source of entertainment.
One apparent result is that arguments and discourse amongst the adult Malaysian population is now based on unsubstantiated opinions, plagiarised from coffee chats and Facebook status of similar quality.
They lack deep study of contexts and historical records of the subject at hand.
We must firstly understand and accept that a necessary condition for societal advancement and ultimately the improvement of an individual or household’s economic condition is education. Education level correlates with wealth, and at the core of education is reading.
Empirical studies have proven that the quality of life correlates with the number of books read. The top percentile is represented with people who read an average of one book a week or 50 books a year.
The bottom percentile is however represented by people who read less; some still do read but only read tabloid magazines or purely the news. Reading brings significant benefits through virtual experience, knowledge attainment, brain exercise and emotional development.
Jeanne Chall, a Harvard University expert in literacy research argued that there is a mutual exclusive correlation between reading and education.
The more people read, the more educated the person will be and vice-versa.
Reading is the door to experiencing things that one has no access to otherwise. Reading teaches us about the world around us, as we may or may have not seen.
Through reading, one learns about people, places and events outside their own experience.
One is exposed to ways of life, ideas and beliefs about the world, which may be different from one that he or she is surrounded with.
Reading is also the fastest way to attain knowledge, facts and linguistic mastery. With the knowledge acquired, those who read tend to converse and process information better.
It also builds character, sharpens our thinking and widens our awareness in social, economic, political, historical and other issues.
Reading exercises our brains too. Reading is a much more complex task for the human brain than watching television.
For example, reading strengthens brain connections and actually builds new connections.
These result in improvement in concentration for both children and adults alike, as they may be victims of short attention spans. As we read more and more, we get better at it.
There are also psychological and cognitive advantages to reading.
Though too easily stereotyped exclusively as an avenue for IQ (intelligence quotient) development, reading can also be an avenue for EQ (emotional quotient) development.
When we read, our brains translate the descriptions we read of people, places and things into visuals. When we’re engaged in a story, we’re also imagining how the characters are feeling. We use our own experiences to imagine how we would feel in the same situation which would also help us develop empathy.
I recognise the challenges inherent in establishing a reading Malaysian society.
With escalating cost of living especially within a developing nation, Malaysians are pressed to dedicate their time in the pursuit of economic and material wealth. As a result, “there is no time for a book”.
The exorbitant prices of mainstream prints and published books have landed its weight on the problem. Imported titles on paperback can cost a lot.
For the 80% of Malaysian households (total family income) earning less than RM5,000 on average monthly, such prices are prohibitively expensive. It may help if residents establish local community book clubs in their respective neighbourhood.
This way, the burden of high costs of quality reading materials can be shared and it will promote consistency in reading. As American journalist Walter Cronkite said: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
There is also a worrying trend where there seems to be a lack of love for knowledge. Many Malaysian communities have drowned in the waves of hedonism and individualism, almost “secularising” between reading for the purpose of passing exams, and reading for the sheer thirst and quest for knowledge.
It is true that knowledge these days is only a click away. However, reading establishes an argument and expansive elaboration followed by a proposal or conclusion by an author who is equipped with a background of the subject matter.
This makes reading a superior option to the fragmented bits and pieces of knowledge gained from the Internet and other audio-visual media.
There are some ways to inculcate the reading habit among Malaysians. It can either be through a mind-set change or by encouraging them to start reading from young. Parents have a big role to play in inculcating the reading culture among children so they can grow up into readers and knowledgeable, informed individuals who can easily engage in any intellectual discussion.
A generation improvement will ensure that future generations will continue to read much more.
Do scout for opportunities to acquire books and reading materials at bargains. Book fairs are excellent opportunities to stock up your family’s reading needs for the year.
Used book stores, and specialty book-lending services too will proliferate, once we start creating demand for them. E-books and pdf format files available online are also plausible options to consider.
Set some time everyday for reading; at least 10 minutes. Always carry a book everywhere you go so you can read whenever you have time. Make a list of reading items or themes that you would like to discover or revisit.
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychotherapist argued that a society’s culture and mind-set is coded and inherited through the DNA. We can and we will change that.
Datuk Fadilah Kamsah, a local motivator coined the concept of 40 habits where repeating something for 40 times will turn it into a habit.
Habits can change and should be changed! It has been stated in the Quran that the condition of a people can only be changed when they are ready to do so.
The history of First World nations (developed countries) have time and time again shown us how powerful the power of reading and knowledge is in founding civilisations and uplifting societies’ quality of life.
As a developing nation, Malaysia is approaching the last but toughest hurdle in achieving wealth and prosperity; that is a knowledge-based society, driven by intellectuals and thinkers.
This aim requires both the individual and collective effort of all Malaysians. Reading can and will change the fate of our nation.
Let’s inculcate the reading culture among Malaysians, promote a love for knowledge, uplift our socio-economic status and strive for a better Malaysia. Let’s improve our generation and the next.
A popular saying from Confucius states that “no matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance”.
Anas Alam Faizli is a professional in the oil and gas industry and is currently pursuing a post-graduate degree. He is the executive director of Teach for the Needs (TFTN). The STAR Online Home News Education 10 Mar 2013