Let us revive our dying reading habit | Sunday Observer

Let us revive our dying reading habit

Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows to the world, lighthouses erected in a sea of time. (Babara Tuchma)

In many countries of the world, including Sri Lanka, September is celebrated as the Literary Month, and September 8th is International Day of Literacy.

Visualise the following scenarios. Three people sit in an airport lounge waiting for the arrival of their plane. One stares at the TV set hung a few metres away. The second fiddles with a mobile watching Facebook. The head of the third is wrapped in earphones with iPod Touch strapped into his belt.

A couple of kids, waiting for their mother, lie on the sofa in their living room busily manipulating the controls of a video game.

Two hundred people sit in an airplane. Some have brought their own iPods, some doze, most stare up at a small movie screen.

What is missing in these scenarios, and increasingly in our lives? None of them are reading something worthwhile. What’s missing is the force that established our patterns of thought and built our civilizations.

What they are all missing is the important activity that you are engaged in right now.

Ironically, reading has begun fading from our culture and its decline is profound. Some believe the downturn in reading could result in our country’s cultural decline.


What exactly is the reason for this decline? The quick answer is the advent of the electronic medium. Even reading of newspapers has been limited to that of headlines and a few introductory paragraphs. That too from the mobile phone.

By stepping out of the reading habit we are losing the very flavour of life. We are getting used to just sit like robots in front of a box which gives us information and entertainment also like robots. In the process, we are killing our intellectual faculties.

We have failed to realise that the lasting impact on the mind can only be by written words. Reading gives us time to ponder over things and enrich our vocabulary. What would happen soon?

Digital literacy

In her recently published book, “Reader, come home” Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Prof at Tufts University (USA), discusses the emergency situation confronting the ‘reading brain’.

Dr. Wolf is a cognitive scientist who has devoted several years to conducting neurological studies to decipher the processes involved in reading. These processes, she says, can be wiped out within a generation unless digital reading is balanced with reading hard copy books.

The main message of the evidence now available is that the two types of reading are not comparable. The capability of reflection, analogical understanding, critical inquiry and empathy are developed by reading deeply. Digital reading, if introduced in early childhood, encourages skimming while discouraging reflective interaction with the text.

Prof. Wolf recommends bi-literacy wherein digital literacy can be imparted alongside the serious old-style reading.

There is an old saying that, “Reading is to mind what exercise is to body.” The dying reading habit in our society is the main cause of the death of our nation’s morality. Reading a good book is a valuable source of knowledge. It allows us to learn about ancient culture and civilization, history, science and technology. Besides, we can learn by reading biographies of our forefathers and important historical people. It also allows us to learn from their mistakes and failures.

While our reading habit is dying, and our addiction to social networking applications reaches the maximum capacity, we are happy to waste hours using these apps each day. These social apps could be used in a useful way, but unfortunately, in our country, they are not used on positive lines.

Reading is for life

Reading is not just for school, but for life. A nation or a society­ that doesn’t read is poor, because economists, physicians, teachers, priests, editors­, journalists, town planners and artists are ignorant about new ideas, as they are handicapped in creativity.

Modern technology also is to blame for the dying culture of reading. In this age of the Internet, cyber cafés are everywhere and the Internet is available in most institutions. We have quick access to any information we need. One only needs to Google a word and ready-baked information pops up. We live in a time when we want everything instantly. It’s unfortunate that this has contributed enormously to the death of reading.

Reviving reading

We have to co-operate in building a reading nation. It is in our families, the small cell of any society, that the culture of reading has to be fostered. All of us are born readers. When we were young, we always wanted books to see the pictures and write on them. Unfortunately, this love of books has not been nurtured. We need to make libraries in our homes. The library need not be expensive. Second-hand books are freely available at cheap rates. Amazon has books with 50 -90 % discount, while some good eBooks are offered free.

We need to give our children articles­ and books to read, and reward them for reading. Parents on the other hand ought to set an example by taking to reading, themselves.

You love to take your children for picnics and tours, but how many times have you taken them to a library. Libraries are everywhere in the country. If we wish to create a reading nation, we have to befriend our libraries.

David Dempsey­, an American writer, in his famous book, “Present Your Way to the Top,” says, “We need to have fire in our bellies to cultivate the passion of reading.”

How true he is! Parents and teachers need to take the initiative to develop reading habits in their children. Habits inculcated during childhood shapes the child into a better man or woman.