Reading between the covers | Sunday Observer

Reading between the covers

2 October, 2022

The month of literature is gone. The month meant for reading is now upon us. We are on the threshold of the toughest task. Buying a book is easier than reading the same. Sri Lanka solemnised October in 2004 on several grounds. The UNESCO declared the 2003-2013 period as the reading decade. They made it a point that readership must be coached because it is not a natural-born.

Besides, readership is considered a decisive factor in assessing both spiritual and materialistic progress of a nation. The physical factors alone would not suffice in assessing a nation’s development. If the population of this globe is to be made wealthy, the level of awareness of the surroundings shall be raised – so believed the UNESCO. Awareness is the keyword.

It was against that background that the UNESCO took several measures to encourage reading across the globe. Great Britain made 1991 their year of reading. April 23 was named the Book Day in Malaysia. On this particular day, the whole country will read at once. South Korea allocated days, weeks and months for reading. Most other countries continue the practice.The Government of Sri Lanka decided to name October as the reading month through a Cabinet Paper approval in 2004.

The National Book Month is held each October. The month-long celebration focuses on the importance of reading, writing and literature. The National Book Month is also a time to honour the country’s best books and authors.

Piling up instead of reading

If you collect books but never get around to reading them, there’s a word for that. Let’s come to that later.

More and more often I meet people who don’t hold onto their books when they’re finished reading them. Instead, they give them away. For some people, this idea is impossible to comprehend, because their houses are filled to the brim with books — many of which they probably haven’t read yet.

If you love book stores and can’t help picking up something new every time you visit, you’re either a really speedy reader or you have piles of literature at home you haven’t gotten around to reading.

If it’s the latter, you probably engaging in ‘tsundoku’. Yes, that is the Japanese term to identify you if you collect books but never get around to reading them. Give this concept a thought if you own a lot of unread books.

The phrase ‘tsundoku sensei’ appears in text from 1879 according to the writer Mori Senzo, which is likely to be satirical, about a teacher who has lots of books but doesn’t read them.The work ‘doku’ in Japanese can be used to mean ‘reading’, while ‘tsumu’ means ‘to pile up’. When fused together, you get a word that essentially means the act of allowing books to accumulate.

After all, in the words of author and avid book collector A Edward Newton: “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity. We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”

Tsundoku is easily confused with “bibliomania,” which is a word that describes people who can’t stop collecting books.The difference is that bibliomania describes the intention of creating a book collection, while with tsundoku, piles of books build up by accident.

Buying culture

So, are we in a culture of reading or culture of buying? Do publishers care if we read their books, or does their interest end the moment we purchase their books?

Because there are some important differences between a culture of reading and a culture of buying, and when they’re out of balance, book culture (and industry) as a whole suffers.

Publishers are clearly in the business of selling books. This is also true of self-published authors, whose discussions of income, on how to increase sales, and on references like ‘churning out books’ indicate a definite focus on income. As do the many references to authors deserving to be paid for their work, even in the absence of contrary assertions from readers. This is not a bad thing, in and of itself. As we know, publishers need to sell books to remain viable, and many self-published authors do not have their books available for lending in libraries or even in digital subscription services like Kindle Unlimited or Scribd. The affordability for an author of continuing to write is a reasonable consideration, and for each author, that calculation will be different.

At the same time, if readers don’t read the books they are buying, then how will they know to buy more from the authors they like? Books that are so affordable that they can be purchased by many readers with little specific desire to read them can have a similar effect as books that are priced so high that they push readers out of the market, namely that readers turn away from them.

Reading also leads to enthusiastic recommendation, which, in turn, can lead to book acquisition, which can occur through many different avenues, e.g. purchase (new and used), library lending, or legal sharing among friends. The culture of reading depends on some level of book buying, but it is also friendly to any legal means by which a reader can acquire a book. The culture of reading is much bigger than the book market, because it relies on access and affordability and engagement with books that does not depend on a commercial transaction. And it’s sensitive to the fact that for many, if not most readers, books are a luxury item and therefore subject to purchase limits.

Power of knowledge

Everyone knows that knowledge is power.Few people know how much knowledge you can gain solely from books.

That’s right — solely from books. The truth is you don’t have to buy dozens of expensive courses or sit in boring lectures in order to educate yourself.Personally, I’ve learned far more things from books than I did from the lectures I attended in university or the online courses I’ve bought throughout the years.

Umberto Eco reportedly had a library of some 30,000 books, and he hadn’t read half of them before he died. But by providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. I have a much smaller library, but my nightstand is stacked with unread books. I’ve acquired them in a variety of circumstances, with one commonality: bookstores.

All those books in the stacks are from real bookstores with dust and smells of books, and I get to handle them before buying. There’s an element of the hunt involved, and the satisfaction of finding something I’d been looking for, maybe I’d heard of it and have been looking for it for a while, or it struck my fancy impulsively, or I’d read a review and lo! there it is. . .when I get it home it goes into the queue. I always intend to read it. Eventually, I do... mostly.

The stack stays pretty constant in height, and I never am at a loss for something to read.

The problem is that there are so many good books and so little time! We can never choose between half a dozen yummy-looking books.

Why do we prefer buying books to reading them. Let’s dive into six possible reasons.

1. We buy books to impress someone (or some people).

2. We don’t have the time to read - it does require a commitment.

3. We don’t know how to read.

4. We have shelves and bookstands that you hate leaving empty.

5. We like the smell of paper from printed books.

6. We have an obsession to purchase books.

Time to change

It’s time that we shifted this purchasing culture into the next level of reading. It can be challenging to motivate ourselves to read a 400-page book when we can watch the movie, listen to the audiobook, or watch a YouTube video summary instead.Most of our daily reading consists of social media posts, text messages, and news headlines – and we’re missing out.

Before the electronic era, everyday reading was a ritual that almost everyone who wanted to gain knowledge adapted. The benefits of reading needed not to be reminded all the time.