The reading habit

A member of the academia once commented that our students only read books recommended in their course, and nothing else, except the local papers when and if they can get their hands on.  Statistics published have also shown that we Malaysians read a minimal number of books in our lifetime.  Most read the local papers, and get by absorbing news of the current events of what is happening in the world from the electronic media.

In 1982, despite a 90% adult literacy rate, the National Literacy Survey carried out by the National Library reported that Malaysians only read an average of one to two pages a year. Fortunately, the reading habit among Malaysians improved to two books per year when the National Literacy Survey was repeated in 1996. Nonetheless, the last National Literacy Survey carried out in 2005 reported that Malaysians still read an average of two books a year. In short, there had been no improvement.

The last survey also reported that Malaysians read increasingly less as they grew older. By the age of 50, for example, only 20% of Malaysians would still continue to read books, a drop from 40% (a figure which is already pathetic) from those in the mid-twenties to thirties age group.

When asked the reasons for not reading, the survey discovered that Malaysians were either “not interested” or “no time to read”.

Most of the public libraries are noted to be used by students doing their research, meeting friends, or the occasional reader who borrow books because of their love of reading. Others who use the library are there to read or browse the many available magazines and local as well as foreign newspapers.

This is a very sad state of affair, as reading is one of the good habits to cultivate from young.  It should not only be encouraged amongst students to enable them to go through their basic primary and secondary schools, facilitate them to do in depth research at higher institutions of learning, but also to continue their lifelong learning process.

One of the reasons for today’s youth not being interested in reading has been blamed on the electronic media.  Some of those in the academia blame internet browsing and chat groups for taking away the younger generation from reading books.  It is no wonder that in every home, most of the members of the family are either stuck in front of the TV, or on their home PC, smart phones or tablets.

The excuse that one does not the time to read is a weak one.  Any time management expert would stress that we all have the same twenty four hours given to us to manage in a day, and it is up to us how to use that time.  There are those who make it a point to read before they retire for the night and others who reads several books in a month by doing it during commuting between home and the office.

It is not expensive to develop the reading habit.  Aside from buying your own books, and in the process create your own collection over the years, one can always become a member of one of the local libraries, and borrow instead of having to purchase books.

There are many ways of reading, but the best advice given to this habit is from Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, essayist, and author:

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

With the advent of the internet, one can also read a vast amount of material online.  There are classics that are available free, some of which can be downloaded and read at your own time.  We can also buy books online, and have it delivered to your door, albeit through snail mail.  Alternatively, you can also buy e-books, with a choice of storing or downloading it.

Many have discovered that the only way that one can catch up with advances in their field of specialty is through reading; current research materials to update knowledge, keep up with current events, and read through the mass of reading materials that somehow crop up daily in the office.  Everyone has to read to remain updated; current knowledge expands so fast that if one does not grasp available materials, he or she will become outdated in under less than a year.

This is particularly true in the ICT field.  Those who have just discovered the basics of IT realised that they are left behind if they do not update themselves.  This is even relevant amongst graduates who left their institutes of higher learning who do not keep up with current technological developments.

This scribe believes in the adage that reading maketh a man.  A person who lags behind in knowledge is somehow intellectually unpleasant to share ideas with.  They are not very challenging both academically and intellectually when brought into any form of serious discourse.

On the other hand, a well-read person has not only the ability to articulate a smooth flow of ideas because of his vast background, but can contribute enormously to an interesting conversation which marks him as a personality gratifying to be with.

This article would not be complete without a final quote from Bacon again:

“Reading maketh a full man; and writing an exact man. And, therefore, if a man writes little, he need have a present wit; and if he read little, he need have much cunning to seem to know which he doth not.”

― Francis Bacon

This scribe, aside from making it a habit of catching up on reading his expanding collection in his home library, is also doing his best encouraging young people to read as much as possible books beyond those recommended for reading in schools.