Monday, 6 April 2009

Booked

From what this guy says, we're a nation of readers starved of good and affordable books. He's also telling us that we're probably importing too many foreign books, and the brain-drain phenomenon is an illusion, with our 350,000 teachers and more than forty thousand lecturers or professors who can crank out heaps of good local books. It seems we need to publish 27,000 local book titles for general reading a year to catch up with developed countries, more than the current rate of a measly ten thousand.

My beef, not to mention my mutton, venison and poultry with this, is the archetypical Malaysian approach in solving problems.


Do we read - like, really read?
For one, I don't feel we're a nation of serious readers. We seem to approach books as consumers. Not knowing better, we depend mostly on reviews, or recommendations from the more informed. Otherwise, it's all down to eye-grabbing titles that incorporate keywords such as "sex", "love" (in all recognisable languages), not to mention phrases such as "be rich", "earn money", "earn millions" or "be an eBay maven"; or if there's a hot woman on the cover.


No bookworms here
My last visit to a "book fair" is a fair indication that there's a class hierarchy of sorts in when it comes to reading preferences. The more "intelligent" books: dictionaries, encyclopaedias, heavy fiction - mostly in English - were displayed one floor above the textbooks and revision materials, cookie-cutter "romance novels" and religious stuff.

I don't think there is a significant percentage of those reportedly 400,000-odd brainiacs that could write a damn for the general Joe. The teachers we have don't seem like the type to hit the keys after a long day of marking papers, drawing up timetables and reading prepared notes to bored students who chat, text, or sleep during classes.

Right now, I'm not betting on finding a lot of good authors in our institutions of higher learning - considering what has been said about them. I think academia in general desperately needs to learn to write in a newer, livelier way.


Book Of Records mentality
Third, as I said, is the volume thing. We're an industrialised nation 'cos we build lots of cheap cars (Proton!). We're a wired nation 'cos we have free wi-fi. So a smarter nation publishes more books? Crank up production and it'll fly off the shelves? That approach might work better with McDonald's meal vouchers.

Flooding shelves with locally-published books won't necessarily cultivate good readership or reading habits, because it'll mostly be written by people with the similar mentality (lagi-lagi cinta, beb). Even if mass production does lowers prices, there's no guarantee of record sales; nor does it say that all those bought books will be read. What's going to happen to all the unsold copies, left to gather dust or mould in the storerooms?

Then there was the mention of an allocation RM300 million. Has the mass media become a platform for soliciting funds, which may not accomplish what they are meant for? And do they really need that much money?

We have enough books. We just don't have the brains, the drive, the whole reading mindset, which drives all the developments necessary to create a nation of intelligent, mature, responsible and active readers. Not yet.


What to do?
Most of us should cultivate a reading habit because we can't improve what is not there. This is something I owe my folks big time for. It started out with encyclopaedias and those "amazing facts" books and copies of Reader's Digest. Start them out young and they'll take to it like trout to water as they grow. Just look at me!

How to cut down on unnecessary imports or publications? More good libraries. Some people don't want a lot of books in the house. Problem is, the library culture here generally sucks. And I'd rather have big, well-staffed and well-stocked libraries rather than those monuments to excess called shopping malls. Leave the cafés alone and replace the racks in Mid Valley's Prada or DKNY with bookshelves and I'll be happy. It'll also help with shopaholicism, a really inconvenient affliction in these troubled times.

E-books are also a logical step forward for a society that's - supposedly - as wired as ours. Libraries can even offer e-books online for a fee, and link up with other libraries in other states and abroad for more reading material. Wouldn't that be cool?

Most importantly, government shouldn’t treat its citizens like children. We don’t stay kids forever. Censorship, for one, does not necessarily safeguard morals, reduce crime or build better thinkers. All it has done is breed a bunch of people hungry for escapism (cari cinta, misalnya).

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