Reading, a dying culture

2011-01-14 00:00

TODAY, most people have lost the value of reading. We are in an era when books gather dust on shelves while the Internet business booms hugely. Reading has become an activity that one embarks on when one is preparing for an exam. To make matters worse, pupils and students seldom read their course books. They either rely on handouts they get from their teachers or notes which they jot down in classrooms.

Perhaps it would be good to ask ourselves the question, why read? Reading expands a person's knowledge. Leoncienne Labonte, a lecturer at Saint Joseph's theological institute at Cedara, says that "the learned person is able to communicate". A reader will not only communicate, but will communicate something sensible. Whenever people have a conversation about a particular issue, it is easy to identify readers in the way they argue.

I think that reading should be part and parcel of one's life. Everybody­ should be an avid reader. Reading is not just for school, but for life. A nation, a society­ that doesn't read is poor. It is poor because economists, physicians, teachers, priests, editors­, journalists, town planners and artists are ignorant about new ideas and technologies that can help people live decent lives. They are handicapped in creativity.

Modern technology 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 that we need, without any struggle. One just needs to Google a word and ready-baked information pops up. We live in a time when we want everything instantly and faster.It's unfortunate that this has contributed enormously to the death of reading.

It takes a person with discipline and patience to read. Time is needed to get to the end. It is sad to see how the Internet, an easy way of accessing the material we need, has been abused. Internet surfing as a way of passing time has become the order of the day. Many have become hooked on dirty literature, such as pornography. This time could have been used to read some of the latest publications. A sage once said "a man is known by the books he reads". If we read dirty material, we expect dirty minds.

We all 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 were jealous seeing our older brothers and sisters reading and we always wanted books to see the pictures and write in those books. Unfortunately, this love of books has not been not nurtured.

We need to make libraries in our homes. When I talk about library­ making, what crosses some of our minds is the issue of money. The library doesn't need to be so expensive. Let's cut our coat according to our size. Simple articles from newspapers could be collected. We could photocopy information. Why should parents not reward their children with books and even buy them books for their birthday?

If parents and teachers knew how reading reaps benefits for their children and pupils, they would go bankrupt buying books. We need to give our children articles­ and books to read and summarise, and then later reward them for reading.

Parents on the other hand ought to set an example for their children. Before making their children good readers, they need to read. They should be the first to enter those home libraries and read.

We love to take our children for picnics and tours, but we never take them to libraries. Libraries are everywhere in South Africa. We have good libraries. I was surprised the other day when I went into one of the libraries in Pietermaritzburg to inquire about how to become a member of it. The librarian­ told me that it's free of charge. If we want to create a reading nation we have to befriend our libraries.

Using the words of David Dempsey­, an American writer, in his book Present Your Way to the Top, "we need to have fire in our bellies to cultivate the passion of reading".

We should consider time wasted if a day passes without turning the pages of a book. If we begin reading now it will become a habit that will be hard to drop. Reading will be like eating peanuts, where you don't feel like stopping.

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