Why don't we read more?

Hafidz Baharom

IN total introverted fashion, I started the new year at home with a cat and my partner, while reading Dina Zaman’s Holy Men, Holy Women.

Having been a fan of her book ‘I Am Muslim’, this time around I could actually recommend her latest one to my partner because I’m sure he would have a good laugh – particularly on the chapter involving a masseuse in his home state of Terengganu.

I think I will stop there to avoid giving away too much, but it is relevant to what I wish to talk about. Primarily, how much do we read in a year?

In a very quiet piece of news last October, we were ranked 53 out of 61 countries in the World’s Most Literate Nations list. Why did we rank so low?

No, it wasn’t because we are illiterate – though, if you were worried and reading this, I’m sure you just felt some relief and mentally patted yourself on your back for some awkward reason.

According to Oh Ei Sun in a follow up piece on The Malaysian Insight, it was due to us reading too few books as a nation. In a National Literacy Survey conducted in 2005 by the National Library, our average reading habits have lingered around 2 books since 1996.

The news piece went further to quote the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) that this was even more prevalent in children from low-income families, especially in rural areas.

In fact, it is suggested that for some reason, books are described to be a luxury item available only to the rich, with wealthier parents more likely to read to their children more than three times a week.

Suggestions from this group was to inculcate parents with the values of reading, and also having more community libraries.

I’m chuckling, because there seems to be a disconnect of those giving opinions above and what is actually happening. The truth is – people are reading books, it’s just that they are reading them on their phones and devices rather than physical books.

In the Internet Users Survey by the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for 2016, it is estimated that there are 24.1 million internet users, of which 89.3% use a smartphone – basically, 21.5 million Malaysians use a smartphone.

Among this, 50.1% are reading e-publications as a “leisure activity”. So roughly, we actually have 10.7 million people in Malaysia actually reading leisurely online.

Unless there are actually 10.7 million other people reading the Hansard and laughing at the ridiculous statements of politicians as I do before sleeping, chances are they are reading books.

Or maybe, manga.

So, is reading actually a privilege for the rich, with little access to rural people and the poor? Not entirely.

Apple phones come with the iBook app which has access to a free (but rather boring) library, while Android phones have dozens of apps to allow reading of books on such phones. In fact, Malaysian publisher Fixi sells their books on Google Play.

Thus, it won’t impact cost which is important, seeing as how a majority of internet users are either dependents (32.4%) or earning between RM1,000 and RM3,000 (33.2%). And I’m sure many know that there are multiple sites online that allows people to download or torrent books.

In fact, I’m sure some parents have their adult sons update their iPad whenever they come visit with a large collection of novels for them to read at night – or maybe that is just me.

There seems to be a few disconnects here and there – primarily, if so many are reading online, how did the survey done by the Central Connecticut State University miss out on such a huge number of people reading online?

Do people really read when there is better access to a computer, or do they read off smartphones just as well? Does access to libraries really make a difference among the more urban and tech enlightened?

I’d say no. But on the other hand, we do need to encourage people to read more. How do we do that? How do we get kids to be interested in reading books? Or even young adults, for that matter? – January 5, 2017.

* Hafidz loves to ruffle feathers and believes in the EA Games tag line of challenging everything. Most times, he represents the Devil’s Advocate on multiple issues.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.