I have an account on Goodreads and today I came across a discussion on English fiction writings in the Indian literary landscape. Specifically the discussion began with asking who are the stars to watch out for in this context. The popular names that come to mind in recent times are Chetan Bhagat, Ravinder Singh, Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Ravi Subramanian et al. There are also a host of new authors debuting on the scene, yours truly being one of them. The publishing industry is on an overdrive, churning out new titles every week.. No doubt there is a market for them, otherwise such investments make no sense. But has this actually benefited the art of reading? Somehow I don’t think so.
Back when I was in school (seems like a lifetime away) I used to eagerly await the beginning of a new year. I simply loved getting new books, covering them with plastic coated brown paper and labelling them with those stick-on labels bearing pictures of cartoon characters or flowers or whatever else caught our fancy at the time of purchasing them. Even before classes started, I would read through the literature course books, both English and vernacular, just to enjoy the stories before studying them academically. In junior years we also used to have a dedicated library hour, where we had to read quietly in the library. We were free to read whatever we liked and many an hour I had spent reading Famous Five or Hardy Boys books. As we grew up, we were allowed to borrow books as well. I wonder how many schools promote reading nowadays. The teaching material and methods have changed over the years and in some cases these changes may have been for the better. But when it comes to reading books, sadly it has only gone downhill.
And it is not only the schools. I have come across many parents who declare that they don’t read at all and are very proud of it. From where I stand, that’s nothing to be proud of. One may not like reading novels, agreed, but how many people even bother to read the newspaper cover to cover everyday? If you don’t read yourself, how can you set an example to your children? Just today my mother was mentioning that the MBA students interning at her job did not read newspapers daily and do not have any qualms about it. Reading has become a chore, something to be done to get marks at school and college. And reading for pleasure has become restricted to leafing through one of the innumerable quick reads that populate the book stands nowadays. Many people tell me that their one and only criteria for picking up a book is its size – the thinner the better. Unfortunately the downside of this demand has flooded the market with quite a few run of the mill, mediocre publications which ultimately end up hurting the interests of the first time author. Serious bibliophiles often balk at picking up new titles, believing them to be a waste of time and money. This in turn can lead to new authors being sidelined, particularly if they are not backed by a reputed publishing house.
With the plethora of applications focusing on learning in a fun way, it is a common sight to see toddlers glued on their parents’ smartphones. Many of these applications are really good and one must really thank technology advancements for making these available to us so easily. But reading has its own attractions and it can open up vistas of imagination which even the most interactive of applications are not capable of. For captured among the crisp, crackling pages of a book are lands full of mystery and adventure which stimulates curiosity and a thirst for knowledge in a child and ultimately shapes a better human being. Let us not lose this valuable treasure; let us revive and reinvent the lost art of reading and introduce a whole new generation to the fascination of a well written book.
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