Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why don’t People Read Anymore?

Why don’t people read anymore? This question was the primary focus of the annual convention of LANA held in Houston last weekend. The Literary Association of North America (LANA) is an association of writers who write in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, the state with 100% literacy in India. This association has been able to bring together the prominent Malayalam writers in North America for more than a decade. The presence of Zachariah, the well-known writer from Kerala, provided the participants with a challenging role model. Dr. M.V Pillai, the professor of Oncology, remained the pivotal point of the convention with his crystal clear thoughts and insights.
Reading used to be an essential part of the daily life of most of the people in Kerala. The day started for most with hot news from a newspaper along with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Today the situation is not the same. The number of readers is on decline. Television has replaced newspaper for many. Very few people read books on a regular basis. If this trend continues, what would be our future? This was the major problem that the conference discussed in depth and in detail.
Dr. M. V. Pillai
This situation is not limited to Kerala; it is worldwide. According to The New York Times, in 2007 over 40 percent of Americans had not picked up a book the entire year. Dr. M. V. Pillai explained this situation comparing it to a business transaction. A successful business transaction requires a minimum of three factors: a producer, a consumer and a product. In the world of literature, there are a lot of producers and products, but there are not enough consumers. If the demand for products goes down, eventually the production also will go down.

Why does this happen? Why are there fewer and fewer readers? As soon as we hear the question, most of us tend to point our fingers at the visual media. It is true that visual media has replaced much of print media. But we have only gained by having the visual media in addition to the print media. The two media can work together hand in hand rather than as rivals to create a better life on the planet. Movies and TV serials are an extension of what appears in print, and they let us see with our eyes what we could only see with our mind’s eye.

The writers need to focus on what they can do rather than on what they have no control on. What can they do? They have to make sure that what they produce have quality. They should not worry about how many people read their work, but should focus solely on quality. When the quality improves, quantity will follow.

How can a writer produce quality work?
A writer must be a seer, someone with the ability to see life deeper and wider than most of the people do. If someone does not see life differently from the people around, he/she does not qualify to produce a literary work. He/she wouldn’t want to waste the precious time of the readers in addition to his/her own time.

The literary work produced must be authentic. Neither its content nor its form should be copied from anywhere. One should read widely to acquire the experiences of others and to view life from the perspective of others, but a work produced must be one’s own. A writer is often tempted to imitate a master writer, but by doing so a work becomes inauthentic.

A writer must have the courage and the honesty to translate his vision of life as it is to the readers. Often a writer wouldn't want to project a real picture of oneself for fear of losing his/her image among the readers.

A writer must communicate in a language that is fully comprehensible, and in a form that is appealing to the readers. The primary reason for the decline of readership for poetry in our time is its incomprehensibility of language and its unappealing form. The content must be primary in any literary work, but its language must be comprehensible, and its form must be appealing.


Roy said...

Could it be that how people read has changed. I read a lot, but very rarely hold a book in my hands and even then it is just for a reference rather than reading the whole book. This week I bought my first book in a really long time.

Books and Poetry are not the only way to read anymore.

Eric said...

You raise a critical issue, and the answer may be blowing in our ears: cell phones, MP3 players, and audiobooks. As Mark Twain joked over 100 years ago, "the man who doesn't read a book is no smarter than the man who can't read one."

Reading remains the essential skill - for practical, spiritual, and creative purposes. If we "forget" to read in our hectic pursuit of material success, we will become less educated - and far less humane.

Unknown said...

You have raised a concern that is very relevant in these times of the visual media. I was at the said Indian writers' conference, and I congratulate for capturing so well and truthfully the crux of one of the seminars there.

We met at the said writers' gathering, but I had no clue about your beautiful personalty or about your blessed mission as a writer-- you came out to me so humbly and self-effacingly.
Raju Thomas, New York

Easo Jacob said...

Dr M V Pillai, and Mr Zahcariah, said it well, and you captured the message, and articulated it very well - the troubling thought that people are not reading serious material any more, as they should, for their own and their posterity's intellectual enhancement.

Teachers generally failed to teach children how to listen, and how to read. If teachers could teach them "read-to-learn" and "learn-to-grow" techniques, a new generation of readers will emerge. They need to be taught how to pick excellent books with valuable ideas, and to find value in them.

There is no point in blaming visual media. Visual media is the result of the natural progression of technology and science. We may make use of visual media to educate people of the importance of reading.

The solution is the creation of quality books with content of character and ideas, presented with clarity of thoughts and convenience of easy reading.

Writers need to write with readers in mind, and readers need to read with writers in thoughts.

Let's hope we will see more and more books with a purpose and a message, as well as being entertaining.

If the writers cannot manage the readers, the readers will manage the writers, for the best, or the worst.

Choice is ours.

Easo Jacob, Houston

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit of a guilty party there, John. I used to read a lot for pleasure, a lot of fictional stories,especially sci-fi and fantasy stuff, but I haven't read
a new fiction novel in years now, maybe about ten years. I still read the newspapers for news and sports, maybe work a few puzzles now and again. And I read an occasional book for my studies, although more and more of that reading is internet-based lately.

My vision is troublesome and I read less on that account, but I think there's more to it than that. Electric entertainment is drawing us in greater numbers,
discouraging those who might read, go to the theatre, or even go to movies (as opposed to watching TV or DVDs). It's the old "couch potato" syndrome. Why do anything when it can be done for you?

It leads me to imagine a time when we have become entirely dependent upon electronic servants like iPods, cell phones, CD & DVD Players, Computers, Washers and Dryers, Microwaves, Refrigerators, Automobiles, and such. Then
suddenly something happens to disable the entire electrical gridwork worldwide.
What a marvelous trap we are thoughtlessly wandering into! It would make a great sci-fi story, but then, who would read it?

Anonymous said...

I read atleast one (fictional) book in a week, except during exams :)