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The joy of books! Cuddling up with a wish to explore

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 18 January 2018 00:00



I walked into a small communication shop to discover that you can buy almost anything from rubber seeds and tree leaves to bird feathers to support a student attending a school. I noted that all leaves are properly and accurately (hopefully!) identified and named and it was the same with feathers. 


Moving through our system of education 

A little child has no problem in moving through our system of education – the teacher will give homework and a parent will purchase and the child gets an A grade. If all grades come up As, maybe the school will even spend some money and put up a poster at the entrance and Mark Zuckerberg will beam with envy to see his Facebook buzzing with hot news of the day and with all the great friends and relatives cooing with envy of the prowess of the child wonder! I do not know whether it is the parents or the child who wakes up each morning to see the counts under likes! 

What we are seeing, from parents to children and teachers to executives, is dropping the habit of reading and opening up their vistas. The quest for discovery and learning through exploration is fast disappearing. Why spend time on learning and growth, the quest is for a ‘position’ and that is what is supposed to take you to better places. Of course then year on year the same things are repeated and regurgitated to no avail.

In our cities and town centres, the public library has given way to the services of communication shops where copiers and laminating machines reigns supreme. Exploratory education is replaced by off the shelf educational ways and means!

The space for books is under siege

I remember at one time it was quite a pleasant task to walk into a famous department store near Town Hall. It was always pleasant to sit on a comfy char and dive into few books and of course a fantastic collection was present and the ambience near perfect for a good read. Today the situation is completely different. 

The shoreline which demarcates the area for books are fast receding and only the glacier ice in the arctic may be disappearing faster due to climate change. Comfy chairs are long gone and today one solitary chair remains and that reminds me of a chair that usually a lawyer provides to a client and you know why! 

The space for books is under siege from the more profitable fast-moving goods and who will extend valuable shelf space to store stuff that has no demand? I am sure there is no need for a MBA to figure out lost opportunity cost with such space allocations and the best way is to ensure the disappearance of the tomes. Soon many more footfalls will happen as the shelf will have beachwear and multi-coloured slippers and they are in demand!

Malaise of ignorance donning the mantle of governance

I entered a Government office and was happy to see the ‘Library’ sign on the wall. However, closer observation was quite disappointing – a notice on the room that had been earmarked as the library and the notice indeed makes for sober reading as you can see from the picture. 

It indicates that the library is open for one hour per week. I can imagine the whole office staff waiting with bated breath to exchange books on the particular day and the hour. Well today we know that they are not and quite unlikely too. Again if we do not read but only deals with directives and meetings, we are destined only to move backwards and that is what is slowly happening. The malaise of ignorance is donning the mantle of governance.

All three examples that I am citing are recent personal experiences and I am sure many know more than me on this area. The question is, are we concerned or do not care? If one does not care, not much can be done about that. Yet if we collectively ignore, the greater the danger that is likely to be bestowed on us. There is collective apathy with regard to reading and there is no joy with books at present.

Championing books

Books are not the most recent format for reading. I purposely kept the noun with the title than the verb. It is books that I am referring to. We may have arrived there from clay tablets (3500 BC), papyrus scrolls in Egypt to ola leaves in Lanka. Then Gutenberg’s printing press took the world by storm and we were not the same again thereafter.

A food industry application – a wine press – paved the way to this machine design and the final result was books for all and renaissance, leaving the dark ages. The printed pages today are giving way to Kindles with books stored and read from the cloud. Definitely a smarter way to keep thousands of books if not more but I must confess the humble paperback along with the hardback evoke much more feelings still. 

I am happy to see the tech giant and today even more of a philanthropist Bill Gates championing books. I think of all people perhaps next to Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates can be excused if he was seeing with a Kindle in hand. 

As per Gates, reading is his favourite way to indulge in curiosity and his blog note is explicit – books are the best way to explain new topics that interest you. It is thus really a pity that we handled only the course book and get much more engaged on the Facebook! 

No wonder a modern life skill coach cum writer Robin Sharma writes ‘Your phone is costing you your fortune’ – if your telcos are not owned by you, an additional foreign exchange drain too is a certainty. How true when we may be using multiple phones and cuddling Facebook with all of those. A few may be happy with organic growth in likes but the decision-makers feed rupees to generate likes and we have today have identified another means of ensuring that society moves into debt.

Success attributed to reading

Today one could expect recommendations from Bill Gates to get a glimpse of where his mind is roving and the clues come from his biannual recommendation via this blog. His 2017 holiday reading list had five books from urban poverty to the history of energy. He devours around 50 books a year and there is a common statement that CEOs should read 60 books a year. 

As per Bill Gates, books are for holidays and holidays certainly do not mean shunning reading. In fact Bill Gates takes reading holidays and that is one week per year minimum. If one feels after all that Bill Gates is now old fashioned, this behaviour is true with Mark Zuckerberg as well. He gets his cash flow from the Facebook but reads books to keep his neurons active and for the diversity – check his personal Facebook page-based books recommendation on line. Mark too is quite clear in attributing his success to reading. 

It is a pity indeed that we subscribe to the notion that being seen with a book is a cause for concern. I actually wonder whether we even read 60 newspapers a year! We are at times proud to say that we read only the death notices and sport news. Now as the distinction between sports and gambling is fast disappearing in the local scene and elsewhere may be we all are reduced only to read death notices if our age is above 60 years. 

SMS and Whatsapp have taken over as the news service provider too. For the young, Facebook has become old fashioned and Snapchat is the way to go. There go even the few written words!

Parents should understand – I really am thankful for mine for doing just this – that one of the best ways to enlarge your child’s world is to ensure you inculcate a love for books. If you have done that, many other necessities may not happen as the child is on excellent autopilot.

I hope Colombo can learn from Barcelona where there is an official day of festivities without a holiday where gifting books is the norm – 23 April is the Day of the Patron Saint Sant Jordi and interestingly books and romance converge. In Barcelona they collectively love the reading culture and the streets have interesting bookshops. Well, Barcelona is one of the world’s top innovating cities and also a UNESCO Creative City; 23 April interestingly is also UNESCO-declared World Book Day. 

It was left to Mark Twain to state that one who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read at all. So one should have the ability to be a discerning reader and not to take any printed material as a means for joy. That reminds one of the pieces of advice – always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it!

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