• August 13th, 2020

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies – why we should promote a reading culture

I saw hordes of people reading books – novels, novellas, poems and plays, and other literature. All of them just reading, and not talking to one another. Old men and women, middle-aged men and women, and young men and women. At bus stations, inside buses; at train stations and inside trains; at airports and inside the jumbo airplanes. In restaurants and shopping malls - and other places. All of them just reading as if they were possessed, or as if their living depended on reading.  That was is Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, California, Michigan, Belgium, Sweden, and other places I have had an opportunity of visiting on my tour of duty. When I witnessed all that enormous consumption of literature, it dawned to me that these were societies that had developed a reading culture and improved on it over thousands of years.

I realised too that this culture could not have just mushroomed without a proper, systematic education of citizens about the huge benefits and beauty of reading – reading anything in print and electronic forms. I was certainly impressed and excited by seeing a sea of eyes literally feasting on thousands of tiny and meaningful words that told stories. Thousands of words weaved together systematically to educate, entertain and at times to inform readers. Expertly knitted words.  At times I would also take my novels and join the reading multitude, a habit I developed for myself. 

However, what ate my heart away was when I reflected about the situations back home – in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Africa – I found that there was a stark contrast, a yawning gap, a fathomless difference between the reading habits in the former nations and the latter. I judged these nations on a reading culture continuum and found that Africa was on the lowest side of the scale while the former countries registered high as they were the archetypes of a true reading culture. I came to the sad conclusion that we can say that there little or no reading culture in most countries in Africa, including Namibia. 

Our old people do not read books. Neither do our middle-aged folks. Worst of all, neither our young men and women. This is not an exaggeration or falsification of reality. There various reasons why our people do not read. A reading culture must begin when children are young. If children grow up seeing their parents reading, they learn the habit easily. A reading culture must be inculcated in children throughout their formative years. They copy their parents’ habits. Psychologists who have studied human behaviour attest to the fact that children learn what they live. Therefore, we cannot blame our young people because there are few role models in Africa. 

As you read this article, I want you to ask yourself when you last bought a book for your child to read. Or when you last bought a book for yourself to read. Some people have argued that there is little or no reading culture in Africa because reading books was never part of the African culture. The proponents of this school of thought argue that narratives were used to entertain, educate and inform children in the African context. Books were never the media through which values were transmitted from generation to generation. Since there were no books, a reading culture never developed. Paradoxically, even with the advent of western civilisation which was supposed to light the way, the reading culture has not improved significantly in Africa. Besides the reading lessons at school, if at all they take place, learners are not motivated to read. Even teachers and academics have failed to take the lead in the promotion of a reading culture. Although there may be community libraries especially in urban and peri-urban areas, there is evidence that not much use of the resources has been made. Some have argued that the promotion of a reading culture is hindered by the lack of funding and poverty in Africa. 

But why bother about developing a reading culture in a nation?  Why should people read? The answers to these and other questions are found in what the American novelist, George Martin wrote in his book: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.” Equally important is what American writer of children’s stories, Theodor Seuss, said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Indeed, through reading one encounters many enriching experiences that broaden one’s sphere of influence. Reading promotes critical thinking and sharpens argumentation skills. To be more practical, when you read a fiction you come across different characters. You can actually relate these characters to real life situations. This may assist you in dealing with such characters in real life.

What’s the way forward? Authors, libraries, book sellers, publishing houses, industry, higher education institutions and education ministries must come together and find practical ways of promoting a reading culture in Namibia. There is a great need to purchase large quantities of books and distribute them freely for people to read. Individually, I advise you to buy a book for your child or for yourself every month.
Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Please send your comments to: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2020-02-07 09:08:47 | 6 months ago

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