A general observation is often advanced about the public, especially blacks, not being too thrilled to read.
In aid of this common notion I also advanced an argument on various platforms that we don’t take reading as seriously as we do other aspects of life. To make my point I challenged everyone to imagine a bottle store and a book store situated side by side at a mall. Which one of these two establishments gets patronised more?
The book store? Not a chance!
A good instrument to measure whether we are reading or not is to check just how many of your close friends actually buy books, or how many of your friends have and in fact use library cards. Perhaps even more effective would be to find out when last did your close friend pick up a book – any book, to read.
I accept that this is as I explain below just one way of looking at the problem. Still, why is this the case? What is this horrible thing that books did to us that we would rather spend thousands on various brands of alcohol – which would by the way be expended in a few hours, as opposed to buying a good book – which would cost far less and empower you forever about, say, the legendary Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe?
I am not suggesting that (especially young) people should stop partying and read a book every second of their lives. No. But I do suggest that it reflects badly on you – and by extension on the entire community, if you are going to look good each day and party away every weekend while you have in your whole life encountered no other book apart from what you are ‘forced’ to read at school.
What is it? Are the stories we tell not fascinating enough? Really? How would you be so sure of this if you have not tried reading one for yourself? Ok. Perhaps I should put the question a bit differently: what book have you read that left you feeling sure that our stories aren’t fascinating enough?
As a writer, I am particularly concerned about because quite obviously, I do not write to fill library shelves with books that will never find themselves in the hands of bookworms. Through our writing we seek to enlighten, to empower, to entertain and to do all sorts of wonderful things to those who encounter our work. Put differently, we write to be read.
Based on recent experience, my long held view that people’s attitude towards books and reading can be transitioned in a significant way by literary practitioners themselves got reaffirmed.
I recently attended a book launch in a rural village called Moretele in Taung. It was attended by various local poets, government officials, novelists, and young and old people in general. The mood – in terms of people being excited about books and actually buying them, was encouraging. I strongly feel that this example needs to be followed by other writers whose main focus is urban areas.
People in rural areas read too. Where they don’t, let’s cause them to read by taking our works to them. Our failure as writers to even think of going to these communities to sell ourselves, our works, and most importantly, the significance of reading is an indictment on us, an indictment which will see no improvement to the already shrinking reading market. (Aside – I made sure to buy my 18-month old son two children’s books that day. The author was nice enough to autograph them. So when he is old enough to read, my son will have books bearing a message directed to him by the author. Nice, yes?)
I feel sure that we as a matter of pressing necessity need to go out there and encourage people in the rural areas to get reading.
We need to show the unaware that getting oneself a book to read – with apologies to bibliophile and good friend Dr Gaopalelwe Motebe – is like planting a tree. Such a tree can only produce delectable fruits of fresh knowledge, of increased imagination, of increased ability to concentrate, of improved communication, of free entertainment and so forth.
Indeed such a tree can only produce a well from which lived experiences of others serve to quench our thirst for growth.
(Maruping Phepheng is author of “What Happens In Hankaroo…” and “Of Anger and Revenge.” Follow him on Twitter @TheDukeP.)