Book reading: a declining habit?

Youth these days are seemingly avoiding reading books, contrary to their previous generation. The book reading habit has been brutally replaced by the advancements of modern technologies. Nahid Riyasad observes this metamorphosis.

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How many people of this young generation know Romena Afaz’s Dashyu Bonhur series? Undoubtedly, not many bacause this is old. How familiar is Kuasha then? Not much right? These names are close to the hearts of young people back in 70s’, 80s’ and 90s’.  Undeniably, there are still young people who are familiar with these names and even many others. This feature is not about them; it is about the other portion of the population, who has developed, unfortunately, a habit of keeping away from books. A staggering amount of young people, mainly millennials, have a sharp negligence about reading. This surely is a warning sign as this generation will become citizens, perhaps without reading a single book outside of their texts. There are different factors behind this scenario, not to mention the ‘omnipresence’ of the ‘omnipotent’ technology, especially smart devices.

The importance or necessity of reading books is not the primary focus, rather, the declining reading habit among the younger generations is the major concern. However, some information never hurt. Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and greatest libraries of the ancient world. It was constructed under the patronage of Ptolemy dynasty during 300 BCE and was destroyed by Roman invention in the first century. A little story would illustrate their obsession about books. Alexandria was one of the most important ports of eastern hemisphere, so a lot of ships used to travel through that. What the library did was fascinating, they confiscated each and every book on any ship and copied them. During the ships’ return journey, the books were returned. This smart move had added thousands of scrolls to the library. The library authority was also notorious for sending troops around, who used to copy books and forcefully capture the original copies for the library. However questionable the practice may be, such has been the importance of books or written knowledge to some civilizations.

Today’s young generation, who were born during the 80s’ and 90s’, has seen a different kind of culture where reading books was regarded mostly in two ways. On the one hand, parents were very skeptical about books outside the schools syllabus and on the other hand, this same practice was regarded as something very constructive. Parents, apparently, were not very willing to admit the importance of reading books. However, the culture of reading was very much in practice. In one way or other, it was appreciated; notwithstanding, students with a story book inside a text book were not very unusual to found. There were parents too, who had a library in their house, or who took their children to book fairs and ‘wasted’ money till their kids’ satisfaction was met. Thus, a contradictory culture has remained in this society; reading books was good, then again it was considered harmful and was not encouraged too.

The scenario has changed drastically with the turn of the millennium. One of the major reasons for this metamorphosis of the scenario is invention of newer technologies. Television and satellite channels have contributed their fair share in this transformation. As this technology was becoming more and more popular with unlimited numbers of channels, a large number of people resorted to this on screen entertainment. The introduction of smart devices gave a huge blow to the reading habits of people. Now, people are more inclined to easy entertainment: watching movies, television or drama serials; these forms of entertainment, undoubtedly, do not require a workout of the brain. As a result, book reading habit, which was a major form of entertainment as well as learning a couple of decades ago, has been singled out to be left.

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Niaz Ahmed grew up during the 90s’, in a town near the capital Dhaka. As far as he can remember, books have been his best friend since childhood. His reading habits used to vary among adventures, history, world classics, Bengali classic novels and what not. His ravenous reading habit of childhood has done something to him, it constructed a solid base for him to think openly and objectively in future. In his school days, according to him, ‘many of my friends were serious readers too. We used to exchange comics, novels and magazines with stories. We were even punished by our teachers for reading books outside of the syllabus but that could not refrain us from devouring a good book’. According to him, there had been a good reading environment almost everywhere which has ceased to exist these days.

Another sad story came up when New Age Youth conversed with a young English literature graduate, Nasrin Humayra. ‘During our degree, despite being a literature major, most of the students in the class barely read any text and this was a well established practice. Only a handful of them might go through the translation, but that’s it’, she said in a sad tone. Nasrin also became nostalgic about her childhood when reading books was appreciated. ‘My family always encouraged me to read books and before entering university, I have finished some of the most important world classics including Tolstoy, Tagore and Homer. We don’t see people reading these stuffs in our society now, do we?’ Nasrin asks a thoughtful question indeed.

To get a picture of the contemporary generation, New Age Youth also talked with some millennial school students of Dhaka. Rakibul Hasan, a high school student said that he grew up watching his brother reading books, so he has adopted the practice too. However, ‘None of my classmates are accustomed to reading books so I have no one to discuss with about the books I read’. Another school student Jannatul Islam said that she has never read a book outside of her syllabus; she also mentioned that none of her friends, too, reads any book. When asked the question, Jannatul said that she spend most of time on social media. Not surprisingly, many other people of her age bracket also mentioned that a large share of their time is consumed by the social media.

Smart devices and internet, as mentioned before, are to take some blame, mostly because they are not very sympathetic towards the book readers and have drastically changed the scenario single handedly. In this decade, smart phones are becoming more popular and have largely reached to even rural areas. A child of 10-12 years of age with a smart mobile phone is not a very unusual site anymore. These digital devices are providing entertainment to people, mostly to the younger generation thus fulfilling their desires. As a result, people who used to read books are becoming more prone to easy entertainment of social media.

Considering post-independence Bangladeshi readership, certain names are immensely important in creating a large number of audiences. In the late 60s’, Sheba Prakashani, a publication house started to produce cheap paperback books. Kuasha, Masud Rana or Teen Goyenda are some of their most popular classics. These three series have created a devoted readership in three generations and to some extent, these series were followed like cults. They also came along quality translations of world classics, western novels, adventure stories thus fimiliarising a generation about the outside world. Back then, before television and satellite, those were the windows to the whole world. Humayun Ahmed, a chemistry professor and arguably the most popular Bengali novelist, has single handedly created a generation of readers. His later novels might be in question for quality but his readership was large. His brother, Zafar Iqbal, another professor, also wrote a substantial amount of novels for teenagers. These two can be hold responsible for creating a large readership.

The changing reading habit among this generation might be an indication to something ominous. In western countries, people are seen reading books in public transports, parks and places as such, though this has been replaced by smart devices in recent days. Compared to that, we simply do not have such large readership. This huge cut of reading habit might not translate into something good. A generation with minimal reading habit might lack in integrity, knowledge and understanding of the overall world, which is to be reflected on the face of the country in the long run.

Notwithstanding this declining readership, very recently, the capital Dhaka has seen another uprising. Several bookstores are emerging, with the interior and facilities to be matched with the younger generation. On page 8 of today’s Youth has an article on one of these bookstores. To name some of them, Bengal, Dipanpur and Batighar are prominent among those, whereas old book stores like Pathak Shamabesh are visited only by the true readers these days. The new book stores are facilitated with decent book collections of different genres; they also have nice interior, coffee shops and in-house reading areas where people can read books without buying them. Nothing extraordinary, but these initiatives might once again, make some people to read book thus creating a new generation of readership.

The whole world is facing this same crisis- people are showing their backs to books and investing their time in technologies. In rampant technological advancement, several top-notch newspapers are already out of business; Encyclopedia of Britannia has stopped publishing hard copies. This surge, undoubtedly, has touched our country as well. People are neglecting book reading and adopting smart devices. This practice surely will not bring out something positive; rather, it has the power to cripple an entire generation mentally and intellectually. In order to overcome this situation, young minds should be encouraged to read books more and more and this encouragement should come from the family first.




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