Declining Reading Practices: What is the Root Cause?

Reading books is a hobby indulged in by many, but somehow it never seems to find itself in the mainstream in Pakistan. Many attribute this to the growth of social media, but is that the only reason? A critical analysis reveals that the cause is rooted in many cultural and psychological factors.

Reading for Meaning:

Reading is a practice that facilitates our imagination. It is an exercise that has endless merits, and even without them, is enjoyable. Engagement of the mind has always been important, but during the time of Covid-19, reading has proved to be a tool for disengagement from the harrowing reality. Be it about fictional literary narratives, or countless pearls of wisdom nestled in philosophy, subjective histories, or mind-boggling psychology, a book has its own intrinsic charm. If one starts to list out its advantages, the list would be non-exhaustive. The statistics in Pakistan regarding reading are very alarming. In a survey conducted by Galup and Gillani in 2018, it was revealed that only 9% of Pakistanis are keen readers and over 75% never delve outside of their course books.

Why is this a collective reality of people in Pakistan? The following ponderings address this issue and try to bring the reasons to light.

1.Stories lacking contextual narratives

Most literary consumption in Pakistan pertains to westernized material. The small market that exists mostly promotes English Literature, with our contextual literature as a niche, rather than an exploration of different genres. While there is no harm in having Reading material available from all over the world, it is understandable if the common woman or man would be reluctant to pick it up. The lack of a contextual narrative prevents people from reading, due to decreased relatability. We have recently seen penetration of Pakistani literature in the mainstream, with the rise of authors like Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie, amongst others. With the insertion of our narratives in common literature, we can aim to see a greater number of bibliophiles. It is important to promulgate vernacular literature in the country to make sure literature is approachable for even the common man or woman.

2. Instant Gratification

Reading does not cater to instant gratification. It is a practice that requires focus and attention. Contrary to this, other mediums pander to our senses through their visual hegemony. Attractive animations and visual manipulations coupled with auditory engagement naturally cause people to move away from a book that offers mere text. While beautiful imagery may certainly satiate the visual sense, it does not exercise the imagination. Reading caters to this, by leaving our brain to construct the worlds that are so strictly enforced on us by pictorial mediums. It might not be instantly gratifying, but it allows us to form worlds on our own terms.

3. Negative Connotations Associated with Reading

There is a general animosity associated with Reading in Pakistan. Since most of the early education systems focus on the system of rote learning, the redundancy of the act makes people exasperated by it. This plays a huge role in the declining number of readers.  Rote learning only makes people see books in a negative light. The banality of textbook content also contributes to this. As most of the content is so outdated, it only serves as a source of ire for readers. This problem must be addressed on a national level and significant changes must be made to make studying more engaging for students, so they can venture into the world of books outside their curriculum.

4. Utilitarian Practices

One can argue that reading is not a utilitarian practice. In a country where 24.3% of the population lives below the poverty line, reading is not considered something that is on the top of people’s checklists. The real problem, though, is affordability, with soaring book prices, the common person would be hesitant to approach one. Making sure that books are accessible to these masses, can help people slowly adopt it, as a hobby or something to hone their skills, thus incentivizing a market creation amongst them as well.

5. Spatial Inconsistencies in Libraries

Books in Pakistan are mostly a commodity, owing to an alarmingly low number of libraries in the country. The libraries hold archaic texts, and often do not give the books out for lending. They are unadorned and formal, with square tables lined with chairs, a space that starkly resembles a classroom. Libraries are also stringent in their rules, making sure they never go beyond their character as quiet spaces. Reading should be carried out in an engaging atmosphere for readers to thrive.

How do we turn around these numbers?

Probing into the causes of declining Reading practices and presenting it to the audience would increase the base more than repeatedly enforcing it on people. Libraries should foster a more interactive environment, one where readers can chat about their favorite books. This breeds a more wholesome environment where readers can grow and can connect with others with who they resonate. Pakistani authors should be promoted as separate entities with different genres, rather than being grouped under an overarching banner of ‘South Asian Literature’. Writing workshops and reading circles should be encouraged, forming a community that upholds similar stances and is inclusive of every sort of reader or writer, regardless of any other social category they belong to. Numerous strategies can be adopted to acquaint people with books, but thoughtful measures must always be taken, and nothing should be imposed.

Where we come in:

Daastan not only unearths raw talent, but it also polishes it and projects it for the world to see. Countless authors want to pursue their dreams but are unable to find proper channels for the exposure of their work. Daastan aims to provide an unfiltered narrative for these authors. Our team works tirelessly to bring reading back into the mainstream and for everyone’s story to be heard. Join us today and help us bring Reading back to life!

Daastan is a literary forum working for revival of literature in Pakistan. We connect writers with opportunities for career growth.

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