The last survey about reading habit in Malaysia which I can recall said that a person reads about two books a year. People mostly read the newspapers and magazines, eschewing books, especially thick, volumnous and challenging ones. Challenging to the grey matter, that is. A casual look at people in the park, at bus stops and in the bus, train or LRT, at seaside resort, more so at the shopping complexes, will indicate that people reading a book to fill the time is a rare sight. Except among foreighners!
They've been many campaigns to encourage and instill the reading habit. The only visible effect that I see is more people seem to visit the bookshop, mostly young people. I seldom see the older ones going through some thick novels or non-fiction stuff, choosing one to purchase. Rarer still is to hear some people in cafes and restaurants talking about a book they have just read. But people surfing the internet in public places seem to become more ubiquitous.
So what's preventing Malaysian from becoming a reading society, inculcating the habit of carrying a book ( not just magazines or newspapers) when they are travelling or lazing away by the swimming pool or seaside, and sitting in the park or under the shade of a tree with a book in hand? What do people in a car, taxi or bus do (besides the driver of course), when caught in a jam. Swear and curse at the authorities concerned for not doing enough to keep the roads clear for ( often reckless and crazy) driving? Are the books getting a fair amount of attention at home as compared to the TV and mobile phone? Are parents doing enough of reading themselves or just good at yelling and ordering their kids to study and read?
Undoubtedly, reading during our spare time, beside the neccesary scanning of the nespapers and magazines, is an acquired habit. An intellectual conditioning, if you will. No, one doesn't need to force oneself to read heavy factual and non-fictional stuff to develop the intellect ( unless you're pursuing a degree or some diplomas). One can read fictions and literary works for pure enjoyment, yet sharpens the intellect. You must enjoy reading and read books that you can enjoy. Don't try to wrack your brains on hard and dry reading materials. Throw anything that you find so after turning a few pages and search for something that you like, that grabs your attention after reading just a few lines. Even searching for such books can give you a lot of reading experience!
What I fear most about the non-reading or hate-reading habit that Malaysians in gneral tend to show is that people feel that they had been forced to read too often and too much when young, either by their teachers, their parents or even book=worm bosses.Once grown up and free to do what they like, reading a book becomes an obsession, a reminder of student days, with the shouts of teachers and parents coming back to mind. Hence the real pleasure of reading was never discovered. It has to be taught anew. But by whom? Parents and bosses? No, that's reminding one of old ordeals. Perhaps girlfriend or boyfriend - certainly not wives or husbands.People who have intectual boyfriends or girlfriends may find that talking about some wellknown books can wet - oops, I mean whet - his/her interest. Those whose jobs require a lot of bullshiting - talking shop, I mean or lecturing- will certainly find reading a very good way of accumulating tidbits to make their talks mofre exhilarating.
A final point about the "I hate reading" attitude, aside from foreign books and materials ( especially fiction), do we really have exciting, stimulating, breath-taking, nail-biting local publications that can defreeze the habit, probably borne of schooldays experience? I have sampled some of the local literary works ( in Malay and English) and find them rather boring. Even the so-called love stories for the young ( novel belia) are rather tame and circumlocutious ( too wordy, full of trites). Our publishers and Dewan Bahasa must put more efforts to promote more exciting work. They all say that serious books don't sell. Well, there ware ways of saying serious things in a jovial and humorous way. But that's another story.
Meanwhile let's see more people swarming the bookstores and reading some books, before yelling at their kids to read and study. A new word or thoughts a day garnered from a good book can change your way of looking at humnan beings and the world.