By Babatunde Ayo-Vaughan
THIS has become a million-dollar question these days, particularly from those who know the vital value of reading. The dictionary says reading is the art of being able to look at and be able to understand something written or printed. I will say if reading is an attempt at the understanding of something in letters, it surely must be accepted as a culture and the psychologist will readily agree that it is not just good to be classified as a culture but a fundamental culture of the mind in as much as it is basically an attempt at understanding.
There may be no gainsaying the fact, therefore, why so many people aspire to classroom education. If, however, people are worrying these days as to whether people still read it must certainly be because they could either not see the effect of good reading culture on the society or that perhaps they are reading journals that bastardise the method of good understanding. This is making people ask that if people are still reading, what sorts of books could they be reading?
According to Linda Edem Davies, a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, “people still read though truth be told, not as much as was the trend, a decade or two ago. And what they are reading if one is to go by what sells in bookstores are self-improvement, home/money management and religious books.” According to her, very few readers buy or read books for pleasure now; gone are the days when it was a pleasure to buy a book and be thrilled to read it.
This notion was corroborated by Iquo Diana Abasi, another member of ANA. According to Iquo, much as she believes there are many Nigerians who are interested in creative writing, who could have contributed to the reading culture in Nigeria, financial constraints make it difficult for them to buy books for self- improvement. This actually raises another question as to why only a few people buy or read books for pleasure.
It has been known that the answer of the average man to this, particularly in Nigeria, is that the steady downward trend in the economic system which erodes purchasing power and the anxiety that goes with this removes the appetite for reading or that the idleness that goes with this, especially when one is unemployed, might breed the curiosity of the negative type in the reading culture among the adult such as pornography and books on occultism.
It has also been noted that the various gadgets of technology, particularly the internet, have reduced the vigorous search for books among the youths. It is not as if they don’t read on these technological devices, it is just that they have various distractions that distort the concentration of reading as you would have it in the library, in the quiet of your bedroom or study room. The brain thrives on concentration. It not only helps the depth of reading, but it also helps the depth of thinking which makes for intelligent and qualitative argument as well as creative ideas. The world, particularly in Nigeria, did not seem to get this anymore because these are the methods of solving problems. When problems are mounting then our topic in this essay does not come as a surprise.
Perhaps one very important truth about the love and ability to read is in the capacity of one knowing the meaning of truth and the nature of it in any given situation. Truth is about a formidable level of intuition. It is about a well-developed sense of judgment. Above all, it is in the true nature of intelligence. Truth, intuition, formidable sense of judgement and capacity for intelligence are all about the positive development of the mind.
This is the power of reading in the positive development of our personality. It has the capacity to set you thinking. In this respect, it was for Robert Lumsden himself who spelt it out very well how one can go about this approach. According to him: “Any reading matter will provide you with material to start you thinking. As you read, challenge. That is the secret of initiating thought. Never accept passively what you read. Ask: is this statement true or partially so? How does it measure up with your experience of knowledge of history or the world? Frequently pause and think about what you are reading. The enemies of thought are haste and impatience.
Better to read one paragraph and allow it to provoke thought than scamper through an entire book. When you think over a paragraph, it becomes part of your experience and you remember it. Another way to spark off your thinking is to challenge statements heard or read with the simple interrogatives. How? When? Where? Why? What? Who? As Lumsden further went on to admonish: “Having posed these questions try to answer them. Don’t rest content until you have thought through to a satisfactory answer.” I can authoritatively tell you that this was the basis of the development of those who had affected the destiny of the world profoundly. They made themselves free of all prejudices, sentiments, ignorance and superstitions.
Do people still read? It is a question alluding to the fact that we must never shy away from the reading culture because it is the best food of the mind and when the mind is not healthy in a robust faculty which the reading culture offers, we might not be able to solve problems successfully.
As Linda significantly noted, the publishing companies in themselves that could help in these matters for the various services they offer are dying out and those that still exist are particular about what books they could publish: usually academic textbooks that could fetch them immediate returns. Writers themselves are now left with printers whose only duty is just to print books.
Well, we pray the economy improves so that at least people can have the purchasing power to buy books. But the truth is that when you value your brain and your mind which is the best way of adding value to yourself you must never lose sight of cultivating the habit of reading, particularly books that stimulate the mind. You are helping yourself to nurture the cells of your brain and organise them for effective use particularly in the maintenance of good memory.
As Linda Davies fervently believes, notwithstanding the hardship of the economy, those who have a joy for reading and more will buy and read books. But writers too must endeavour to make the subject matter interesting and thought-provoking and as close to what concerns readers deeply or interesting enough to pique their curiosity.