Decline of reading culture, Revisited


During the recently concluded 44th Foundation Day of All Nagaland College Students’ Union (ANCSU) cum felicitation of degree toppers in Kohima, Nagaland MLA Achumbemo Kikon conveyed to the students that what kind of books they read today, will also take them to their future forward. Echoing the observation of many, the speaker regretted the losing culture of reading among the younger generation. His called underlined the need to take up reading daily advising that if one does not cultivate habit and interest of reading, there will be a missing link in the formal education and gaining knowledge. 

In a previous editorial, the crisis of decline of books in Naga society has been generally emphasised. Reading is considered one of the most effective intellectual and cultural activities which are essential for knowledge, personal development, and collective progress. Going by the number of books being released by Naga authors, we get the sense of growth in the writer’s community. Conversely, once considered a normal activity among young and old, reading books have become as uncommon as finding a good read. Almost all regular students or any growing youth were seen visiting libraries and sharing or exchanging books in their homes and schools. Finding assortment of books was a common sight in any home. The motivation to actually read the books, and not just collect them to stack up as furnishings, is however diminishing. Somewhere along the passage of time, the powerful art of reading books has got lost in the transition of the many shifts and alterations. 

In the early days, reading book was considered as one of the indispensable requirements. Libraries were busy. Subscriptions to newspapers, weekly or monthly magazines, book fair and buses were common. In today’s reality, reading literature has become limited to textbooks for purpose of academic course, a way to pass the class. Minds entwined in books are no more the dominant medium of critical questioning, generating curious attitude, exploring new perspective of the outside world or creating imaginative outlooks. Conversations, sermons, education are becoming shallow as the art of reading books slowly slides back and no longer holds the place they did once in the human culture. 

The invention and invasion of internet and modern technology has taken no doubt shifted a lot of things- both positive and negative. Naga society is also equally preoccupied by the digital culture- invasion of internet, technologies and the idea of existing in the virtual world. The e-format, audio and video reading materials are the alternatives easily available for those who remain committed to the art of reading, primarily scrolling on screens. 

While so, some of the encouraging trends have been the efforts made by publication houses and also individuals to revive the book reading culture in the Naga society. The efforts of several individuals and likeminded people to recover the art of reading are commendable. In a heartwarming note, joining the many Naga creative writers community, 12-year-old Kuzo Kezo debuted with the book “The School of Bullies,” also marking the 75th publication of PenThrill. Likewise, Heritage Publishing House since 2008 has been actively publishing variety of books, starting from serious academic works by well-known Naga scholars, short stories books, poems etc. Over the years few other publication houses have also emerged in Nagaland. 

Making books available for reading is as important as engaging meaningful relationship with reading. Keeping a check on the screen time for children and having dedicated hours for book reading, engaging young minds in book reading clubs or discussion groups, etc are some achievable options. State libraries need to function well, reading spaces should be available in café and restaurants. Above all, to recover the reading culture, the minds of the people need to accept that literature resonates with the spiritual component that nurtures human lives and belief. The art of reading is not irrelevant yet; there is still charm in reading and learning from the finest minds of the world and it absolutely makes sense to have a sound relationship with books. The thrill and experience of reading is best described by the British writer, Roald Dahl, “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” 

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