Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My heart leaps up...

...Every time I see a young person with a book. It happened again the other day. We were out having coffee, surrounded by teens and tweens (who all have too much money – but let me not get on that soapbox just now). One boy made us do a double take. He had a copy of The Hungry Tide on his table. I almost rushed to him and shook his hands excitedly for the following reasons:
1. A young person reading a book?
2. A book that's not a cel phone manual or about self-help?
3. And, of all authors, Amitav Ghosh?!!?
(Is anyone else alarmed by the shrill note of hysteria in my voice?)

Why is it so rare to see young people reading today? Why do 19-year-olds consider Harry Potter the height of intellectual accomplishment? There are rare exceptions
like my niece who lives in Canada and wolfs down books. But most other young people we know seem allergic to reading. Luckily, the current crop of under-12s thanks to their parents' cajoling seem to be reading a lot more.

What alarms me is that in 20 years’ time all the important jobs, across all professions, will be headed by people whose youthful reading peaked at Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul… Meanwhile, I shall cheer myself up thinking of that Lone Reader and his interest in Amitav Ghosh. And I’m going to ignore the voice in my head which says he might have been carrying it around for a cantankerous aunt!



Just Mohit said...


Thanks for pointing out the lack of reading in today's youth. However, I think it's a sign of the times. People in general read much lesser nowadays. Somehow, TV & now, the internet, are seen as effective substitutes for books. Moreover, most of the reading on the net seems to be limited to gratuitous short sharp bursts.

That said, I think you are being overly pessimistic about the whole thing. I do know a number of 20-23 year olds (my brother's generation) who read...and fairly regularly...and increasingly more thoughtful stuff!

Phish said...

I tend to agree. To both.
Kids are reading less nowadays and it's not just because there is enough to do elsewhere. It's also because of a dearth of good reading material.

Enid Blyton has shamefully been deemed passe. One visit to the large, impersonal, supermarket like bookstores that take up prime real estate in our city, and you will see a mere handful of the stuff relegated to a dimly lit corner.

Growing up in Calcutta, a city that still thankfully clings onto the ancient, a visit to the bookstore for a day long affair. An elderly gentleman in a crisp white 'dhuti' would take a wide-eyed kid by the hand and show him stacks of Williams and Enid Blytons without even expecting to make a sale. Out came the picture books - Tintins, Asterix and Om Pa Pa. Then he would talk to the father about how beneficial a subscription to the Soviet magazine "Misha" would be for the eight-year old.

Today we live in a different age. The romance of the bookstore has been replaced by the jaundiced glare of neon. The bookstore has become a place to pass time and drink coffee.

I am all for modernisation. And maybe in a way the Crosswords of the world have initiated hordes of people to read - but the real reader and collector has been shortchanged.

I still buy my books from cornershops in forgotten by-lanes
owned by people who still selling books is not a business, but a service.