Why do people read? What do people read? Why do some people not enjoy reading? Being an avid reader and a true believer in the benefits of reading, I will try to answer some of those questions from my own observations and experiences.
As many of you know, the year 2016 has been announced to be the year of reading in the UAE, with all efforts directed towards creating a sustainable reading culture in the country. But the announcement has brought forward some questions like: Why do people read? What do people read? Why do some people not enjoy reading? Being an avid reader and a true believer in the benefits of reading, I will try to answer some of those questions from my own observations and experiences.
I started reading from a very young age because I was blessed with parents who are both enthusiastic readers. My parents till today are regular visitors to bookshops and the annual Sharjah International Book Fair. I only recently realized that that was something not to be taken for granted, and that not many parents enjoy reading.
I have read throughout my childhood and adolescence. I enjoyed reading everything, from the most imaginative and unbelievable fiction/non-fiction to the most scholarly research papers. Whether I was happy or upset, there was always some joy to be found in reading. If I felt low, reading fiction would, within a few pages, make me forget my surroundings and everything else, transporting me to the magical life of the book. I recall that even when I was in the middle of writing my Master’s dissertation, I would write for an hour and take a 10-minute break to read whatever fictional book I had at the time.
I admit, I’m more of a fiction fan than of non-fiction, but I try to balance and add to my knowledge through non-fiction reads. I have friends who prefer non-fiction; it is all a matter of preference. Never be ashamed of preferring either of the genres. I believe reading shaped who I am, through the peace it gave me, the varied perspectives I learned of, and through the extensive vocabulary that I continue to grow.
Now, the most frequent questions are: why do people not read, and when did society stop becoming a reading society? Here is my own explanation of the situation we are in. People start as readers through their parents and school, and when you look around, there are plenty amounts of books that are available for kids ages 3 to 10 years old, whether in English or Arabic. But when the kid reaches his/her tween and teen years, the number of books in Arabic tailored for them dies out. The Arabic content for those ages that currently exists and has been for some time are the translated classics, such as Jane Eyre, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Around the World in 80 Days, The Miserables, and so on. In my opinion, those are not ideal: they are translated and are not original from within our region or reality, and they are so old that kids can’t relate to them, neither to the early 21st century nor to the World Wars eras.
Those who continue to read through that age to their adulthood are the ones who move to reading English literature because of the amount of books tailored for their age group. This, I recently found, is actually frowned upon by some families, who refuse their kids to read in anything except Arabic, and don’t encourage them to read translated literature as well. So we are left with no original content in Arabic for that age, and no proper contemporary translated works of literature for their age. These combined means they are left with nothing to read, and so they stop reading. What we must understand is that reading is very much like sports; if you stop practicing, it becomes harder and harder to return to it. And when you stop practicing for an entire decade of your life, it’s natural that you stop reading all together.
So if you’re from the ones who continued reading, then you’re lucky, and do keep going. If you’ve stopped and are trying to get back to reading now, you need to forgive yourself. Acknowledge that just as you can’t start running a ten km marathon without practicing for a few km first, you will have to apply the same for reading. Start with children’s literature, trust me they’re FUN! You’ll enjoy them. Then move on to books for tweens. Continue upgrading the age group from there. Some people enjoy comics, so try comics and graphic novels; there is an amazing wealth of books in that genre. Ask around, Google your preferences, and don’t give up. And please, do read in English, don’t stop reading just because there isn’t anything in Arabic, that’s not an excuse!
Reading is like a muscle that needs to be gradually and constantly exercised till it becomes a habit in you. And just like there are many different forms of exercise, there are many genres of literature to read from. Keep looking till you find your preferred genre. Lastly, it’s important to remember that even regular readers have dry reading phases during which we can’t figure what to read next. It’s ok, just ask for recommendations and you’ll be surprised with what comes through.
May this year be an inspiration to everyone to get back to reading and to start enjoying it like they must have done so at some point in their childhood. And if you ever need recommendations, I’ve always been getting requests on my social media accounts to give book suggestions. Just ask me and I’ll love to help out. Through Sail this year, we’ll be creating some programs and publishing articles that will better help you choose what to read next, so keep following us on our social media account and our newsletter to stay tuned.
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