According to a recent news report on the Times of India’s Crest Edition (which incidentally brought out its last issue on July 20th, 2013, Indians on an average spend 10:42 hours per week (per person) reading. This is closely followed by Thailand, China and Philippines (9:24, 8:00, 7:36 hours respectively). USA residents spend 5:42 hours a week reading, while those in UK spend as little as 5:18 hours devouring the written word. Faring better are France, Russia and Saudi Arabia (in the 6 to 7 hours bracket) while the worst off are Japan and Korea (3-4 hours a week).
Read the story here: Can You Guess Where in the World People Read the Most?
Should I be happy that I belong to a country of (apparently) well-read people? Should it matter that almost half of this country’s population is not literate. According to the 2001 Census, the overall literacy rate works out to be 64.8%. However, the male literacy rate is 75.3% and that for females is 53.7%, showing a gap of 21.6 percentage points between the sexes at the national level. Okay, maybe the people who read make up for the people who cannot.
People I know read a lot. Most of them, at least. Either they enjoy fiction, or they somehow find interesting non-fiction books to fill their days.
But this other recent piece in Mint Lounge (their cover story, may I add) disturbed me a bit. Now, before I venture into it should tell you I have no personal grudges against Chetan Bhagat et al. I quite enjoyed the first book Bhagat wrote, but by the time I had finished his third, I was off the Rs-100-150 paperbacks by Indian authors for good. Again, I wouldn’t mind reading them if they offered something new, but they didn’t. Words which I had learnt in school, scenarios that I have seen too many times. Pick up lines were boring, solution to problems were out of date and the conclusions more often than not were not-relatable. And yet, these are the books which are doing well. India surely likes reading about India in a language not so much her own. Or maybe more own than the mother tongues are to the present generation. New authors are coming out every day, and they are making millions. According to the Lounge article, some of these authors churn out 6-7 books a year! And with e-books and self-publishing becoming a viable option, more and more new age authors are coming out.
I should never, ever say that a first time writer cannot be a genius. All authors must have had a first book. Maybe that first book itself was so lovely that her or his later works faded in comparison. Or maybe they never wrote another book. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to name a few. But the fact is, my beloved country has more chances of giving birth to a literary genius in vernacular language than in English. And the fact also remains that the genius would be overshadowed by his English-speaking fellow-men because #A. He would not win endorsement deals, #B. It is so much cooler to say that we read only English books, or better still, we only read authors who are not Indian.
India, as a country, will only be well read when we read quality books and not just go by the quantity. Till then, no matter how many more hours we spend holding a book to our faces, we will not be read, educated or enlightened.