The Love Of A Good Book
I admit it. I’m a confirmed bibliophile. A book lover. For me, reading is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time it’s a passion that cannot be denied. I simply must read. It seems that it’s been that way since I was a young
boy. God knows how many Saturday afternoons I spent in my old library, the Berkshire Athenaeum, curled up in a comfortable chair engrossed in a “classic” adventure story. I traveled the high seas with the likes of Long John Silver,
Sinbad and Melville’s Ishmael. I explored the galaxy with Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. I climbed Everest with Hilary and dove to the depths of the ocean with Cousteau. The hours I have spent reading have given me an education far superior
than the formal one that I received in school; what’s more it’s one that will never end.
I’ve tried my best to pass on my love of reading to my children. I was never too busy to take my kids on my lap for “story time”. I think I must have memorized through sheer repetition most of Dr. Seuss!
When I was deciding what to bring with me when we moved to Thailand, there was never any doubt that I would be taking as many books as could fit in out shipping container. Even though I managed to bring thousands of books with me, I was still forced to leave dozens and dozens behind. I only hope the folks I gave these beloved volumes to will actually take the time to read some of them!
I plan on spending at least some of the coming years re-reading my old “friends”, and introducing many of my favorites to my youngest son. Although he’s only 18 months old, the very first thing he does in the morning is bring over his picture books to proudly show me what he has learned. He may not be able to completely say “giraffe”, but he is trying hard. I have no doubt he will be amazing me over the coming months with his ability!
Try as I have however, I have never been able to interest my darling wife to sit down and read a book (and I’m talking about Thai books!) I don’t know about any of you, but I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. JK Rowling has done more than any author I know to get kids reading. I thought my wife would enjoy these stories as well, so I went out and bought the whole set of them in Thai. To date she has spent a grand total of about ten minutes looking at book #1. I suppose, considering her upbringing, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Growing up in a dirt poor farming family in Buriram didn’t exactly provide a nurturing environment for any type of education. Needless to say, there wasn’t a book to be found in her home. Amazingly my wife went on to do quite well in her university education. Undoubtedly she had a text book or two to read during those four years, but the idea of picking up a book simply for the pleasure of reading never occurred to her.
This unfortunate fact is what this submission is all about. It is so sad to contemplate an entire society that simply has no desire to read. Books are more than a way to acquire factual knowledge, even though that is one vital purpose. They are a ticket to let your imagination soar with the eagles to far-flung places and share the thoughts and feelings of great men and women who have enriched the cultures of every society.
What do I see when I visit our local bookstore? Are young people engaged in the time honored tradition of browsing through books? Sadly it seems all they are interested in leafing through the magazines. When they do actually buy a book, it’s most likely to be of the cartoon variety. Now I don’t look down on comic books. Hell I read thousands of them in my youth, and if my dear departed mother had not thrown the lot out when I went to college, I would be have more than a buck or two to show for it! But comic books were only a small part of what I read. If given the choice I was always much happier reading Roy Chapman Andrews' account of unearthing dinosaur eggs in Mongolia, than the latest adventures of Sub Mariner.
Again, let me make it clear for the usual crowd who always accuses me of imposing western standards on Thai society, I don’t expect Thais to be reading books written in English! Most of the world’s great literature, along with the vast body of contemporary books, is readily available in Thai. There are plenty of Asian authors available to read. The problem is simply the lack of desire to do so. If Thailand is ever to expand its consciousness out of its parochial boundaries, reading must be seen to be an important activity. I always encourage my students to read, read, and read some more! The subject matter is not always as important as just getting in the habit of sitting down quietly with a book. If you don’t read, you will never gain mastery over your native language. Over the years I’ve absorbed an astonishing amount of vocabulary that has truly served me well, and while my storehouse of world knowledge is hardly encyclopedic, I do feel comfortable in discussing a wide variety of subjects.
Is there any solution in sight in the Land of Smiles? I certainly don’t see one. I’ve offered to have regular story times for my students (on my own time I must add) but haven’t gotten any takers yet!) I do from time to time read to students that I tutor. They seem to enjoy it. I hope my Thai counterparts will someday take up the clarion call of reading, but I’m not holding my breath!
Reading isn't big in Thailand, seemingly at any age.
JK Rowling ought to be given a huge pat on the back for she has helped many Thais discover the joy of reading, but apart from Harry Potter, I seldom see Thais reading. Unless you count comics. But then that doesn't really count, does it? In fact, there is something rather disconcerting about a 30-year old reading comics on the skytrain.