We need a book that can be as devastating as a catastrophe, like the death of a loved one in exile, like exile in a secluded forest away from the world, and as painful as suicide. Let the book be such that it acts as an ax for the frozen ice inside us. – Franz Kafka.
In Kafka’s view, if the book cannot break the ice that is frozen inside us, it is better not to read it. Snow is frozen on the branches of our conscious trees. The weight of the snow may have put a complete stop to its mobility. Reading a book should be able to shake the tree of consciousness vigorously and break the frozen snow into pieces, so that our consciousness can be refreshed once again. Then don’t book! Then don’t read!
Why we Need to Study
Man is cursed to read. That is, we cannot escape by trying not to read, reading is our destiny. This concept encompasses the broader meaning of the word reading. Before drawing any conclusions about objects and events, it is important to read their systematic observations. But reading in the general sense means accepting what is written in books, magazines, etc. Reading in a more limited but common sense is just ‘reading a book’.
The purposes of reading are varied. You have to read the prescribed textbooks for formal education. Its purpose is to acquire knowledge or gain expertise in related subjects. The second purpose of reading is to get acquainted with society, culture, history, philosophy, etc. in general. This level of study is relatively non-technical.
This type of reading represents the level of consciousness of the society as a whole as it serves as a bridge between people from different fields with specialized knowledge and even among the general public. Books that simplify information and knowledge are likely to be popular. It is also a challenge for writers to prepare books for this purpose.
The third purpose of reading is entertainment. The purpose of reading this level is to soothe the momentary impulses, stimuli and basic level emotions of the people. Such readings help to relieve stress, to use one’s free time, to wander in imaginary worlds or to experience the intimate aspects of human life. Narrative, drama and poetry are its suitable genres.
In short, reading plays an important role in following the course of time, adapting to the situation, and keeping the brain active.
Are We Reading Friendly
In the last 60 years, the objective of the Government of Nepal has been to increase the literacy rate. Literacy and reading culture are two different things. Reading culture is also an indicator of the prosperity of the society. The per capita income of a large part of our population is very low. That income also makes it difficult for them to make a living. It does not seem appropriate to expect a reading culture within a class that has to be deprived of even basic education as it has to work hard to earn a living.
In the general sense, the tendency to read textbooks outside of formal education and outside of the prescribed curriculum and to be constantly interested in it is considered as reading culture. Accessibility of textbooks is the first requirement for this. Markets and libraries are places to get textbooks. It is useless to talk about the purchasing power of the economically poor people. Even the middle class and middle class oriented community are not able to spend on additional issues due to rising prices. Libraries definitely promote a reading culture. But schools and colleges are poor in terms of libraries. Public libraries are almost non-existent. Library and reading culture do not seem to be the priority of our society.
How much time people have left to make a living and how they use that time is an important question in the development of reading culture. Reading is not the only option to make the most of your free time. Apart from professional involvement, a person’s family and social role is also the same. The various instability created by the fluid politics of present day Nepal has not allowed the people to remain neutral in contemporary political activities. People from the educated community seem to be additionally affected. It has not been established that success can be achieved only with skill, efficiency and knowledge. Against this background, ordinary parents do not like to see their children engrossed in extracurricular activities.
Leaving aside the issue of rural and economically lower class families, the concept of private and family library has not been able to enter even the affluent families. It’s a matter of culture, not personal preference. There is a preponderance of students in the society from the culture that extra books should not be read in student life. The majority of parents do not want to spend on such ‘unnecessary’ things.
The third element that measures the reading culture of a society is social psychology. Society appreciates book lovers. But children do not like to waste time reading. The belief that a person who reads a lot cannot be a suitable character for the society is rooted. It is not uncommon for the eyes of a society where most scholars and university professors are fighting for a normal life to be unreadable. Prosperity in the eyes of society requires minimum education, vocational education, but reading that is not directly linked to income generation is unproductive.
Is There a Reading Culture Here In Nepal
Is it possible to develop reading culture in a non-reading society? There are few people in Nepal who believe that a university produces knowledge. The institutional purpose of the university is to produce knowledge, but the institutional effort is almost nil. The first goal of people going to university is to ‘earn’ a degree. Our degrees have not become indicators of knowledge. Some people may have a degree with knowledge, but selling in the market is a degree. The indifference of the university towards the synergy of the degree and the knowledge expected of it has had a negative impact on the reading culture in the society.
Our universities have not been able to address the fact that the definition of scholarship has now become ‘interdisciplinary’. The international academic environment is different. An expert in one subject is not in a position to remain unaware of another subject. An example might be the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrरdinger’s What is Life. The way in which Srdinger, a Nobel laureate, viewed the development of biology through a materialist lens, revolutionized biology. Yuval Harari’s international bestseller ‘Sapiens’ has become popular not only because of its language and simplicity of expression. This book has become popular as it is a synthesized discussion of multifaceted aspects in the development of humanity.
That is to say, when an expert in one subject has a basic knowledge of another subject, a new veil of knowledge is being opened. And, similar traditions support reading culture. A person has acquired the minimum knowledge related to himself and according to his needs. A person should and should be aware of the latest achievements in his field by keeping himself alert according to his business needs. But the longing to get acquainted with the horizons of knowledge developed elsewhere by ‘crossing the border’ has a different effect on the society. The example of educated people plays an exemplary role in the development of reading culture in the general public.
A letter from our scholarly community certainly shows this kind of awareness. But it is very limited, in infancy. It has not spread, it has not grown. ‘Light’ literature read for entertainment and leisure does not enhance the reading culture. In order to increase the reading culture, there should be a hunger for knowledge, a thirst for information should be chased away. As Kafka said, one should be awakened by the inspiration to break the frozen mountain of snow within oneself. We have such awareness and this kind of culture is frustrated.
Why The Contraction of Reading Culture
As discussed above, due to economic reasons, there was no opportunity for flourishing reading culture in Nepal. Reading the psychology of society is not culture friendly.
In fact, these two factors are like two sides of the same coin. The third motivator for the expansion of reading culture is linguistic access. Only people who are fluent in English have access to good books. Reading motivation does not increase unless you read a good book. This is the polar truth. Weak and ‘light’ books use the environment of lack of good books and succeed in creating the illusion that books are the same. Ultimately, it is counterproductive for a reading culture. This is what is happening to us now. It could motivate the readers if the international standard and long-standing works could be officially translated into Nepali and other languages. The availability of textbooks also makes a big difference.
Healthy debate is the lubricator of reading culture. We are far from the tradition of criticism, counter-criticism and debate. Some spontaneous groups are making sporadic efforts. Newspapers also seem to have sporadic discussions. But the picture of the overall reality is different. In the case of indigenous books, such efforts are often affected by ‘chinaparchi’ and ‘personal relationships’. The lack of study we have on some foreign books has limited us to the general consumer level. We have not been able to develop an academic level that can critically review the topics discussed in it.
Another requirement for the development of reading culture is the identification of interests. Various researches on pedagogy show that there is wide interest in reading in the age group of 18-28 years, and there is also diversity in their interests. But in our case, the youth of this group have a big problem of interest recognition. A large number of young people who are interested in reading suffer from confusion of subject choice and interest identification. Due to this, we do not have a family and social environment. More importantly, our educational institutions have not been able to inspire it. The discussion on this has also come up. Without institutional effort, our teachers are not able to be motivated personally. There is a reason for this. The teaching profession has never been the first choice of the society. It is not uncommon for those who have taken up the teaching profession as a last resort to not have the expected academic advancement. There are other economic, political and other environments. Such teachers from school to university have not only failed to help in the upliftment of reading culture, but in some cases have even become obstacles.
When discussing the reading culture of the society, the quality of our own books must also be discussed. Lately, the Nepali market has been booming with new publishers, new authors and new books. Especially after the establishment of the republic, it has become widespread. Adding publishers, authors, and books to the market indicates an increase in the number of readers. There are also reports of some writers living a mediocre life. This situation would not have happened if the readership had not increased. But in order for this graph to continue to rise, the quality of the books must improve in the same proportion. Attractive color, beautiful printing is not the only indicator of the quality of the book. Content and presentation are also important. Books like ‘Read today, forget tomorrow’ do not cultivate a reading culture. Reading should be ‘contagious’.
The suddenly heated book market is flooded with weak books. “Good” readers with normal purchasing power are not satisfied with Nepali books. Whether the knowledge or entertainment is purchased for any purpose, the book must address consumer expectations. The non-availability of expected quality books in the market is a big blow to the developing Nepali reading culture.
Why Did the Book Market Slow Down
A few years ago, sales of Nepali books skyrocketed. This market wave also gave birth to many new writers. Despite the departmental diversity, the novel had beaten the market. Authors familiar with other genres of literature were also attracted to the novel genre. This enthusiasm for writing was the energy for Nepali language and literature. Young writers were also awarded nationally for their first work. Unfortunately, most of the writers who reached the top did not show any magic in their second and third writings. At the same time, the same and old writers are not going to support the market. However, their inability to survive and the fact that new writers are not appearing in the same proportion has certainly slowed down the market.
Over the past few years, various publishers have appeared in the market. Competition between publishers, both healthy and unhealthy, flourished. Unfortunately, the number of publications was not helped by its quality. Publishers ignored the fact that readers were not mechanical consumers. Those who wanted to become writers but did not meet the qualifications emerged as scattered writers. News also came that publishers were in the business of making money. Publishers began to wash away the basics of publishing, such as quality and editing. Man is a sentient being. He can be deceived once, but not always. Lately, readers have been indifferent towards Nepali books.
Autobiographies also have a big hand in ruining Nepal’s book market. Being able to write and publish is a fundamental human right. But not everyone qualifies as a writer. The illusion that I should and could become a writer haunted many. The greed to become a ‘writer’ by himself or even by ghostwriting brought them to the publisher’s door. Publishers used ‘popular’ images, ‘popular’ people also used publishers. As a result, there was a lot of thorns in the developing book market.
In the name of autobiography, some such works became documents of frustrations. The tradition of using ‘autobiography’ to cover one’s weaknesses and mistakes and to blame others without beginning to share the theoretical and practical knowledge that one has acquired in the twentieth or thirtieth year began. Retired life seemed to be for writing autobiographies. The urge to read and publish whatever is published continues to inspire many.
In the Nepali publishing industry, there is no practice of studying and analyzing the target group. There is no need to research which classes need which texts, which materials are useful. For example, in the Nepali market, only love and romance seem to be understood as youth-targeted books. As a result, a large group of young people have moved away from the Nepali book market. Book ads also look like instant noodle ads. If the publicity of the book challenges the reader, then the reader wakes up!
Not only are there new books on the book market, old works by old authors are coming from new guilds and new publishers. Non-literary old works that are lacking in the market only attract the attention of a limited number of readers. Older authors’ new publications are not the only ones that are selling like hot cakes. They do not have the power to heat up the market.
Nepali book market is not only for Nepali books. Until a few years ago, when Nepali books were limited, the main demand of the market was foreign books. Foreign books have not been imported for almost three months after the government imposed the tax. Consumers of foreign books are mainly affected by this. Recently, some of the popular books in the international market have not been available in the Nepali market. Ordinary consumers are shocked by rumors that the price of the book may go up suddenly and abnormally. This is one of the main reasons why the market is shrinking.
Attraction Towards Nepali Books Decreased
The attraction towards Nepali books had been declining for some years. This does not mean that readers’ interest in books of all genres has declined equally. The popular genre of literature, the novel, is now on the defensive. The autobiography genre has not been able to be defensive either. If there is enough supply of Nepali books in the market but there is no activity in the market, this scenario indicates that there are very few readers going to the market to buy Nepali books. The reason for the slowdown in the book market, which seemed encouraging a few years ago, should be found within the author and publisher, not the reader.
Another important reason for the decline in sales of Nepali books is the appendices on Saturdays in magazines. Targeting Saturday, various textbooks in print and online are meeting the demand of Nepali readers for the whole week. Not only is there diversity in the content of such appendices, but the information and quality is also superior to those found in books. It is winning the hearts of the majority of the readers as the articles are fast in terms of size and type. The bundle of reading culture is no different from what these appendices now hold in competitive publishing.
Publishers have the main responsibility to (re-establish) Nepali books at the center of reading culture. This is not to say that international standard works can come on the market at the same time and that Nepali writers can write them. But publishers need to keep researching what themes are. Publishers themselves need to be aware of the tendency to make publishing a ‘earning vessel’. Authors also need to expand the scope of their studies to give quality and variety to the expression of their creations and art. Readers are customers, they don’t wait. According to Franz Kafka, if both the writer and the publisher could be guided, the result would be satisfactory.