“The trouble is that they are not avid readers – a distinct handicap for a nation aiming to make lifelong learning second nature to all” (A Learning Nation Must Love Reading, The Straits Times Editorial).
To make sense of the figures from the 2015 National Literary Reading and Writing Survey, which in particular found that “only a paltry four in 10 had read a literary book in the past 12 months” (ST, Mar. 19), an examination of the reasons for Singaporeans not doing so is therefore important. And time was the most significant barrier, which may not be surprising for those who balance many commitments, even though the consensus that reading is beneficial should – in itself – galvanise more to be engaged in reading in spite of their other engagements.
Perhaps another challenge is the perception that reading should be utilitarian, that there should necessarily be some “use” to the activity. Often premised upon the educational and the economic, it would appear that reading is only valuable insofar as the pragmatic advantages it confers. As a consequence many may wait to be told what to read, and these passive attitudes create apprehension. Be that as it may, cultivating the love for reading is a worthwhile endeavour, and in the long-term active reading habits could result in a more active and informed citizenry.
A few bottom-up strategies come to mind. Reading groups can be arranged in school, at the workplace, or in the community, through which Singaporeans can find like-minded readers to pace themselves or to participate in discussions. Besides reading groups, curated readings lists can be shared online, and these will be useful for those who may not know where to start. And finally, attending sharing sessions with writers – especially since these sessions have become more ubiquitous – will yield interesting perspectives.
But because much has been done by the government – in terms of creating accessibility at the libraries, for instance – above all individual motivation and responsibility matter. With school assignments, undertakings in the community, and other responsibilities, reading always used to feel like an arduous task. Over time what has worked for me is developing a routine, finding genres of interest, and creating targets through curated reading lists. First, it is a routine of reading and writing to process after-thoughts, and to summarise features which stood out. Second, I drew closer to detective fiction and graphic novels, expanding my reading lists to include titles from the same authors or titles with similar themes. Finally to expand my options, I aggregated lists of “Top 100 Must-Reads” from different sources, committing to read once every one or two weeks. These are small changes to improve my reading habits.
There are valid criticisms about dwindling interest in literature as a subject and the lack of emphasis of Singaporean authors or works in these settings, yet unless we are committed to do our part little will change in the future.