Today is World Book & Copyright Day. Can’t have a better day to celebrate it as today is the birthday of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare and the day the celebrated Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes was buried. A birth and a death. In between is the journey of life. With technology changing every minute, to me the power of the Book is still unquestionable. Yet as an educator I can see that the love for books and art of reading books is dying.
How did I come to be an ardent book lover? I remember fondly my childhood days. Daddy used to read books to us just before we went to bed. And the most vivid memory is that of Dad reading Jim Corbett’s stories to us. Probably because we lived in the midst of coffee / tea plantations with forests and wildlife around in Valparai, Anamallais, I could connect that with the topography mentioned in the stories. Dad had a knack of reading it in such a way that it painted a picture in the mind’s canvas. He bought us lots of books. During summer holidays when we spent time at Dad’s work place, he introduced us to the books of Enid Blyton. My guess is it is those books that got me hooked to reading – not surely the classics. Abridged editions or original versions were not good enough to inspire me read more.
Later as I grew up, I not only started reading but also collecting books and build a library. I do have lots of books now and would love to keep on reading. However, today, when I see students around me not really reading, I wonder if it is because many of us, English teachers, focussed first on classics. (We are old school, you know! I plead guilty of this till recently when I laid hands on a wonderful book called Caring Hearts, Critical Minds by Steven Wolk, which completely changed my perceptions and brought in refreshing insights.) We wanted them to read Oliver Twist and Three Musketeers or Anna Karenina and Moby Dick first. There is nothing in them that would hold their attention. I must also add that those books were written by adults for adults. Yet, we asked our students to read them.
Instead if we ask them to read something they can relate to – like something they see around them in the real world – may be they would find reading a more engaging experience. For example reading books like Freak the Mighty (Philbrick 1993) that explores friendship or the award winning Bamboo People (Mitali Perkins 2012) that hinges on the redemptive power of love, family and friendship. Or Copper Sun (Sharon Draper 2006), the riveting story of the trials and tribulations of an African girl and the practice of slavery. Any Small Goodness (Tony Johnston 2003) a story steeped in hope, love and warmth. Or Scrawl (Mark Shulman 2010), a juvenile fiction that deals with social issues like bullying and peer pressure.
The sad truth is we teach reading to test. Not for the pure pleasure and love of it. We ask them the very evident questions, not those that will make them think. “Instead of teaching ‘Reading’ as a school subject”, how about teaching “reading filled with real purposes, experiences and emotions of life” asks Steven Wolk.
Yes, we need to do this to stoke the embers of this dying fire of reading. For even in this techno savvy geeky world, everything boils down to reading. Adult life is full of that. Read, comprehend, analyse, synthesize, extrapolate and create completely new things out of what you read. Granted what you have to read may not be in hard copy but surely it is in the form of an e-book, kindle edition and or the plain and simple PDF. I hasten to add that this is also reading, but minus the essence. I mean the heady fragrance of a brand new book or the musty smell of an old book. To a connoisseur of books both are sure to gift a very special olfactory experience. Something that makes one clamour for more! Sniff, sniff and sniff!!!
By the way, did you know that there are perfumes that you can spritz on your e-reader or kindle to make it smell like a paper book? It is like bottled scent of ink on paper – check this one out! Eau de books??? Or is it meant to be worn as an actual perfume? In any case, I doubt if even book lovers would love to walk around smelling like a book. It is great to sniff will it be so to walk around wearing it on your sleeve?
I think language teachers have their tasks cut out. It is time that schools, teachers and parents helped today’s digital generation discover the simple joys of reading books. Meanwhile, I have rediscovered the joy of reading, thanks to a lot of books that my children, Aathira and Praveen, gifted me for my birthday. From The Immortals of Meluha I am traversing into the absorbing tale of the The Secret of the Nagas (Amish Tripathi – the second in the The Shiva trilogy).
Are you reading too? Happy World Book Day to you!
** Caring Hearts, Critical Minds; Steven Wolk, Stenhouse Publishers; Page 191