There is hardly any controversy over the contention that the young generation is generally inclined to browsing smartphones and losing interest in reading books. A decline in reading habit is not a recent phenomenon, in fact it had begun well before the smartphone became a personal companion for most people. Yet a sweeping comment that young people are averse to reading book would be a gross injustice to millions among them who read what is called 'outside books' behind the prying eyes of parents and teachers. Also, not all youngsters are lucky enough to possess a smartphone or a laptop/desktop to browse or play virtual games.
It was perhaps in times when there was only radio or transistor but no television, the prevalence of book reading was at its peak. Even housewives, left alone at home, made it a routine to read books in order to pass their idle time of noon and afternoon before the return of children from schools and husbands from offices. There were community libraries in many villages and even in a city and town's neighbourhood.
Clearly, the number one villain was television that earned for itself the ludicrous epithet 'idiot box'. It was responsible for drastically slashing people's reading habit. Smartphones and laptop/desktop computers have only taken the non-reading inclination to the limit. Yet the apprehension that broadsheet newspaper and books will disappear with the emergence of social media and e-book has proved unfounded.
Printed books have their special charms which only book lovers can appreciate. There is hardly any experience comparable to this immersion and involvement of the entire self in and with the world a good book unfolds layer by layer. Before blaming the young, parents should ask themselves if they themselves have developed a reading habit and introduced their children to child classics.
The month-long Ekushey Book Fair, with the exception of last year, has not given any impression that the publication industry has suffered significantly on account of smart gadgets now detracting youths from books. Popular fictions sell like hot cakes but the same cannot be said about the other genres of writing including poetry, the largest number of books of which is published during each Ekushey fair. Yet the business of books in general during the period produces a healthy turnover which is far more than that of the rest of a year.
Publishers and writers are not heard they grudge readers' or buyers' reluctance to part with their shoestring budget for books. The fact is that it is the middle class that have for long kept book business and reading habit vibrant. Now that this class is yet to recover from the pandemic's ill effect, how the sales proceedings go this time will be interesting to observe. If last Friday's indication is any guide, there are reasons for all the stake-holders to be optimistic.
The problem is not with love for books, nor with sales; where it really matters is the kind of books written and published. No argument that quite a handful of writers have churned out highly popular books particularly for the young generations. But have any classic and even a few erudite and intellectually absorbing books of the type of metaphysics drawn attention of national and international readers? The issue in question is addition of knowledge to the existing pool and going beyond in order to expand the horizon. That indeed is the litmus test of creativity and it is time we as a nation asked ourselves how much we have achieved on this count.