Friday, May 10, 2019

More writers than readers?



I met Ruskin Bond about two decades ago in a luxury hotel of ITC in Mumbai. He was the chief guest of a prize distribution function organised by ITC and one of my students was a winner whom I accompanied from school. The young students lost interest in the great writer as soon as they got the autographs. Eventually Mr Bond stood all alone in a corner of the dining hall where dinner was being arranged. Even the organisers were not in sight. I smiled at him and he reciprocated. I hesitated to start a conversation with him just because I had not read anything much of what he had written except a few articles in some newspapers. Anyway, Mr Bond didn’t have to stand there alone for long. The organisers arrived and took him to a prominent place in the hall which he deserved.

Those students who received prizes from him that day were all winners of a national level short story competition conducted by ITC which had just launched a new brand called Classmates for students’ stationery. I don’t know if any of them went on to become a writer of any significance. My own student is a dentist today and as far as I know he doesn’t write anything worthwhile except medical prescriptions. However, as a student, he used to take a lot of interest in reading. He was familiar with some of Bond’s popular characters too.

Towards the end of my teaching career in Delhi I noticed that students had lost interest in reading altogether. Very few of them borrowed books from the school’s library which had a good and regularly updated collection. The small ones used to read comics and other such books, but the senior students focused on their coaching classes.

As a teacher in Kerala today, I notice that hardly any student is interested in reading anything except silly messages forwarded for the umpteenth time on some social media.

There are writers galore, however. Not in schools. In schools you don’t even get enough articles to fill at least a few pages of the annual magazine. But you find writers and writers in the Blogosphere and the E-book publication sites.

Ruskin Bond mentioned it recently at a function which he graced as chief guest. “With so many people writing now, there is a danger of having more writers than readers,” he is reported to have said.

Danger is the word he used. Is writing dangerous? I always ask my students to write something every day so that their writing skills as well as thinking will develop. But I always add that without reading they won’t get new ideas, better ideas, wider perspectives. This is the danger that Bond speaks about. Writing without reading tends to produce trash and trivia.

In one of his essays, Jonathan Swift compared modern writers (of his time: 1667-1745) to spiders which wove menacing webs out of the substance that their own bodies produced while classical writers were compared to honey bees which collected the raw material from the external world. The bees transformed that raw material into sweet honey. This is what a good writer is supposed to do: gather ideas from the external world and produce new ideas. Unless one reads, that is quite impossible.

PS. Written for In[di]spire Edition 273:

PPS: My latest book, Autumn Shadows, which is ample proof of how much I have read, is available at Amazon.

26 comments:

  1. In many prophecies regarding the doomsday it is said that every man shall begin to make books. Recently it is getting true. It is quite alarming as the number of foolish and useless books gets increasing. Many a times it becomes simply a publicity stunt or rather a waste of time and money. The number of readers is decreasing by minute though the importance keeps escalating. I'm sure of, everything that I am, even the ways I think is all the result of profound reading. Once you begin to love books the joy it brings is beyond words.

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    1. Can't agree with you more though I'm wary about associating this new trend with the doomsday.

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    2. I'm not saying that it is an indicator of doomsday or whatever. But in many cultures it has been mentioned so. But it shows how irrelevant and idiotic human beings can turn. Isn't that a major reason for end. Every action against nature is driven by vanity,pride and selfishness. It is not the disease but a symptom of the disease.

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    3. I realise you have a point, a very valid one too. When people begin to talk and/or write vapid things, the sign is of rot, terrible rot.






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  2. Writing without reading tends to produce trash and trivia: very true! Reading is integral to writing.

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  3. And reading must not only be confined to reading classic books, even some bloggers including you write things that they observe from their surroundings and society and writing is indeed about observation as well. So...in a way writing has got now easy platforms to be shared with the target audience otherwise earlier to get a piece of writing published in a newspaper used to be a herculean task. And it is kind of good that more and more people are writing so that they get a chance to share about their side of story about the world that they reside in. This way we happen to know a bit more about life and the world.

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    1. Of course not only classics. In fact, some of our contemporary writers are geniuses. What I meant is that the classical writers were mostly scholars who used to read a lot and hence wrote better stuff. Shakespeare and a few other geniuses were exceptions.

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  4. I believed that .We can't be a good writer by reading books and copying that idea to write our own story . We must write about the reality that what is really happening with us how we motivate ourselves and whatever we should create our own idea . Hope you too like my photography and writing . Have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. It's about thinking, not copying like in present day school projects and assignments. 😏

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  5. I am in complete agreement with the legendary author Ruskin Bond, yourself and the readers who have commented above. Yes, writing trash is a waste of own resources as well as those of the prospective reader's. The way a good teacher has to be essentially a good student in the first place, the same way a good writer has to be essentially a good reader in the first place. Before starting to write, one should read a lot both in terms of quantity and variety so that his / her vision gets broadened.

    However, I have a different thought also in this regard. Everything is not written to be read by others. Sometimes (just in my own case), it is a means for the writer to vent out own feelings, frustration and stuffiness which gives him / her inner relief irrespective of its being read by anybody else. It's the creativity meant for 'SWAANTAH SUKHAAY' (that is, own inner pleasure).

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    1. Thank you for articulating your view so clearly. I too use writing for therapeutic purposes sometimes. Even that can be read by others, i hope. I try to transmute my feelings into readable stuff.

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    2. Mathur Sahab, it is indeed good to write for yourself. And so often we come across books that were written as contemplation and/or ramblings end up being highly successful simply because readers identify with the thoughts and personalities depicted in the book. However, here the concern is about quality of the writing and not the content per se.

      -- Amit Misra

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    3. You are right Amit Ji. However the quality is to be decided (or assessed) by the readers only because no confectioner is likely to admit that his sweets are bitter in taste.

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  6. I am also concerned these days about lack of interest in reading among the youth. From my experience, children still love reading, but somehow that interest quickly disappears as soon as they reach age 20. Focus on career and giving preference to reading academic content could be a reason but not the sole one. The students who are not studying at a moment do not consider reading as an alternative time pass or pleasure activity or interest; instead they opt for movies, WhatsApp, and social media. One student even wondered why to read a fat novel when the complete story could be assimilated within two hours in the form of a movie. For the last couple of years, I have been working on encouraging reading habit among the youth by talking about books and also giving books as gifts. I must admit that I am not very successful in my efforts.

    But the challenge is much easier for me than you. I work in scientific research field, and communication -- both written as well as spoken -- is an essential requirement in our field. Sooner or later the students are faced with the difficulty of expressing their thoughts explicitly when they have to communicate their work to some scientific journal. At that time they approach me for guidance, and I have only one suggestion to give: READ MORE BOOKS!

    -- Amit Misra

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    1. Delighted to find someone who still believes in the power of reading and also encourages that habit. I go out of my way to encourage the habit of reading in my students. Tough job, I must say. Hardly anyone cares these days. They don't even read their textbooks. They depend on notes, instead. Short cuts are the way now. So sad.

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  7. Thank you Tomichan ji for writing on this topic.
    I enjoyed your post and completely agree with your views.
    Writing is useful for therapeutic purposes too and secondly for
    SWAANTAH SUKHAAY as Jitendra ji has mentioned.
    You are quite lucky that you met Ruskin Bond.

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    1. Therapeutic purpose was exactly what I had in mind when I wrote my memoir, my latest book. Quite a few readers have already appreciated the book now within a week of its publication. I'm happy for writing it and also for being appreciated for it.

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  8. So Swift wasn't so hopeful even 300 years back. I guess it doesn't matter if there are more writers or more readers so long as the right text reaches the right person at the right time... and it generally does. It is like saying: When a reader is ready, the book appears. Obviously this can happen only if there are sufficient books for an infinite number of requirements. :)

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    1. During Swift's time getting published would be tough and hence the quantity of trash was naturally limited. That's not the case now. Anybody can publish anything. I won't question people's right to write. But i do wish they kept a watch on the quality of the stuff they put before the public.

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  9. You have brought out an aspect that even I used to do in my initial days when somehow I wanted to become a writer - not caring about reading. Subsequently I realised how important reading is to writing. As you have rightly said, people who rush in to become authors without depth in reading produce trash.

    Another aspect you have brought out is about the importance of classics. In every age lots of trash must have been written. But some books stood the test of time. So without doubt one can conclude that to read classics is definitely not a waste of time.

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    1. Personally i read a lot and that helps me take my thinking forward. Hence i suggest the same to my students. A few take the suggestion seriously. Hardly anyone thinks of reading classics, however.

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  10. very logically analyzed and discussed, totally agree with your points, very potential ones.

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  11. Extremely neat, crisp and precise and I completely agree on this point. There are lesser readers than writers. Being an English teacher, I can very evidently see that there are hardly people from my department who even step into the school library and take out time to read.

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    1. Life keeps people busy all the time. There's the job, domestic chores, children, social media, chats and what not! Where do they get time to read, right? But then I wonder how they manage time for writing. :)

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