Encouraging a reading culture

69317437The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled  – Plutarch

Hey you… You there. Yeah you, reading these words. As you obviously like to read, you should read more. A lot more. Finish this post, then go pick up something else, like Fatherland or Supergods or Bite of the Mango (all on my personal reading list). Or pick anything else really. Keep kindling that mental flame because you’re going to need it. If your mind lacks proper kindling it will burn without direction, get confused and burn your house down… Admittedly this mixed metaphor lacks a bit of je ne sais quoi, but you know what I mean.

And I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it still needs to be said. Reading is important, not only on a personal, but a social level as well. When you encourage a reading culture, you really encourage a thinking culture. And who could argue that we need more thinkers? Take the Brexit vote, the latest abysmal example that springs to mind. An entire country goes to vote on an issue that will have national and international consequences and sets the tone for many years to come, and the very day after the vote Google surges with queries like “What is the EU?” and  “What does it mean to leave the EU?”, which exposes a serious lack of fundamental knowledge.

Why didn’t people know anything about what they were voting against? Is that anybody’s fault that information was scarce? Or was it scarce? (Also, let’s not get into the discussion, why they wouldn’t gather information before the vote?) If you want to point fingers, you could argue that it’s a failure of education, a failure of the system and the culture. I can’t comment on your specific country’s basic education, but there’s a lot of recent criticism about the declining standards in schools becoming the norm. And that may very well be the case, yet that is only one side of the coin. Albeit educating young people about current affairs would be important, this is more about the generation who’s already out of school and will actually be voting.

Now, what do we need to do counterbalance that? What can we do? The Brexit debate itself was crippled by misinformation (not to mention apparent lies slapped on the side of busses), yet anyone who dared to point that out, was either sidelined or simply ignored. When specialists and experts in their field came out to say “Look, this doesn’t add up, we need to think about the…” they were promptly dismissed with a nod and were told “Let’s not listen to experts”.

If this is the situation we are in, then we need to encourage people (especially people who don’t listen to experts) to go and do the work or research themselves. They bloody well need to read more. What can we do, as a culture, to encourage more reading and more critical thinking? And I’m not pretending to have the answer, but a few suggestions worth considering:

  • How about we encourage a diverse approach to reading? Stop saying that audio-books, comics or anything else isn’t reading (whether it’s a specific genre or author), and be happy that person is reading.
  • How about after we stop belittling certain types of reading, we start suggesting more? I see you like X, have you read Y? You may actually like it.
  • How about we share the contents of a book or any other topic? My experience of reading X might be completely different and my learning points completely different. Book clubs shouldn’t be a thing of the past.  
  • Most importantly how about we don’t take anything a book (or the side of the bus) claims for granted? You read the claim, now take it with a pinch of salt and go and verify it. Let’s be inquisitive and curious about the world, people.

We need to venerate long/short/any form of writing, doing actual research, being knowledgeable and well educated. We need to learn again how to think for ourselves and to be able to make our arguments count, and all of it starts with reading and thinking more.

Note, this is not the end of my thoughts on these topics. I barely scratched the surface. Have a lot more to say about social bubbles, sceptical thinking, etc. Who knows… Adding some more kindling to the mind fire.

But what do you think? And if you are reading Fatherland or Supergods or
Bite of the Mango, let me know. Would love to have a chat about them. Also tell me if I’m wrong, you might think a poorly educated and misinformed public is a good thing.

Comment, like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!


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