Monday, November 27, 2006

A Newspaper Unclear on the Concept of Hot News ... and a Survey we Haven't Seen

The National Library survey statistics (purportedly showing that reading in Malaysia seems to be a lost cause) are trotted out once again in today's Malay Mail in the "Hot News" section. In fact the story should appear in a special section called "Old News Warmed Up One Time Too Many".

They ran the same story with exactly the same (two books a year etc.) stats on August 27th, and in lieu of anything new to add or a more insightful take on the affair, haul up a handful of folks on the street and find out what they read.

From these five individuals (a motley group which includes a boutique owner, a dive instructor and a call-centre operator) they conclude yes, conclude, (move over National Library the experts from the Malay Mail are on the case!) that:
IT’S official — city folk would rather pick a non-serious book over quality literature any day.
So I don't know what you folks are doing reading this blog.


Now I'm beginning to find it most odd (maybe it was reading the Da Vinci Code that turned me into a conspiracy theorist?) but none of my friends in education, the media, publishing, or the book retail industry (in other words the sort of folks you might expect to have a vested interest in the results of such a study) have had the opportunity to scrutinise the data and see precisely how it was gathered. The study hasn't, as far as I can ascertain, been made public.

What makes this even stranger is that the results of the 1996 study were published in book form and in fact are still available.

It does rather make you wonder ...

I guess that more than anything I'm just so tired of all the hand-wringing, the sort of Ohhh the situation is so bad I might as well coat myself in concrete and jump into the Klang river with my entire book collection chained to my ankles. (You'll have to forgive the Malay Male type voice in my head. It seems appropriate.)

It's time to begin thinking about what positive steps we can take to encourage readership. That there is a problem, we can't deny. But the problem is one that even developed countries share: readership is falling world-wide.

Meanwhile, the Malay Mail should stop its shock-horror "Isn't it awful?" posturing and follow the example of the Star. Let's have some literary news or book reviews on its pages. (The very cultured Axrai slipped in some very nice reviews on one or two occasions, but these seem to have dried up.)

I guess my message to the Malay Mail is "Don't just stand there with your mouth open, gawping. Step in and do something."


Joo Khai said...

hi sharon,

popped back here after a long break. last time i came i was surfing all the hoo-ha around "the last communist". u sure blog a lot! took me a while before i reached the part about our astronaut's games. your take is definitely something different from everything i've read/bloghopped so far!

another thing that caught my eye was paul auster. that name was in my uni reading list which i'm still slooowwwly lapping up (now ploughing through gormenghast which is a tiring affair). anyway with all your crosslinks i found myself back in 2005 and reading something about graphic novels. i'd like to suggest "100 bullets", my fave so far! brian azzarello/eduardo risso. remember seeing it in kino. dunno what floats your boat, but if u look past the sex & violence there are very twisted plot convolutions teetering around the main theme of Chance. which is just quite simply, creative.

i'm the type who has too many new books yet-started, so i'll be looking out for paul auster on my next outing =D

bibliobibuli said...

sorry joo khai - i'm a bit of a compulsive blogger. as soon as something interests me or i get angry about something i come here and shoot my big mouth off (and here i only sound off about books! in "real life" i sound off about everything!)

how lucky are you getting to read "gormenghast" for your course? imagine that one as a graphic novel (peake was an artist too as you will be aware from the illustrations). btw - i can take you to see gormenghast ... there's a house in tropicana i swear was modelled on it

enjoy the auster. what course are you doing anyway?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I find it very interesting that you actually read, The Da Vinci Code.


ps: Angels and Demons is much better.

bibliobibuli said...

read it for a book club meeting ...

madcap machinist said...

Oh my, will have to go see this house in Tropicana for myself. It wouldn't be that hard to spot, would it?

Anyway, on the subject of this post, I'm afraid that The Malay Mail did somehow get what an average Malaysian would say about reading. This is based on my own observations, and what some of my friends have said when confronted with my reading habits (e.g. "I wish I had the time to read" -- but they spend hours in front of the TV channel-surfing. "Books are expensive" -- and that is why they only had to ask, and I would lend mine. "Too difficult to understand!" *smirk*)

That said, there have been others that said to me, if only there was a public library nearby, and if only it were more 'hip' to hang out in libraries. I'll say! It's been years since I've been to a library, but only because I can read freely at most bookshops.

Never mind-- reading obviously takes effort, time, and money that not many, understandably, are prepared to expend. It is a habit that must be nurtured at home and in schools. After? Well, two books a year isn't bad, though quality is a question. Which books to read? How is the National Reading Week/Month/Year (whatever) helping? To be honest, not to take away anything away from the efforts you have chronicled here, and of course, your own efforts, I haven't sensed much going on.

What is your take on Canada Reads?

Blurb: "Bill Richardson leads a spirited quest to find a homegrown book for all Canadians to read... Canada Reads is a CBC Radio program about books that's designed to appeal to both avid and occasional readers. Five celebrity panelists each champion a work of Canadian fiction they'd love us all to read and, in a game of “literary survivor,” they whittle down that list of books to one, the book Canada Reads."

Can a show like that gain an audience in Malaysia? SMS your votes for your favourite book. Now... how much money did Akademi Fantasia rake in again? If you can't beat 'em...

Sorry, maybe I've been missing bookish conversation lately.

p/s in case you missed this: the Russian 'Big Book' Awards

lainieyeoh said...

i'm thinking, with your book collection, the concrete might be unnecessary.

Subashini said...

madcap, i was in canada during these last four years, and two years ago my friends and i decided to "participate" in canada reads, as such, by reading every shortlisted book and discussing it at our very own book club. (it was a good way to avoid schoolwork and ignore the arctic temperatures...) the books, admittedly, were a trifle blah and uninspiring; however, you could literally walk up to almost anyone and say "canada reads" and they would know what you were talking about, and maybe even have read a book or two on the shortlist. i found that weirdly odd and comforting...

sharon, i understand your point about the malay mail - merely sensationalising the issue is not going to help. however, i have had this experience over and over - just today, in fact, i was talking to someone - a nice and funny guy, someone who is smart and good at what he does for a living, and he said, "i read newspapers and magazines, yes, but i don't read books... especially not STORY books." (that just about shot my theory to pieces; apparently there ARE non-readers who aren't weird and psychotic!)
so while the malay mail can hardly be praised for thorough and critical journalistic reporting, i do imagine that trawling the streets of the klang valley in the hopes of finding solid, regular readers would have been a bit of a challenge. and i do appreciate the literary supplements in the star, but not many people i know actually read them. that's why i creepily lurk around blogs like this one; i don't get the chance of bumping into like-minded bookfreaks during the course of my everyday life.

Subashini said...

and btw sharon, i do apologise for writing essays in the comments section... i should stop. and get my own blog.

bibliobibuli said...

subashini - i love it when you write essays in the comments section. i think the comments are often more intersting than the initial post!

it was a bit of an opinionated rant, wasn't it? (bloggers privilege to posture so!)

yes, i'm sure you and machinst are right about the man in the street. but i am so fed up with the negativity in the press. since writing this blog i have come to be pleasantly surprised at how many enthusiastic booklovers there are. (i sneak back from my stats counter to look at their blogs and see what they are reading!) i get a fair old bit of feedback from the pieces i write in the star so i guess some people do read them!

thanks machinist for the links. the canada reads is such a great idea! i intend to stick this up in an entry of it's own. now isn't this what we should be doing - drawing ideas from other reading campaigns and then getting on with one of our own??

as for blokes fear of reading "story books", subashini, i think that applies everywhere!

amir said...

Aw, man.

Cringe! Cringe!

I feel bad for my friends back there at the Mail.

If only Iw as a multi-millionaire, I'd buy over The Malay Mail and do what's right.

bibliobibuli said...

sorry amir for the sound off

i used to love that paper - honest, me and the old man used to fight over who would read it first - and now it seems so ... lobotomized .... and just makes me angry. it doesn't just seem to be aiming at a younger crowd, it seems to be aiming at a totally ignorant crowd.

it wasn't a highbrow paper before, but it was at least fun!

i should cancel the subscription but it's just inertia to make that phone call.

amir said...

No need for apologies, Sharon.

I used to love the paper too. Wanted to stay there till I retire or something.

Then things changed and I decided I'd be better off elsewhere.

Sad to say, but I don't think matters would change for the better very soon.

We'll see, though.

bibliobibuli said...

if i had money i'd buy it over too, amir.

but i was a bit guilty of shooting the messenger because i was angry with the message and am sorry for that.

but that's blogging, hey? the temptation to shoot your mouth off is always there.

Subashini said...

aww shucks, sharon, i didn't mean to imply that no one reads your columns in the star - or anyone else's for that matter. talk about shooting one's mouth off... i do appreciate the people who write the literary segments in the star (we only subscribe to the star in my house, so i don't know if the nst still has one - although i buy it occasionally and never come across anything), and i'm sure many others do as well... but i hope you know what i meant with my initial comments.

thanks for that link... the little write-up by ian mcewan is fascinating. it just reminded me of university - all the undergrad english lit classes were full of females...

Anonymous said...

This just in.. readership of MM has fallen 30+%.. it's scary how much influence this blog has :D