Sunday, March 28, 2010

Suitable Reading Ambassadors?

Jacqueline Pereira in Starmag today questions the suitability of the "pretty ‘ambassadors’" actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh and spaceflight participant Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, chosen to promote reading in Malaysia :
I would have at least expected one of our many Malaysian writers to have made the reading campaign’s “ambassador” list. Whether of local or international fame, we have quite a few to choose from: Tash Aw, Karim Raslan, Rani Manicka and Beth Yap spring to mind. ... Most writers read, right? Especially if it is an internationally acclaimed writer, short-listed for a literary award, etc.... So a writer would have been a great choice, or someone who is clearly committed to promoting reading, like StarMag’s Tots to Teens columnist Daphne Lee or someone who has demonstrably done something to show their interest in reading.
I'm not too worried about these two being chosen to promote books (provided that they are indeed avid readers and I haven't seen much evidence of that yet) as clearly they will have wide appeal and are both good communicators. But I do share this concern:
It was indeed galling to read that Yeoh had been chosen to promote reading among Malaysians, especially the Chinese. And no need to guess who our hot astronaut will be appealing to. ... In this era of 1Malaysia-ism, why are we still choosing ambassadors by race to target a specific demographic? I know we are a nation of contradictions, caught in a cultural crossfire, but this doesn’t make sense. The messages are mixed, but it seems that Malaysians can’t be mixed....

And talking about newspaper articles, if you bought this weekend's issue of  The Edge, you would have seen some pretty pictures of yours truly ("writer and educator") in conversation with  ("young journalist") Zedeck Siew and Edge journalist Elaine Lau about the culture of reading (or lack of) in Malaysia. If it is up online later, I will link to it.


Ee Leen Lee said...

I would love to be reading ambassador - and diplomacy will not be one of my methods

Oxymoron said...

Look on the bright side. At least two people will be doing more reading! Hahaha!

By the way, I hear DMY doesn't read Chinese.

bibliobibuli said...

oxy - she doesn't. which is why in a sense she's an odd choice to represent the chinese community. (if indeed that is a necessity)

Greenbottle said...

this is the funniest joke i've read this week (well, i know it's still monday but..)

it certainly isn't their fault that they are choosen but at least they should decline???

who the fuck in their right mind can take them as 'reading ambassadors' seriously?

probably siti nur haliza and mawi would be better... they won't do worse....

savante said...

Wouldn't it be easier to promote reading in schools as well? I think we need to start with the parents actually.

Anonymous said...

Oops, called on to give a comment on Twitter! I feel like a naughty student caught napping. ;)

I don't think we need ambassadors. Reading is not a brand; putting 'pretty' faces on it doesn't really help its cause. I mean, I can't see how it will. I don't think adults will be compelled to read because ambassadors tell them to! Unless it will really make a difference among the younger demographic (teens, tweens) but they're getting savvier too; I think *different* (read: younger, hipper) celebs would have had to be chosen for that purpose.

I enjoyed Pereira's article because she brings up good points - if you're going to have ambassadors at all, why not actual writers or educators in the field? People like Dina Zaman, Kam Raslan, you... (or her suggestion of Daphne Lee was also quite brilliant) - individuals who care about reading/writing and embody it in their actual lives?

And possibly, a good mix of English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil writers could have created a good group of ambassadors, especially if this involves actual visits/talks to schools, events, etc.

Besides, local writers get such short shrift amongst Malaysians anyhow... this would have been a great way to include them in the fold and raise their profiles.

I do still think that the two most important factors that will make a difference in Malaysia: book prices; and availability of books via libraries, are consistently being ignored. I mean, I respect the intention behind the authorities wanting to promote reading, but they do seem to go about it in ways that don't actually address the real problems.


bibliobibuli said...

disquiet - agree with you entirely about reading not being a brand. also you list of ambassadors is a much better one - Dina and Kam are fun people who would do a great job of representing books.