FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS; THE IMPORTANCE OF DEVELOPING A READING CULTURE

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I have a thing for books. Ok that’s a bit of an understatement, let me say I’m a freak when it comes to books. You know how little kids used to get lured and kidnapped with the promise of candy and sweets? Switch candy with books and I was that kid.

Let me put it in perspective; one afternoon I was bored, this was way back in primary (elementary) 5, I was roughly eight years at the time; and I had read just about everything available that was age appropriate and was thus lying around (including a stack of newspapers that I had gone through more than two, three times). So I went into my parents’ room and decided to root around and I stumbled upon two books: “Every Woman” by Derek Llewellyn Jones and “Toads for Supper” by Chukwuemeka Ike.

The first, I read and quickly returned because a few pages in, I figured what I was reading wasn’t meant for my age or for boys even, but read it anyway. The second, I kept because my young mind told me it was safe. Anybody of my generation who took literature in secondary school would be well acquainted with Chukwuemeka Ike. His works of fiction were a staple of the African Writers Series.

Now, my mom did her best to hide the first book knowing the kind of son she had so it wasn’t her fault, it’s more of a testament to my morbid curiosity and ability to dig around that led me to finding it. Amusingly when she saw me reading “Toads for Supper” later that afternoon, she took it from me telling me I was too young to read it, and that she’ll give it to me at the appropriate age; when a few hours before I had been given a gynaecological introduction to “every woman”. I did finish the book two days later though.

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I could continue to amuse you with the stories, but you get the point. I grew up reading books, a lot of them, and I have parents who actively encouraged me, plying me with books after books after books. As a result I knew stuff the kids my age didn’t, though I didn’t understand some until I was much older.

From when I entered Boarding School up until now, I’ve been consistently met with expressions of wonderment when people discover how much I read and how much stuff I know. Actually thought all other kids where like me until I entered the boarding house and discovered kids of my generation didn’t and still don’t read.

There’s a running joke that if you want to hide money from a black man, put it in a book, because we have an aversion to reading; it’s derogatory but it’s true and is a principal reason may be a reason why we are perceived to be lagging in terms of development and technology when compared with the rest of the world.

Switching on the TV, I have watched some african leaders talk on television and have been left aghast at the level of ignorance they have displayed. Clueless men and women who have no business being in the position they are in because they are incompetent and ignorant.

Books impart knowledge. It’s that simple, whether they are works of fiction or non fiction. The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 2:15 (study to show ourselves approved unto God, a worker that need not be ashamed.)* paraphrased

An avid reader stands out, because he knows things; I’m not just talking about “academic reading” ie reading for school or to pass examinations, but going to a bookstore and picking out a random book on say Israeli history and consuming it. When you read wide and consistently, you’ll discover there’s almost no discussion that will leave you lost because even if you’re not a pro on the topic, you’ve got a foundation or a working knowledge. A reader is also a reference point for information. I’ve had some of my friends ask me the most random of questions because eight out of ten times I know or at least have an idea of what they’re talking about.

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One of the greatest personalities in medicine of our time is Dr Ben Carson. In his book “Gifted Hands” he discusses how his mother helped transform him from a relative dunce to a brilliant student by inculcating the habit of reading in him. There is really no leader who has captured the world’s attention that didn’t have a history of consuming books, even Hitler was a reader, he was demented, but a demented reader all the same; David Ben Gurion, first prime minister and father of modern day Israel was an avid reader too; The entire communist philosophy has it’s foundations principally on the writings of Karl Marx. It’s leaders who read and then applied these principles to give rise to the communist manifesto.

For the young ones there seems to be a pre conception that you can’t be a “cool kid” if you’re always seen with books. Reading doesn’t prevent you from doing all or most of the things the so-called “cool kids” do. It doesn’t prevent you from sports, doesn’t prevent you from “hanging out” with your friends, even from going to parties and/or chasing boys or girls as the case may be. It may just come down to how you organise your time.

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Books cover space and time, they give you a good picture of how things are and were in other parts of the world both right now and in the past. And some times a depiction of the possible future. For instance an American can get a pretty good idea of what life was like during the Biafran war in the sixties by reading Chukwuemeka Ike’s “Sunset at Dawn” or Frederick Forsyth’s “The Biafra Story” ( the former is fiction, the latter isn’t); just the same way I, here in Nigeria, have a good idea what circumstances where like in the days before and in the first few years of Israel’s creation in the forties after reading “O Jerusalem” by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins.

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Books are instructional too, take cook books for instance; a Nigerian woman could try out an italian recipe right here, for variety. She might not get the same results, but she’ll learn. That’s the point, learning. I learnt how to build a desktop computer from scratch off a book I downloaded from the internet, until a few years back I had never seen it done once, but I already had two desktop computers.

Plus with the proliferation of portable readers and tablet computers and large screen smartphones, books have gone digital now so you can carry your entire library without the weight.

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For the parents reading this, encourage your children to read and read wide, under supervision of course. It’ll only do them good; help them build fertile imaginations, get them to ask questions, take them that one notch higher than their mates. (I remember supplementing answers to assignments in my health science class with titbits I had picked up from perusing through my dad’s medical textbooks, impressed the hell out of my teacher I tell you.) Related Article: Group protest poor reading culture in Nigeria, set to stage an awareness walk.

FINAL THOUGHT

There is however a note of caution, while no knowledge is wasted, not all knowledge is beneficial. I have come across some books with intriguing titles that I abandoned midway through because they scared the crap out of me. There’s a lot of dangerous stuff out there that should be given a wide berth. Youths and adults, you’ve got to know when to stop, you don’t have to read everything you come across, give yourself boundaries. What are you reading about how to make a bomb for? One day you’ll be idle and you’ll want to try it out.

If you’re a Christian and you’re going through one of the numerous Christian books out there, if the message doesn’t match what the Bible says, stop. Regardless of WHOEVER wrote that book.

Reading isn’t a gift, at least I don’t believe so. It’s a habit that should be developed.

Ariel Ugorji

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Ariel Ugorji identifies himself as a mild insomniac, geek, nerd, an audiophile, an avid music lover, Liverpool Fan and an unashamed Christian; with more often than not a completely different point of view on the world and a love for sensible arguments. He Resides in Warri, Nigeria; the land of the sharp and the brave.

To view more of his write ups, please visit his BLOG. You can also share your views with him on twitter @arielugorji.

Is too much importance placed on the value of reading? Please share your thoughts.

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