If Only They Would Listen

Photo by Rhonwyn Hagedorn

I was at the World Book Day celebration organized by MPH Bookstores, the Spanish Embassy and a local college on April 23rd. The crowd gathered at the event comprised mostly of college students, the future pillars of our information economy. 

The Spanish Ambassador, H.E. Alvaro Iranzo, gave the keynote speech and spoke about the Spaniards’ love for book reading. World Book Day is celebrated in a big way in Spain. There is an all day long celebration with jazz combos, street dancing, chorus groups singing love songs, authors autographing books at bookshops, and 24-hour reading of Don Quixote. Men give women roses while the women give men books! By midnight, the Rambla, once a watercourse, is afloat with roses and tiny red-and-yellow ribbons with tiny written words like ‘t’estimo’ (I love you).

Spanish children grow up loving books as the culture of reading is embedded in the society. Parents read, and so children read too. Teenagers who love reading grow up to be adults with a deep love of books, and knowledge. The Spaniards recognize that reading is the best way to acquire knowledge about life and the world in general. Knowledge also begets more knowledge. And with more knowledge, one thinks, and sees more. 

“I grew up in the world of books and so books have shaped my character and personality,” the ambassador reminisced.

I was inspired.

Next on the program were readings of poems and passages from famous novels by six students of the college that included five international students. The audience, comprised mainly of college students, was quiet at first. Murmurs then turned into normal conversations, in total disrespect to the people doing readings on stage. In contrast the foreigners stood quietly paying attention throughout the readings. 

I was embarrassed. 

Why did people attend a World Book Day celebration if they were uninterested in the culture of reading?

And when young college students, the crème de la crème of our society, show public disrespect to book readings, what does it say about their knowledge acquisition attitude? What do books mean to them? A means to get a degree, a job and money? Or a vehicle for life-long learning?

Can we count on them to innovate solutions to better our lives in the future? Can we trust them with their knowledge?

- by Chong Sheau Ching


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