A snide remark about african people is that they rarely keep abreast with new publications and if you want to hide anything from them, put it in a book. In their bookcases, periodicals and good books are few but past burial programmes and eulogies of their departed colleagues are plentiful.
If this observation is true, then the most affected among us are our youth who lapse into functional illiteracy at a tender age the moment they sit their last examination in school and college.
As a consequence of poor reading few youths can sustain any logical thread in social conversation and will resort to catch words and tired clichés when they communicate at all. Indeed outside of the local hip hop musicians and their gossip, the nostalgia of their school and college days, most youths are silent in social debate. They have no clue of the brief of the ministry of youth affairs, the local CDF operations or even the training and employment opportunities they could utilize!
Mostly they come across as terrible bores as they display their ignorance of current affairs! Chances are that when jobs or college vacancies are advertised, elder siblings notice it first and send word home for youths to look into specific issues of print media!
It is strange that some youths can read a newspaper and put it down without comment. The implication here is that all the press writes are things that the public already knows. Alternatively, and more plausibly, everything looks like rocket science to them and they don’t want to tax their minds in analyses. This indicts our school system for never inculcating a culture of reading for enjoyment in our youths!
Why are the Kenyan youths reluctant to join the world’s literati? While there are valid financial reasons, the youths don’t make enough effort in acquiring good reading material. Books can be bought in their second hand state or borrowed from the national library service. There is information galore on the internet but our youths are likely to waste time on Facebook or visit sites that have no redeeming value.
For a long time society has associated employment with a clear departure from books. Once a person lands a job it means the end of reading and examinations. Many ageing professionals in this country boast of the many years in which they have never written letters and the last novels they read in schools many decades ago. This misinformed definition of “maturity” trickles down to our youths who emulate their seniors.
I posit here that the same problem of ‘maturity’ afflicts a large number of our current MPs. Having schooled ages ago, they are now functionally illiterate. This nation would have been better off if our parliamentarians grasped the full ramifications of the world trade organisation, globalization, genetically modified organisms and the ideological and economic motives of the American imperialism. All this information is available for self-education if they could only visit bookshops or the internet.
Young people especially in secondary schools and college actually read frantically, but the wrong titles of escapist literature. I stand to be corrected that there is something edifying in books by Hollywood writers such as Harold Robins, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. Other authors who merely titillate are Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith, John Grisham and Judith Krantz. The danger is that even older people like teachers and lecturers often exchange these titles with the youth who view these grownups as “cool”!
Many youths have been taken hostage by modern technology which leaves little room for reading. Television, VCDs and DVDs are the in-things now. It is not necessary to bother reading tomes and volumes any more because one can simply sit back and watch the dramatization of good stories. If it is a documentary, trust that the narrator to have a sense for sub-titles and summaries.
Reading is an easy way of learning about other people and their culture. It is less costly than actual travel. Books of the Do-It-Yourself kind impart practical knowledge in virtually all known subjects. One can learn about computers, foreign languages, carpentry and bee keeping and so on without leaving his or her living room and especially now when we are talking of self employment.
The hallmark of a person who is widely read is many ideas and wise remarks. He or she is very interesting to have around. If a youth, he or she is likely to understand grey areas affecting youths like sexuality and identity in a way nobody can explain to them. The existences of wacky ways of making a living and new trends in careers are a result of aggressive acquisition of information. And one gets this trait with practice in reading. Books can also inspire and give youths the courage to soldier on in these times of hardship.
The current generation of youths needs to read avidly and widely because the world requires them to know all that is going on to make informed decisions.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and not necessarily those of Storymoja.