Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why young people don't read: A media student's first-person account

Saumya Iyer is a First Year student at Commits. She is keen to be a journalist, but like many of her peers she is not a "reader". We have had many discussions about this, and yesterday, at my request, she wrote a blog post on the subject. "It’s kind of ironic you see, I want to be a journalist but I don’t read," she writes in the post. "It does sound strange for someone who wants to be in journalism but I guess that has never bothered me too much."

She also addresses the issue of why young people have no interest in reading:

As to why my peers don’t read newspapers and books and all that, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, maybe they just don’t want to. Period.  I’m guessing they have other more interesting or not so interesting things in life to busy themselves with. They are fresh out of their teens, they don’t want to take on the burdens of this world just yet, they want to remain as ignorant as possible for as long as they can.

Read her post in its entirety: "How I learned to like writing and not read enough".

I am curious, very curious, to know what other people, young or otherwise, have to say about this post.

My response to Saumya, meanwhile, which I sent via e-mail after I finished reading her post, is given below:

I loved it. I feel a little closer to unravelling The Great Mystery of why, if they can help it, young people won't read newspapers or magazines.

But I feel I should tell you, at the risk of antagonising you (again), that if you want to be a GOOD writer, you need to be a good reader first.

Please read these [Reading Room] posts and share your thoughts:

1. If you want to be a versatile writer, here's some practical advice

2. "The five traits of a successful writer"

3. Here's how to make time to read 

4. If you don't read, you can't write
There is also what I consider a "must-read" post Why you must read the link to which I had sent long ago to Saumya as well as to her classmates.

As I wrote to Saumya yesterday, thanks to her post I am a little closer now to understanding why young people don't read. But that does not mean I am any less baffled. Is there a way to fix this?
  • Thank you, Saumya, for giving me permission to publish this on my blog.
  • UPDATE (March 21, 2013): "I love books, and anything else I can read. I read everything and anything that I can find. I will never stop learning. But I also know that I can’t read as much as I would like to read. There is simply not enough time NOW. I have to keep track of so many things, at the same time that it essentially becomes an exercise in prioritising. And unfortunately books and reading takes a backseat. And I think I know why." MAITREYA J.A., Saumya Iyer's classmate and co-editor of The Chronicle, the Commits newspaper. Read his blog post on the subject in its entirety here.


  1. My apologies to Saumya Iyer, I was unable to read her post because the title, "How I learned to like writing and not read enough" is grammatically incorrect.

    I could not bring myself to read any further.

    Dear Saumya,
    I think you have answered your own question here.

  2. I did go through Saumya's post, though I will refrain from commenting on points she makes, except for one little question she raises - "what is the worst that could happen," she asks.

    Indeed, what is the worst? Funny, that this comes to me at time when I was going through this debate of a freelance journalist fighting for his right to be paid for his work - here

    and the magazine in question defending its decision, or, in other words, explaining why journalism doesn't pay - here

    The point I am making, though slightly convoluted, is simply this - if you do not respect good writing, do not expect to be respected for what you write/produce. Which gives birth to a vicious cycle, where good journalism gradually becomes untenable.

    And of course, there are minor points like life questions – if even THAT does not matter, why choose journalism at all? But then, that’s a story for another day.

  3. Lol! I do like to read, in fact, a couple of years ago I was a complete bookworm but then while I was doing my masters, due to the lack of time, energy and patience, sitting with my laptop instead of a book seemed easier on my "heat oppressed mind". Add to it the fact that for any aspiring journalist it is essential to read non-fiction but till date I love fiction more.

    The first non-fiction book that I read and actually liked was Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta. Thanks to the book now I am more open to non-fiction but fiction continues to be my best loved category.

  4. At the risk of sounding diplomatic, I have two points of view here. One is my own, and the second is that of my husband, which I think is valid.

    I started reading quite late in life - in my first year of graduation. And the book that got me into reading was, strangely, the Harry Potter series. Fortunately, since then there has been no going back and today I am an avid reader. Does this make me a better writer? I honestly don't know.

    Karan, on the other hand, believes that because I have read so much, my writing is bound to be influenced by my favourite authors. My narrative style, my sentence construction and even my climax. He believes, to be a good writer, you should never have read a book. Because that way, what you write, is from your own imagination!

    So I don't know right from wrong. But here are my two bits :)

  5. I agree, the habit of reading has shrunk among the Gen Y. Reading requires patience and the Gen Y doesn't have much of that. I too mostly read only that's relevant or related to my work or interest. I do make a conscious effort to read more. But as I said, it requires patience and that's shrinking in today's world.

  6. Dear Saumya,

    Ever heard of a musician who doesn't listen to music? A painter who doesn't stroll slowly through hundreds of exhibitions? A chef who hates eating? You probably haven’t. Not any good ones anyway.

    We will have to wait to see if you do become a journalist who doesn't like to read. What we can sure of, though, is that you aren't going to be a very good one. :)

    For a writer, ignorance is not bliss. It’s professional suicide. And it will invite problems a lot worse than a boss who doesn’t think you’re special and a low-paying job (I thought these were the worst problems but your nonchalance is making me think twice!). Your growth as a writer will be stunted. You will find yourself using the same kinds of words and phrases. Making the same mistakes. Writing about the same things. And that’s boring. For you and your readers!

    So read. Magazines. Books. Leaflets. Ads. Hoardings. Newspapers. Read what you like. But read. It will help you understand your craft better. It will help you eradicate some of the mistakes that exist in your own writing.

    And you don’t need to analyze and deconstruct every punctuation mark. You’re not Ramesh Prabhu :).

  7. During my under graduation days I ensured I read a newspaper everyday. But only after joining Commits I understood how a newspaper should be read. And now I can't think of the million benefits it has and what it has done to me. It is a treasure of ideas that is delivered at our doorstep every morning. It's like my navigator and I don't think I could relate to my environment without it's help. One thing that I always try to do in my writing: at no point should my reader stumble and go back and read a line over and over again to understand what I am trying to say and this idea comes straight from a newspaper's style of writing. Simple but so effective. Also, the benefits of reading come only if reading is done in a systematic manner and its benefits accrue overtime and only one fine day you see it materialise in front of you.

  8. Hi Saumya,
    You are probably wondering who I am, so let me introduce myself. I'm Ajay, Ramesh Prabhu's nephew.
    Congrats on falling for Ramesh Mhanth's(uncle in Konkani) trick to enter into yet another grey area of the teenage mind and starting blog-debate on it. I think of this as too complex a topic to ever understand. But let me help you by complicating it further in my very own way. Now I love to read. A bibliophile like the great Ramesh Prabhu (but of a lower degree), I have probably read every type of book a teenager or an even adult can read. I love my books and am pleased to be in their company. I'm neither a Facebookian or whatever you call yourselves, nor a Twitterati, and I don't use my mobile phone regularly. The perfect 'Nerd Model 101' you might think. But I'm no normal teenager. I debate, play badminton and write articles for college. I watch Pokemon, HMYM, Anger Management, 30 Rock, BBT and Dexter in the same breath as NDTV, BBC and TLC. I listen to loads of heavy metal and hard rock, I MUN (Model United Nations), download movies and music online (illegally), I'm an Apple zealot and drool to have a look at their devices and am a Jobs follower.
    Coming to the discussion, to me its all about one virtue that I can Maturity. Everyone loves to read , or else you wouldn't have a job, the world's history would be written differently or maybe not written at all. Everyone who can, will read and love to read. It can be as early as 5 or as late as 95, you can never tell. At this age we do what we love or what our peers love, because we can't grow old but we want to remember it as the best time of our lives. This is the real once in a lifetime innings of our life and after a few decades, we want to remember this life as the best, and tell others or ourselves that it rocked. Its self assurance. And so when your a journalist, you know that reading is your bread and butter and so you want to chill out now and read later.
    What I finally want to say is that if you believe that everyone is unique, which you should, then your answer to this question will always vary. I sincerely hope I've complicated it further for you. And Ramesh Mhanth, Stop this madness! You make me think about things that shouldn't even enter me head! And please forgive me grammatical misteks. :)

  9. I like reading only what interests me, and that involves a lot of things as it excludes some. You never know the irony of life. Some years back, I did not even feel like reading the allegedly 'boring' stories, that are mostly the important issues of our society and here I am, today, writing on the civic issues of the society in a city where I don't even know the local language.

    So,if I write something and expect others to read then I think they expect the same out of us. And it's not a mutual understanding, it's called exchanging of thoughts that benefit our understanding on certain issues. After all it's important to widen our knowledge bracket. And c'mon reading can be fun!

  10. I believe reading is necessary for a journalist and a layperson, but especially for a journalist.

    As an aspiring journalist, reading the newspaper helps me learn about what is happening in the world around me and the various perspectives it's being looked at, so that I can make and informed decision on where I stand - be it in political, social, economic, or seemingly harmless issues.

    Reading magazines has taught me that writing is no easy task. Research is one of the most important operative functions of long form journalism, and it involves extensive reading.

    One of its most attractive properties for me is the freedom it implies. I believe books (read knowledge) are going to help us fight our many fights for the many senses of freedom.

    A few months ago I read 1948 by George Orwell for the first time. This and the movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 (because I haven't yet read the book) are two pieces of work that have inspired me read and write and preserve this mode of communication. Both these pieces talk about a dystopian era on earth where information and books are banned and so reading and writing have become underground movements. It tells us that authorities are wary of information being dispensed by books because it empowers the people and makes them think. And governments are afraid of people who think.

    The founding fathers of our country were frighteningly well-read individuals. In comparison, our current "leaders" make me what to cry. This may be for many reasons, but one of them is simply because of their lack of common sense and knowledge, both of which I think they would have gained if they read a little more.

    So, when RP Sir tells us to read, I don't think I ever have a comeback for him because its pretty darn good advice and there's no two ways of looking at it.

    Finally, Saumya, reading has helped me as a writer. I find that my powers of description are not as chaotic as they used to be. I find my vocabulary has increased, as has my knowledge. And so has my power of observation, which I attribute to the little knowledge I have, which I gained because of the little reading I did. Imagine what I can do if I pushed myself to read something every day!

  11. Hey Saumya,

    At the cost of sounding like a braggart, I would like to tell you that I have been reading ever since I first learnt how to... and that has been in part due to my mom. She used to read me stories before bed every afternoon (it's a Bengali tradition to sleep in the afternoon) and at night. So reading has been an integral part of my life. I prefer reading fiction to non-fiction, although I love reading magazines -- I think I can call them non-fiction.

    But, honestly, girl, reading helps a lot, especially if you want to be a journalist. Not only do you not need to know your facts right but also your English, else you might just end up submitting a report that suggests something entirely different from what you initially meant- a problem I faced when I wrote for The Chronicle once.

    But, unlike you I hate writing... so all my reading might come to naught, except for the fact that I want to work for a fashion magazine where I have to write... so any suggestions? -- Ankita Bhattacherjee


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