Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Habit of Reading

The Habit of Reading
M.V. Sundararaman
More often than not I wind up recruitment interviews with my stock question “Do you read?” or “What are you reading right now?” Over the past seven to eight years, when I must have interviewed not less than thirty to forty enthusiastic, young lawyers, the answers that I have got from candidates (whose ages range from about 23 years to about 30 years) not surprisingly range from “Hmmm…I don’t read much” or “I read occasionally, whenever I find time” or “Yes. I read online” !!. Bookshelves today, in most households that I have visited, don’t seem to favour more than a Chetan Bhagat or an Amish. Rarely do I hear anyone tell me that they reading Ruskin Bond or Rushdie or that R.K. Narayan or Saki are amongst their favourites. Most children today have not even heard of their works. Yes, that’s sadly true. We will all soon start hearing of new year resolutions. “Get fit”, “Join a gym” “start cycling”, “get married” are all the usual suspects. When did I last hear “read more” or ‘start reading” or “join a library” as someone’s resolution? I simply can’t recall.
Maugham’s view that to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life, seems to be relevant today only with a rider: the strength of the refuge that you construct for yourself depends on the strength of your reading !  I have no hesitation in saying reading has greatly enriched my life, deepened my moments of solitude and has empowered my understanding of human nature, its outstanding virtues and oddities. Books have warmly welcomed me into the world of history, wildlife, warfare, culture and several other absorbing and fascinating genres.
When anxious parents ask me “How do I inculcate the reading habit in my child?” my impulsive responses are either “Do you read?” orDo you have an atmosphere of books at home?”. If the answer is “yes”, then, I tell them that the task is not difficult at all. If the answer is “no”, well even then I tell them that the task is not difficult at all!!  Over the years, my interactions with fellow-readers, bibliophiles, parents of “reading”-children and of course early readers, have led me to discover several simple techniques to help cultivate a reading habit and more importantly enhance my reading experience. Here they are:-
·        Create a reading environment at home:- Nothing is more conducive to reading than a carefully nurtured reading-environment at home. A reasonably well-stocked shelf of varied genres of different authors suitable to your child’s age is the first-step towards creating the right setting for your child. Keeping books in locations easily accessible to the child is a definite plus;

·                   Keep a couple of books with you always:- “Always a book for the road” has been my motto. Long drives need not always be laughter and chatter. They can be interspersed with quiet moments of reading from your “carbrary”. It maybe useful to carry a book that you have discussed earlier and allow the child to explore the book on his own during the drive. Waiting at the Dentist’s could never be more interesting if you carried a book along !  

·                   Never say “no” to reading:- I have often noticed parents discouraging children from bringing/reading books at the dining table or read while on the train or while driving. There is no scientific evidence of any harm being caused to the child, his digestion, his eyesight or memory because he read while eating or while in the car. Given the acute paucity of quality time and rapid decline in reading habits, my view is, anywhere is good. Just let them read. Anywhere.

·                   Dedicate an hour or two every week to spend on reading together:- Nothing can be more fun than a family activity. If you can take pains to organise a family outing, if you can find exclusive time to pray or swim or cycle together, you can then ofcourse find time to read together. If you think reading should become your child’s priority, then please prioritize his reading time too. The Sanskrit adage “Yatha Raja, Tattha Praja” is apt here. If the child grows up in the company of books, seeing reading-parents, he will become a reading-parent himself.

·                   Book Shops, Libraries, Lit fests and Book Exhibitions:- Watch out for book fests and book Exhibitions in your city. These events are almost regulars in all metros and can be marked in calendars well in advance. These events have innumerable activities to enthuse children to read and love reading. Nothing can be more pleasurable than visiting second hand books shops. Allow the child to explore the shop at his own, easy pace and you will never return unrewarded from these tours.

·                   Actively discourage mindless TV viewing and Gaming:- Reading and Television, and now Internet and gaming, have been natural enemies. It is most normal for the child to take the path of least resistance and sacrifice reading time for a cartoon show or for a round of “Clash of Clans”. Reading with the child, reading aloud to the child, continually helping the child understand the imagery, setting and background of a book will fire his imagination and help him savour a book in the place of a TV show ;

·                   Encourage borrowing and lending of books:- Nothing can be more beneficial to a child than having access to more than his own library. Never discourage your child from lending his books. But insist that he keeps track of the books that he has lent. This will not only inculcate responsibility in the child, but it would also open the possibilities of your child borrowing from his friends.
Having said all this, I must also point out that a reading habit is ultimately a habit. It depends on us. When Stephen Covey said “We become what we repeatedly do”, he ofcourse didn’t refer to the habit of reading. But reading the right book, the right author and the right genre, in my experience, is one of the easiest habits to cultivate and nurture. Never fear having picked up a wrong book. After having read a couple of pages if you are unable to continue, toss it and go for another. There are a billion others waiting to be read. Like all other habits, a reading habit will normally start as a cobweb, and can become a rock-strong cable, with tenacity and perseverance. Just go for it !!


  1. Wonderful post!!I can totally relate to this..
    Being a voracious reader , a bibliophile are awesome gifts that one can give to self!!(Quote:A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies but the one who never reads lives only one).

  2. Very well said Sundar! Children look to parents and that includes the habit of reading. Be a reader to raise one. You have so beautifully written about what it takes to raise a reader! Particularly your extension of Maugham's saying is absolute classic! Thanks a lot for obliging to contribute to Onestoryaday!