Where have all the books gone?
On March 3, 2021

Are books disappearing from our daily lives? Paul Grech picks a thorny, very topical, issue …

I recently needed to visit a stationery, something that I had not done for quite some time. Not much seemed to have changed since I was a more frequent visitor (that is, when I used to rely on newspaper for news, rather than the internet): there was the usual mix of school-related items, toys and bric-a-brac.

I did notice, however, one significant change. Back in the day, most stationeries used to have racks filled with a whole host of magazines and books. Based on a (admittedly somewhat limited) sample – I went into a couple more just to check – it seems that these racks have either been reduced drastically or else completely disappeared.

Whilst on the face of it this might not be a particularly worrying problem, it does raise the issue of how or where people are being exposed to books. If this situation is being replicated in other towns and villages across Malta, then are we experiencing the growth of book deserts?

Thankfully most localities can still rely on the beacon of light that is the local library. Yet, two kinds of adults tend to visit libraries: those taking their kids to pick books and committed readers looking to get their own books. What exposure do casual or non-readers have to books? Are they present in the shops and places that they visit: a constant and persistent reminder of what they’re missing out on?

Indeed, even those who actually enjoy reading might not bother if they have to go to a bookshop in Valletta or Sliema to pick up their next read.

It might be argued that with all the resources that there are on the internet there is no need for local shops to sell books and that whoever wants to read can do so by ordering online. And that is indeed the case.

Yet I can’t help feel that if we truly believe in the power of books and reading we need to make them a more pervasive presence. And that’s without going into the whole debate about books in Maltese, that are increasingly being pushed into the sidelines especially when foreign sites become the favoured means of getting books.

There is no easy solution to this. Indeed, I’m not even sure if it is actually a problem or something that I’m dreaming up. And perhaps that is a good starting point; actually checking whether this is merely perception or reality.

Because, if it is reality, then failure to do anything would be directly contributing to the decline in interest in reading.

 

PS – For all that it is worth, reading for pleasure does indeed help. Research carried out in America among fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds highlighted the impact this has on academic success: “the authors concluded that students who chose to read self-selected literature for pleasure performed better in English, mathematics, science and history.” [Link here]

 

Page photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

Paul Grech is an avid reader particularly of sports, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction books. He is also a writer as well as the publisher of Paġna Mmarkata, a magazine (that is also a bookmark) of original Maltese writing.

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