Before starting with the main subject, I just wanted to share some personal good news with you: I really missed writing on my website and I intend to get back to it. I think I’ve been absorbed by Instagram and Tiktok lately and consumed a considerable amount of time on those platforms, but in the end, scrolling purposelessly and watching random, short and stupid videos didn’t add much value in my life, so I’m trying to reduce my time on social media to spend it on something valuable. By writing in English, I’m trying to keep in mind the new words and sentences that I’m trying to learn from reading (almost) everyday. So let’s start!
Reading in public is contagious!
I remember when I was in my 20’s, I was always carrying my little french novels with me when I took the public transport to go to work every early morning. And usually, when you take the Tunisian public transportation, you will always have plenty of time to read while waiting at the station or once inside the bus or the metro. (When I say plenty of time, I mean a LOT of time, so you would finish chapters or even the whole book. Anyway, it’s not our main talk today).
Once inside the metro, I’d open my backpack, grab my book and start reading.. But in a society which is not used to seeing a lot of readers in public transportation, you can feel that awkward -but at the same time- happy relieved look from one of the passengers: “Oh, OK.. this is nice, there is still at least someone who reads in public!”.. I’d read a couple of pages then I’d raise my head and look around and.. Surprise! Three or four people from different ages sitting next to me grabbed their books, newspapers, and university research papers and they’d start reading!
At that moment I was extremely happy, and I felt like I was that little missing motivational push for this minority to start reading in public without being shy. And it didn’t happen only once.. It occurred numerous times and it made me ask the question:
Why the hell a lot of people are shy of reading in public?
Frankly, I don’t have a clear answer, but before giving you my perspective and some hypotheses on this matter, here are some fun facts to chew on:
82% of Tunisians didn’t read a single book in 2021 according to the latest studies made by Emrhod Consulting
Tunisians read on average 0.6 books per year per person, according to Elias Rabhi, Director of the Public Reading Department at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Recently, during a lazy morning weekend, on a beautiful day, I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, reading a book, sipping my Americano and allowing the sun to kiss me softly.. When suddenly, a stranger (who has approximately my age) popped in front of me and said:
– Sorry to interrupt your reading, can we share the table? I can’t find one..
– Sure, sure.
– Sorry again.
– No worries man, you’re not bothering me.
For the first 10 minutes, he stayed silent, smoking cigarette after cigarette and sipping his coffee (while watching videos out loud on TikTok), but then he said:
– You know, I have a lot of admiration for those who read.. And especially in public. Nowadays. It’s awkward to see someone who reads a book in a coffee shop.
– Why is it “awkward”? Do you think that consuming a crazy amount of time on our smart devices is normal?
– Yeah yeah man.. You’re right! Big up!
I stopped reading, and he dropped his mobile and we started a gentle conversation about the passion of reading and the dangers of social media.
A lot of readers are afraid to be tagged as “ostentatious” or “nerdy”!
“Hey.. Why don’t you stop being pretentious!”.. “Stop showing us that you read books!”.. “Stop showing off and let’s have a conversation man..”
These are some negative comments you might get from friends, or persons you know. And It might destabilize you if you don’t have that strong mindset and self-confidence that works like a shield to protect you from bullying.
You know and they know that reading is something very classy and it reflects a lot of mental purity.. But naysayers won’t leave you without trying to undervalue what you do. They are acting like crabs in a bucket, have you ever heard about the “Crabs Mentality”?
Well, when crabs are trapped in a bucket, one of them would start to climb and try to get out of the bucket, however, it would be pulled back in by the others. It’s a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you“.
I can’t even remember the number of people who start judging me when I whip my book out, and how often I would like to say that I’m not trying to boast, I just want to read because I’m feeling comfortable right here, right now without being bothered by my kids, I’m just alone here in this public place and I have some free time, so those are the perfect conditions for me to enjoy a book.
The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind.
They’re gonna judge anyway, don’t be shy!
Do you know the Tunisia old song (by Oulaya) : خلي يقولوا آ ش يهم “Let them talk, we don’t care”?
It synthesizes perfectly how you should behave when you want to read in public but you feel not comfortable doing it. A lot of people are going to judge anyway, so let them talk and you don’t have to care about their comments.
Sadly, we live in a modern world that adores “Instant gratification”. The usage of social media and the consumption of those short videos are pulling us down and.. MAYBE making us stupid. According to research done by the University of British Columbia, people prefer being lazy because our brains are wired that way, so If you let your brain choose between reading a book or watching videos on Tiktok, of course it will direct you towards the Chinese app.. Period. Your brain won’t get instant gratification from reading a book, it will take time.
And that’s why you have to be the illuminating person grabbing a book among this army of phone addict generations. So don’t back down.. Read everywhere!