x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Settling down with a good book is still a delicious pleasure

While almost everyone admits to watching some television, some of the time, many people aren’t that interested when it comes to reading. Why?

I know many people who do not routinely read books – by way of explanation they usually offer some excuse about falling asleep soon after they pick up a novel or a biography. But what really stops them?

To answer that question, I must first ask you to imagine for a moment someone who has never watched any television at all.

If this person was asked to sit down to focus on a TV screen, he would probably want to watch something action-packed, like a Hollywood blockbuster, to grab his attention.

But in this hypothetical case, the programme choice is made for him by others. What they pick for him to watch is a slow documentary about something that happened a long time ago in a country he doesn’t much care about.

It is all too dull for words and he hates every second of the experience. Our viewer comes to the conclusion that television is boring.

What anyone else would say to this is that this person has yet to find the right programme for them.

They would point to the great variety of genres, subject-matters, the vast differences in style throughout the decades, and so on. There is so much content out there, that it is almost impossible not to find something to suit one’s taste. And once you find something that works for you, you will be hooked.

While the example I cite here is undoubtedly absurd – almost everyone admits to watching some television, some of the time – it is unfortunately a far more common occurrence when applied to reading. Many people just aren’t that interested at all.

I can’t understand why. Like the hundreds of TV channels available to us at the flick of a remote control button, there are also thousands of different book genres at our fingertips, ones to suit almost any taste.

Compare seeing fiction dramatised for the small screen with the experience of reading that same plot unfold on the printed page. More than the dialogue and action that we see flickering across our television screens, we also read what the characters are thinking and feeling. We get to experience many perspectives.

Add to that the empathy we feel from exposing ourselves to the different voices describing the same world we live in.

Think too of how this experience helps us to better understand the world.

In the end, when it comes to literature, I acknowledge this is my own preference, and like the case of my imaginary TV viewer, there is no accounting for taste in literature.

I know someone who first caught the reading habit through David Beckham’s autobiography.

Another discovered his fondness for “prison literature” (as it sounds, these are books penned by authors who are detained and might be judged to have time on their hands), and another found he couldn’t put Harry Potter down once he started, even though he was a relatively late starter and only “discovered” JK Rowling in his 20s.

To each his own, we just have to find our own. Once we do, it will probably not end there and we may find ourselves setting less time aside for the television, and more for that age-old pleasure of a good book.

Abdulrahman Arif is an Emirati writer who has a masters in comparative literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London