Book Clubs and the making of a reading nation
The 11th Northern Cape Writers Festival hosted a panel discussion under the theme Book Clubs and The Making of a Reading Nation on the 10th of October 2019. The panel comprised of Mandla Mona from the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), Faith Chabalala (feature writer), Linda Fisher (publisher) and the discussion was facilitated by writer and publisher Lorraine Sithole.
The discussion was in an effort to dissect the challenges facing society and the ways in which society and other institutions can take part in creating a reading nation. Establishing a reading culture and exploring the role of book clubs in society. T
The discussions, revealed that only 14% (5.3 million) of South Africans read books. The country is clearly facing a dire situation with a decline in reading habits. Statistics shows that pupils in grade 4 still struggle to grasp the art of reading. 39 % of black South Africans are less likely to pick up a book and read it, as well as people over the age 50 years, and people in the rural areas.
Faith Chabalala pointed out the fact that over 55% of the South African population are suffering from poverty, the cost of buying books also plays a role in society not engaging in reading and putting bread on the table becomes a priority. She addressed the audience stating that “it’s imperative for parents to take the initiative in promoting reading at home, unaffordability of buying books is a problem in some households, to this end parents should thus engage with school teachers and librarians to borrow books out to read at home. Society should not only depend on government to accelerate the agenda of promoting reading, the onus also resides with the communities at large towards social unanimity in enhancing reading”.
Mandla Mona from the NLSA, which is tasked with safeguarding records that society creates and are the custodians of the country’s heritage materials, offered guidance that writers who wish to publish their work promote a reading culture, allowing for social cohesion in the effort of stimulating reading. “The institution has projects such as the Funda Mzansi Championship which supports and assists communities in sustaining book clubs in order to encourage reading in South African communities, we also donate books to book clubs across the county”, he said.
It was the consensus that reading and writing cannot be separated from culture, heritage and history. Linda Fisher pointed out that she is passionate about creating reading writers who produce good content but may lack the resources to do so. As writing coach and publisher she believes that one cannot become a writer without reading a lot “It is very important for writers to read a lot in order to create good content that is fresh and unique” she said.
The facilitator Lorraine also mentioned the option of online book clubs with reading ranking at 5th in leisure activities that South Africans engage in, and social media usage, watching TV, and videos following in line. Online book clubs are increasingly becoming a popular way of people engaging via online platforms to discuss book content owing to people’s busy lifestyles or lack of making time to engage in book clubs. Although this can never be equivalent to one-on-one human engagement
The event ended with an open question and answer session between the panel and the audience.