Read to grow. When books change cultures

Publish date 07-01-2021

by Sandro Calvani

In 2010 I visited a refugee camp in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, on the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and was invited to the house of one of their leaders. The children of the family were around a table where one of them read stories to the others who listened. Invited to sit at the table, I hung my bag on the back of the chair, but it fell to the floor, bringing out two books that I had brought along to read on the long journey. Immediately the children sat on the ground looking at my books as if they were toys or sweets. I saw from their eyes how much they wanted them, but I asked the adults if they could read books in English. They answered me: «They are those who love the most; they read for at least one hour a day and we spend another hour explaining what they have not understood on their own ". That's why I gave them away immediately, even though I hadn't imagined that the books were so desired for their entertainment.

Every country and every time has its favorite books. Trump books sold more in the United States than Harry Potter in 2020. At the top of the world ranking of best-selling books (with a single author) remains the red book of the revolutionary Chinese leader Mao Zedong. The Holy Bible, which has no single author and has been published in dozens of different versions for hundreds of years, remains the best-selling book ever in the history of mankind, with about five billion copies. The use and sympathy for reading in different cultures and in every part of the world can be observed with the number of libraries and bookstores in the neighborhoods and their density per inhabitant, number of authors and publishers, number of books published in a year . Even more interesting are the statistics that describe the relationship between people and books.

In the ranking of those who love books more than the global average, Estonia, Norway and Denmark win. In Estonia, on average, each family has 218 books, in Norway 212 and in Denmark 192. In Italy 63.2% of families have no more than one hundred books at home, 28.2% of families have fewer than 25 books and 10% have no books. Obviously, to understand the impact of books on the transformations of cultures, it is necessary to measure above all how many people read them. Otherwise you risk that curious phenomenon of buying books that pile up on shelves and tables without them being read. In Japan, stacks of unread books on desks in the home and office are a real syndrome with its particular name, Tsundoku.

The East has won the world championship of reading for several decades, where on average adults and children dedicate at least twice as much time to books as in Europe and in the West. The first four countries in the ranking of the most frequent readers are all Asian: India (10.42 hours per week per person), Thailand, China, Philippines; we have to go down to sixth place to find the first European country, the Czech Republic three hours away from India. In Italy, the average reading is 5.6 hours per person per week, half of India. Recent reports from UNESCO and the international NGO Room to Read have shown that inclusive growth and prosperity is strongly linked to annual book reading rates.

Sandro Calvani
NP november 2020

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