The joy of reading makes for better life

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The joy of reading makes for better life


A few days ago, a book was ranked high in online searches. Sold for $14.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York, it was the “Bay Psalm Book,” the first text created in the United States by the Puritan settlers during the 17th century. Online users posted interesting responses to the sale. “A book costs as much as a building.” “How can a single copy of a book be so expensive?” “It’s not even a jewel, it’s just a book.” They were shocked by the price. But why do they question the value of this rare book when some artworks are sold for 10 times more?

Recently, a local publishing industry insider said that the book market was not moving at all, and that readers no longer buy books. The public’s response that it is strange for a book to be so expensive may be the underlying sentiment in the book market. They may think, “Why would you pay to read a book?”

A recent report by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism indicated that three out of 10 adults do not read a single book in a year, and each household spends 19,026 won ($18) annually on books - 28 percent less than a decade ago.

Why don’t Koreans read books? Do we aspire to be ignorant and shun knowledge? I was talking to some younger friends about books, and I concluded that they may have gotten tired of reading or haven’t learned the joy of reading. One said, “I made a thick notebook of reading journals in high school to prepare for college, and I was exhausted from reading books.” He couldn’t understand why the books on the must-read list were important. So, after he got into college, he stopped reading “unnecessary” texts. After all, when people ask “Do you read a lot?” it’s hard to say how much qualifies as “a lot” since reading is evaluated on quantity, not quality.

A young friend asked me about writing skills, and I recommended memorizing some traditional verses in a high school textbook and getting to know the rhythm of the Korean language. He said that he focused on analyzing the context in high school but didn’t think of the rhythm. He had missed out on the true beauty of the lyrical verses. Another young graduate, who is in the civil service, confided that he is eager to read but doesn’t know how to read effectively. In school he hadn’t learned how to read, not to mention how to enjoy reading.

Private academies are enjoying brisk business by teaching elementary school students how to read. Ironically, many children and young Koreans cannot read. Not because they don’t want to but because they don’t know how. The Korean-language education and reading system may have problems.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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