Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

The Value of Reading

Written by johnleemk on 9:48:35 am May 4, 2005.

I find that it's a bit disconcerting how people, especially in Malaysia, don't read a lot these days. Only slightly less distressing is the fact that when people do read, they tend to avoid non-fiction books. If you want to know what and why I think you should be reading, keep reading this article.

Truth be told, I'm not a fiction kind of guy. When I do read fiction, I prefer something with a basis in actual events or at least, the non-fantasy kind. I've read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy and found it nothing special, for example. I'm not an experienced fiction reader, so I'm not about to make recommendations for this area of literature.

Non-fiction books should be a must-read for everyone, though. I'm not necessarily talking about a thick, musty text with dull prose that not even I would enjoy reading. I find that, of all things, children's non-fiction books are often the best.

To know what I'm talking about, Malaysians can pay a visit to the British Council (only a stone's throw away from KLCC). There's a whole corner of the library devoted to books of this genre. Generally, children's non-fiction books are short, use simple language, and yet give a very good introduction to a topic.

I think it would be good if everyone read at least one of this kind of book a week. It is far better to be well-versed in many aspects of knowledge, so as to be versatile, than to be extremely knowledgeable in one area but clueless in everything else. Even better, once you've identified an area that you like to read about (for example, music, movies, art, etc.), you can slowly progress to more advanced non-fiction. For example, once I discovered I enjoy reading about sociology, politics and economics, I began to borrow more advanced books from the library on them.

And if you don't like books, there's the internet. A heated argument on an internet message board can provide impetus for researching something, and who knows? You might stumble on something you like reading about. It's how I discovered my penchant for socio-politics (is that a word?).

Of course, some may ask, what's the good of reading non-fiction? How does it help me? Excellent question. A decent answer: So you can learn from others' mistakes. History is a good example. As all Malaysian students know, our schools are 100% unreliable on providing us with any serious lessons we can learn from that we may avoid making the same mistakes in the future. The solution of course, is to read more non-fiction, preferably at a child's level. It's a lot easier to see the lesson to be learned if you focus on the big picture instead of on the details.

Here's an example of seeing the forest instead of a bunch of trees: In history, we learn that Sultan X sold out Sultan Y in exchange for favours from Colonialist Z. Colonialist Z colonised Sultan Y's realm. Not too long after, Sultan X's state falls to Colonialist Z as well. When disguised in the staid statistics and boring sub-plots, the lesson to be learned from this is not readily apparent. When you look at this as part of a larger picture, though, you see that the same thing has happened again and again, not only in Malaysia, but in the rest of the world. Thusly, you learn that in order to manipulate and defeat an enemy, the key strategy is to divide and conquer. Likewise, in order to defend, you must unite, even with your rivals, to avoid a crushing defeat for all.

Non-fiction is also benefical for avoiding confidence tricksters. Here's how it gives you an advantage over the average Joe: A teenaged boy approaches you for money. He claims to be housed in an orphanage, as his parents were killed in the Vietnam War, and can present seemingly real documents to prove it. If you're the average Malaysian, you just might be tempted to donate a few ringgit to this poor boy's "orphanage". But if you have any grip at all on general knowledge, you'll realise that the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and thus, for one's parents to have died in the Vietnam War would require the orphan to be at least 30 years of age.

Read more non-fiction. You don't need to know every little detail about a certain topic. Just getting the big picture is good enough. As Francis Bacon said, knowledge is power. And as Lord Acton said, power corrupts. How do you think I became the corrupted retard that I am? ^_^

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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