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Reading and Society: The XXI Century Reading Culture in Europe

The culture of reading has been declining worldwide over the last few decades. Some say this is due to technological advances, others speculate that people nowadays need everything to be immediate—and books take time.  Whatever the reason, the truth is, in the words of William Somerset Maugham, that “to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”

What Germany is Doing to Encourage Reading

In the centre of Berlin, there is an outdoor library with more than 3,000 books. It is located in the square Bebelplatz, which is full of symbology. It was one of the places where the Nazis burned thousands of books in 1933. I confess that I was very charmed by the initiative. Children, youth and adults, leisurely sitting on chairs, puffs and rock nets, simply let themselves travel into new worlds through varied books. Surprisingly, they cannot take the books home, so they have to read them there, on that day or the next, which creates the habit of going to the place regularly. Like someone who goes to a café, only that not to drink coffee, nor beer, nor to watch a football match.

What Portugal Could Do Better

What about Portugal? We have the national reading plan, schools, and municipal libraries, and many authors and publishers that continue publishing more and more books. And where do book readers enjoy them? Are they all enclosed in libraries or at home? Indeed, it is rare to find someone reading a book in the waiting room of a clinic, on a terrace, on a garden bench or on a bus… People’s hands are usually busy with other objects —like mobile phones or tablets (and no, they are usually not reading an ebook!). Around here, in Portugal, the culture of reading has been declining in the XXI century. Do we need a European reading championship? Who knows if, in this way, patriotism also grows fervently among readers, just like football!

It is undeniable that, over the last decades, several bodies and organisations have made an effort to promote reading in the country; however, I believe that there is still much to do until reading is effectively popular again in our society. Obviously, I do not mean school, teachers or libraries — all these already value it. But, for example, recruiters and employers could start prioritising a candidate’s reading habit over their presence on social networks. What if, during the interview, they were asked questions about what they’ve been reading lately? How amazing would that be? Because reading helps us build our path as citizens: we acquire knowledge, learn to use words and develop critical thinking over worldly matters.

Food for Thought

As everything takes time, I’m still dreaming about an open-air library in Portugal, similar to the one in central Berlin, with many books and, the most important thing, readers who stop, pick a chair and sit down to enjoy a story. I would also like to see literary translators recognised for their work (do you know who translated the last book you read?) But we can deal with that in a different article… 

What’s your country doing to encourage reading among its citizens? Tell me about it in the comments!

This article was originally written by Fernanda Gonçalves, English>Portuguese Translator and Proofreader

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