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I Think Indonesians Should Make “Reading” Cool Again

“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”
— John Waters

Well, don’t take the quote literally but I agree with the idea.

I actually got this urge to write about it this morning, after reading a reply from a girl who asked me how to order a custom illustration. Previously I sent her a page of ‘order guideline’ which clearly mentioned how to do it. Then she just wrote me back, “So, how can I order? How do I pay?” At the end of her email it was written, “Sent from my iPhone”. I assumed she had her iPhone in English so it wasn’t about language. She just didn’t read what I sent. As a person who takes reading & writing as the best form of communication, it disturbed me. So I’m writing this, putting a risk that later you might call me smarty-pants or wisenheimer. That’s fine.

Actually, the girl’s case I mentioned above happens all the time. I don’t think I need to put screenshots of comments in social media asking about something that is obviously right there, a part the content they are commenting on. “Where’s the location?”, “How much is the price?”, while actually the author clearly wrote, “Restaurant A”, “IDR 150.000”, under one of the photos. People keep skipping reading. I don’t know if it happens in other country but in Indonesia, I personally think it’s related to our lack of interest to read or particular ability to absorb information in written form.

I once read an article shared by journalist friend, Is Indonesia a “Land Without Readers?” Since the title was heartbreaking & intriguing at the same time (plus, I’d like to make this post looks a bit smart, *tee-hee*), I checked the global publishing statistics published by International Publishers Association. Here’s the table in case you want to skip reading the whole report. (irony intended)


I know that the statistics were more for the publishing business and involving limited number of countries but the figures* still show 1) We’re behind our ASEAN fellows Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand 2) The trend ratio of new titles per million inhabitants and GDP per capita isn’t totally linear. *Please mind the fact that the data is taken from various year for each country, ranging from 2009 – 2013.

So, back to Indonesia.

I found a paper by B. Mustafa about Indonesians reading habit and the role of library. On the introduction part he explained the factors limiting reading habit in Indonesia:

Factors Limiting Reading Habit in Indonesia
Several studies done by many researchers during the last few years showed that there are commonly four major factors that present hinder the promotion of reading, salient among them are as follows:

      1. Indonesian people are actually not reading society. They are mostly oral society. Most of them prefer to speak than to read and write.
      2. The poor management. Belongs to this factor are: lack of qualified and competent manpower in librarianship, lack of money to support the development of library of all kinds (to make matter worse, corruption problems also exist in this area) and also lack of good management in doing library operational.
      3. The unaffordable expensive books and other library materials. Most Indonesian people cannot afford to buy good reading materials.
      4. The lure of electronic media and internet. TVs, internet and other multimedia have potential effect on children’s reading performance. This has become an issue of growing concern among education and often cited as a cause for the decline in people reading habit. Children and even adults spent much amount of their time watching entertaining television programs or just playing games.

I agree and am able to relate to number 1. I guess it’s also the case I wrote on the first paragraphs of this post, “Why don’t you just ask? Easier, simpler, and faster.” It might also explain why we, Indonesians, tend to share hoax(es); because we aren’t used to getting an information comprehensively, we only want to know what we think we need to know, and we’d believe in informations passed by the others. On daily life, we see that Indonesians on the street tend to ask direction instead of looking for signs or checking the map. It’s a culture, so tourists can’t really complain if we don’t have decent street signs or local maps. On the other hand during traveling to developed countries, Indonesians tend to skip the signs on the street or other public places and try to find people for help. We expect people to show the way or explain how things work although the information is written somewhere. At the end of the day, some Indonesians (including my mom) think that people in developed countries are selfish and unfriendly while they think we are wasting their precious time.

However, I don’t like number 3. Yes, if you look at the table, our GDP is only about 1/4 of UK and not even 1/6 of Norway, but I believe that most middle-class Indonesians can afford books, they just don’t buy books. Trust me, I’m a middle-class-kid or what Indonesians called #kelasmenengahngehe and I know what kind of society class I’m talking about. We can afford IDR 40.000 coffee in famous coffee chain, IDR 100.000 food in fancy cafe, or IDR 150.000 pre-paid mobile account balance as routine. We can afford almost IDR 10.000.000 smart phone. In my humble opinion, we just don’t like reading. No, I’m not telling you to stop eating fancy dessert which is worth Instagram-ing and buying books instead. No. I just disagree on the argument that Indonesians don’t read books because books are expensive. It’s a denial.

So if the publishers don’t forecast Indonesia (yet) to be the near-future big market, I guess it’s not related to economy growth (CMIIW). On the other hand, another statistics show Indonesia is projected to be world’s fourth-largest smartphone in 3 years from now. It’s not too ambitious if these statistics by an investor strategic advisor firm (published last year), claiming that ‘Indonesians use their gadgets more than anyone else in the world’ are true.


Last holiday I randomly asked my brother and cousin who are in university. My brother goes to the same university I and my father graduated from, a good one by Indonesian standard. My cousin goes to a private university. “How many of your friends that actually love to read? Not only limited to text books, but books in general.” Their answers were the same with mine, “Not many.” If even these bright young kiddos in university don’t read ‘that much’, then who would you expect to?

Again, I’m not saying that people who don’t like to read are less qualified than those who do, but I believe that reading is a good habit. I believe that society with reading habit is will bring more positive energy and motivation. I also believe that no baby was born with reading interest planted like chip on its head; instead, it’s something to work on. Contrary to the cultural factor I’ve mentioned, this is an interesting article from Jakarta Globe about reading culture among children. Well, it makes sense that children can be avid readers because naturally they can be avid anything :p

However, seeing parents nowadays, letting the children spend much time in front of TV and gadget, I kinda lose the hope. If you’re that kind of parents, no, I’m not criticizing your parenting style. I just, personally and deeply, I just… think that you should give books more chance. More chance for the kids. More chance for the teenagers now. I think we should make ‘reading’ cool again and spread it again. I think we should try to make it a trend, an addictive one. If we can make DSLR, traveling abroad, diving certification and coffee-tasting sound cool and trendy, why not ‘reading’? We should make ‘reading’ cool, a sign that you are cultured and educated and smart and geeky and sexy without black rimmed glasses. I know it might not work for everyone in the end and sound superficial, but isn’t it the only way to bring the habit back to pretentious society like us?

I mean, nobody regrets buying fixie bikes or running 12K for showing off their expensive Nike shoes, right?

Image is taken from here

This post is entirely based on my opinion and supported by facts, statistics and articles I found during random googling. It’d be nice if you can provide more reliable data proving otherwise.

Filed under: Thoughts


Puty Puar. F/27. Indonesian. Former rocker, blogger, freelance illustrator, book enthusiast, who is running little business while homemaking. Started this blog in 2002.