A popular joke which has been making the rounds on social media and other platforms for quite some time is that if you want to hide something from the black man, put it in a book.
When I read this joke a couple of years ago, I laughed over it as the Jamaican friend who sent it to me had expected me to. However, in a more sober mood I have revisited the issue and this time, not in a laughing mood. Why? Because the truth has hit me; myself, my family, my friends, my colleagues and my country Ghana do not read! Whoever coined that joke was definitely speaking about me, you and my neighbour.
Let us take the case of my neighbour, a graduate of Geography from the country’s foremost university. He graduated with honours in 1980 and got a very good job.
Even though he claims he was an avid reader back in his schooldays and read his textbooks with passion, to him, reading anything outside his area of specialisation was frivolous and a complete waste of time.
These days, with the pressure of work, he hardly touches any book at all and is reduced to occasionally looking at pictures in newspapers. The newspapers have also realised this trend and are, therefore, replacing the large volumes of text they offered readers with little text, more pictures, illustrations, etc. Now, even, in his area of specialisation, my neighbour is about 10 years behind time as he hardly reads anything to keep him abreast of current best practices in the field.
Perhaps we could have glossed over this, if his case was an isolated one. Unfortunately, it appears to be more of a rule than an exception. And so we have engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, military officers etc all caught up in this web.
I remember a colleague once remarking that the day he took his last exams was the day he ceased having anything to do with books. I guess our educational system which is sometimes referred to as chew, pour, pass and forget, does not also encourage the culture of reading in us.
But should this really be the case?
How do we benefit from the treasures that are stashed in the covers of books if we do not read them? How do we keep abreast of modern and best practices, if we do not read?
The last time I picked a novel to read as leisure is almost a year ago and as I write, I have not gone beyond chapter one. I keep transferring the book from home to my office, into my car and to the restaurant where I take lunch at work, not knowing which of the locations will encourage me to read it. Feeling guilty anytime I see the book, I have finally consigned it to one of the drawers in my office, not too sure when it will come out again.
Our generation is pressed for time, therefore, we have people doing double and triple jobs while others are combining work with school so there is hardly time left for leisure reading. But surely the benefits of devouring the innards of a book far outweigh the ignorance we visit upon ourselves, if we fail to read.
Most of the time could be used by our youth for reading is now used for browsing the Internet; more often than not, at sites that do not benefit them in the long run.
Though there may be a few who might have kept faith with the positive culture of reading, it is obvious that they belong to a minority which is further dwindling.
Making reading a habit has many benefits. It means time spent profitably helps us gain knowledge, relaxes the mind and helps improve our vocabulary. On the flip side, the effects of lack of reading are the kind of language most of us are speaking today where there is a complete lack of respect for present and past tense, grammar and even prepositions! Not forgetting the kind of language the media spews out on a daily basis. If you have read this stuff to this point, then at least you are not in the category of those Ghanaians who do not read. But before I conclude, I ask you once again and hope you answer candidly: When was the last time you read a book?
The writer is Head of Public Relations and Protocol, University of Cape Coast and a retired senior military officer.
By Kofi Baah-Bentum/Daily Graphic/Ghana