To a certain extent I believe it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that reading is just not in our culture. We don’t buy and read books like, say, we watch TV. Having said that, it does seem to me that reading is gaining popularity among teenagers, albeit slowly. But then again, maybe it’s just me. Truth is, I don’t have any reliable mechanism to gauge how often people around my age read these days, how many books and what kind of book that we read. I conducted a several-question survey some time ago asking exactly these questions. Even though I would admit that the survey was nowhere representative of the population, the result wasn’t very promising.

Generally, most of us are divided into three groups: those that read mainly fictions, those that read mainly non-fictions, and those that reads nothing else than their course textbooks and revision notes.

When I first started reading books several hundreds page long, they were all fictions. That was when I was in secondary school, and my primary reason for reading was to improve my English, which I did, apart from for fun, of course. As my English reading and writing skills gradually improve, I no longer read to improve my English, but rather, for fun. It was like watching TV, only those fiction novels provided much greater detail, most of the times for better, and sometimes for worse. During those days, I didn’t usually buy the books myself – heck, I don’t have the money. So I tend to read the books my sister bought, and because my sister didn’t only buy fiction books, so it was natural that when boredom took over and I’ve exhausted all the fiction books, I decided to pick up that inch-thick non-fiction book and took it for a ride.

Bill Bryson's books, like this one, is deliciously readable and hook you straight till the last page.

Of course, it took me quite some time to finish it. Non-fiction book doesn’t have all the plot twists and turns and suspense that make fiction books so interesting. Heck, they rarely even have plots. “There’s no dialogue at all”, to quote my younger sister. A lot of people would dismiss it as mundane, and boring, and so they stick to fiction books. But somehow I got interested. After all those fiction books that I’ve read, after all those exciting stories and tales and, well, fictions, I was attracted to non-fictions. There was something more to those books, something more substantial. The stories in the non-fiction books tell a lot more than just tales for entertainment. Here was a book filled with real-world knowledge, knowledge that I can instantly apply and relate to the real world.

Of course, when people encourage you to read, they don’t mean go and read Harry Potter. When people say “you must make reading a culture”, they don’t mean to go and start collecting the entire The Lord of The Rings and related series. We all know this, whether we’d like to admit it or not. We all realise this. Reading fictions don’t give us much benefit, apart from improving our comprehension skills. When we’re already good with English, reading fictions becomes nothing more like watching TV: passive entertainment. Except that it does seem better. Nobody would scream at you for wasting your time reading book. In fact, you might even get a few compliments.

Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn’t read fictions at all. As long as we’re human, we’re gonna need some entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with a few good fictions now and then. I occasionally enjoy a good thriller novel, like those by Matthew Reilly, and of course The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a classic favourite. But we have to get a move on. We have to start reading for real knowledge. We have to start reading for effect.

I know, the transition wouldn’t be easy. Many non-fiction books are simply too boring or inaccessible to most of us laymen, especially when we’re just getting to know non-fictions. But once we find a secure footing and get more and more comfortable with the notion of reading non-fiction books, more and more of those books will become accessible to us. Realising that it can sometimes be a daunting task to find a good readable non-fiction books, here are a few suggestions of books that had been kind to me in my early days of reading non-fiction:

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
  2. The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman
  3. Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom
  4. The Google Story, by David A. Vise

There are also many fiction books that have substance. The plots may have been fictitious, but they usually revolve around things that touches our very conscience, and invite us to think about things that we don’t normally give any thought about. These fiction novels will also make a good and beneficial reading. Try and look up authors such as Nick Hornby, Lionel Shriver, and Jodi Picoult.