The facts behind fiction

Published: June 17, 2010
Classics or contemporary fiction? Young Pakistanis prefer a mix on their bookshelves

Classics or contemporary fiction? Young Pakistanis prefer a mix on their bookshelves

KARACHI: The classics – Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters – are taught in most private schools in Pakistan, but do scholars pick them up afterwards?

Reading books for most young Pakistanis is primarily for relaxation. The idea with the latter is to not put more pressure on your brain with complicated syntax and vocabulary. This is a primary reason why Pakistani students prefer easy fiction.

“I like satire in classic literature. Other than that, I feel that the language should be simple for me to understand to be able to enjoy reading. I read to relax. I do not want to get a headache from concentrating too hard, trying comprehending whatever I am reading,” said Amenah Mahmood, a recent graduate of Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration.

For Anis Yousuf, a business major, reading modern fiction is beyond the scope of language alone. “I read books in a modern writing style since it illustrates today’s mindset and the information provided in it is easily absorbable.”

Sales representatives of various bookstores shared their insights about the general preferences of young readers aged 20 to 30.

“The trend of reading classic fiction is diminishing. Young people prefer books of modern writers like Paulo Coelho and Daniyal Mueenuddin”, said a representative of a leading bookstore of Karachi.

Given their popularity abroad and the books being turned into blockbuster films, fiction series such as Harry Potter and Twilight may seem to have taken young Pakistanis by storm, but that may not be true.

“There is a general shift from classic to modern literature. But youngsters find very contemporary literature immature. The general impression is that very contemporary fiction is what youngsters read. While we see a very short term interest in vampire and wizard series there is a long-term and heightened interest in South Asian writers,” said Rabeea Arif, a project manager at The Second Floor in Karachi.

Although the shift towards modern literature is huge, it does not imply the death of classic fiction. Young adults still admire the works of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Arif believes that the readership for classic fiction is concentrated around the fiction written after twentieth century.

John Johnson, an assistant manager at Liberty Books, revealed a unique tactic to attract young readers towards classics, “Recently some of the classic literature has been reintroduced with colourful titles that have boosted its sales. Paulo Coelho, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer are the most popular among a younger market. Then there are Pakistani writers like Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) and Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes). The craze of the Harry Potter series is now fading out but the Twilight series is still doing great.”

Rukhsar, the assistant manager of Readings Lahore, believes the current trend is still in favour of contemporary series which he thinks is more a matter of social symbol than that of personal interest.  “Young readers mostly prefer contemporary fiction, be it romance or thriller.

It is partly because these readers are more aware of the latest series through the media and partly because it is ‘in’ within their social circle,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 18th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jun 18, 2010 - 2:19AM

    This is good news. My impression was, gleaned from others who live in Pakistan, that no one reads much of anything anymore. Perhaps that is too cynical a view.

    I wrote a piece on “Wage Catch-Up” and asked an economic professor friend of mine to show it to his M.Phil students and ask for their comments. He replied back that all they were interested in in copying each others notes and getting by.Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2010 - 3:07PM

    The article is breath of fresh air for it tries to clear the fact that young people (like me) are not blindly buying everyother trendy book.We look for depth,quality and relevance as well.
    If you go to used-book stalls and would see a lot of young people buying jane austen,tolstoy,marquez and others more than harry potter and twilight.
    The main reason why masses have left reading is that our system of education doesn’t encourage reading and second the cost of a new book is highRecommend

  • Sarah
    Jun 18, 2010 - 8:01PM

    Provide cheap books and watch the public flocking to grab bags upon bags full of books.The amazing popularity of the ‘Readings’ bookshop in Lahore which sells books at unbelievably low prices is the biggest proof of this.People are seen carrying out heavy bags of books every time I have visited. Same goes for the annual book fair at Fortress stadium Lahore which sees massive crowds every year and whole shops get sold out.

    Can’t say about low budgeted gov schools but all private schools in ALL urban areas encourage kids to read books and children are required to present weekly book reports and complete the given reading lists.Class discussions and character enactments are also done to generate children’s interest. So please don’t make sweeping, generalised statements.Things have improved contrary to popular cliched opinion.Recommend

  • Jun 22, 2010 - 11:18PM

    @Sarah:I totally agree with your opinion regarding books’s price and purchase behaviour of people in general,I have had similar observation in KHI aswell
    But regarding the second half of your post, we must remember that about 50% of population is illiterate in our country , even when literacy is defined by ‘being able to write/read their own name’.
    as far as private Schools I also testify to this fact are doing a great job, but exactly how many people study in such quality schools?
    The numbers suggest that Govt. schools and madersahs are stil primary means of getting education for masses, even here today in bigger cities like khi and lhr.Besides the mushroom like growth of itsy bitsy private schools which is often mistakenly quoted as development are sometimes worse than government ones
    Our Education system i.e. my province Sindh’s examination etc. doesnt encourage reading at all, one has to memorize the stuff like a parrot and just write it down in an answer sheet like a printing pressRecommend

  • Atiya
    Jun 26, 2010 - 12:56PM

    I am really glad the article mentions that young adults find contemporary literature immature. It is true that very few still go for chick-lit or airport-fiction, most want a meaningful reading experience in simple language.Recommend

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