The Book and Reading Culture Festival 2012 took place last weekend at Van Mieu — Temple of Literature, Viet Nam's first university.
This event was held simultaneously in various cities and universities nationwide with the aim of encouraging young people to read.
Culture Vulture chatted with poet/writer Nguyen Thanh Mung, member of the Viet Nam Writers Association, about the changing of reading habits of Vietnamese people.
Viet Nam has an entrenched tradition of learning. Do you think this in modern times that this tradition can survive?
Absolutely. I believe that Vietnamese people have kept their fondness for reading. This is the reason that the country has developed so many great literary figures.
But, as anyone can see, there is a change in the way media is transmitted. The rapid of mass media, along with the changes in the systems of delivery, including television and especially the internet, has changed the way people consume information. The act of reading has obviously lost ground to these other forms of media.
At the same time, as you said, the culture of reading books is ingrained into our culture. This means that people who are avid readers command respect. This is really the bright spot for literature in Viet Nam, and what will keep our literary culture alive.
But it's clear that young people read less and less. How to make them more interested in books, according to you?
Well, first, I think that we should foster a love for reading from a young age. On the other hand, we have to consider the publishing and printing industries.
Since knowledge and reading are absolutely key to our development as a society, we should focus on organising activities nationwide that will whet the appetite for literature. For example, if the Book and Reading Culture Festival could be expanded to include more local areas – communes and districts – the effect could be huge.
We should also make sure to give appropriate recognition to new extraordinary works of literature. Just by honouring them, it would spark an interest among the public.
What do you think about the current situation of book shops in Viet Nam?
In large cities book shops are quite active, having had a long tradition. The books sold there are diverse in terms of content. There is also a significant diversity in both content and readers. Still, new, interesting literature is a rare thing.
What would your advice be to a new writer or poet who wishes to create something that will attract readers?
Well, first of all the writer must have talent. But the factors that determine whether a book is successful or not can vary. It could be the name of the author, promotion or word of mouth from readers. I think that we are in a good position in this country because of the diversity of our readers. They range from students to teachers to book-lovers.
What can a book bring to its readers?
A person's life can be enriched a great deal from reading. Someone can gain from the life experience of another, or the knowledge they've gained.
Think of the traditional Vietnamese image of the boy tending the buffalo, while reading a book. If you could imagine this small addition to the image of a businessman, a student, an athlete or a singer, the image would become much richer.
Of course, we could take the opposite direction, which would be to our detriment.
You know an old saying, "Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are?"
We can also say, "Tell me your favourite books and I will tell you who you are." — VNS