You too can foster a stronger reading culture in Brunei

It’s easy for B:READ to write about “fostering a stronger reading culture” in Brunei, right? The committee has managed to establish a presence and keep ourselves together for two years. We organise events, store hundreds of books, and keep talking to you guys on our Bookswap group on Facebook. Isn’t this what we do? We’re adding on to the noble work of the overworked teachers and underpaid librarians of the country.

That said, we have our limitations. Our schedules are not free; our resources are not bottomless. Our to-do list and mind maps of ideas will never be completely achieved. In truth, we could use your help in doing something quite simple to encourage a stronger reading culture – by ensuring there is a reading culture at all.

We know that you’re reading. You log into GoodReads regularly and can’t resist popping by the bookstore when you’re at a shopping mall. But do you have someone to talk to about reading? It’s completely okay to enjoy reading alone or without a community surrounding your hobby, but if you’ve never tried otherwise, we invite you to consider opening up the people around you to reading.

You don’t need to become a full-time reading evangelist. Where reading may otherwise be viewed as an outdated, anti-social or “smartypants” activity, let’s make reading more “normal” in Brunei:

1. Don’t be shy or embarrassed about enjoying reading

You don’t have to hide your inner bookworm!

  • If a friend asks you what you did on the weekend, and you spent a whole Sunday reading, don’t apologise about being “boring” – tell them what was great about the book!
  • Don’t worry about going into a crowded cafe alone and planning to spend your time quietly reading. Heck, cafes aren’t the only eateries where you can read. Don’t worry about bringing a book into a fast food restaurant or a food court. If you’re eating alone, you have the choice on how to pass the time; if you can do it by staring out the window, or browsing Instagram on your mobile phone, why not read a good book?
  • When a good friend is going abroad and has asked if you want anything, “a bestselling thriller from a book shop” is a valid request.

2. Give books as gifts

A little creativity in picking books can lead to pretty good gifts!

  • Every year, a Bruneian participates in a lucky draw. This is a completely made-up statistic, but there’s always a lucky draw somewhere, whether it’s at your office’s Hari Raya party or annual gala, or your aunt’s birthday bash. If you’re contributing lucky draw prizes, why not get a book? If lucky draws are about opportunities, whether for convenience (kitchen appliances, Easi cards) or for relaxation (spa treatments, flights), throw in the opportunity for learning and exploration. Some ideas: a children’s cookbook; a local history book; a photography book; or even a bookstore voucher.
  • When your child’s classmate has a birthday party, and you have to get the obligatory present, consider a book gift instead of toys or stationery. It can be a set of folk tales or a general knowledge book. It can be a children’s book with only 15 pages, but with gorgeous illustrations or fun read-aloud rhymes.
  • For your own children, even if they are not big readers, offer them a book as a treat once in a while. Don’t be tempted to only get them “useful” or “educational” books. Ask what they want to read about, and remember that books are also to be enjoyed! (But do exercise caution with “activity” books, novelty books, and magazines.)
  • Help people feel better! Here’s a discussion thread we’ve had about hospital gifts, and another about books as prescriptions. Disclaimer: We are not doctors.

3. Have a dialogue about books

The next time you’re at a wedding or family function, or perhaps at a forum and feeling bored during the networking break, think “BOOKS”:

  • Ask people what they’re reading. You may be surprised that others around you do read!
  • With children, you can help to “normalise” the activity of reading by making it part of ordinary conversation. Ask children what they’re reading. Ask them what they would like to read next.

Possible conversation starters:

  • Favourite books and authors
  • Favourite genres or types of characters
  • TV series or films based on books
  • Your insights from your latest read; ask your conversation partner if they agree or disagree

Advisory: Practice with conversation skills recommended. Do not use as an excuse to creepily chat up someone.

4. Sneakily check out the book community

If you’re a bit shy, remember that you don’t need to actually, er, speak with another human being, to contribute to local or online reading communities. At least, not at first!

  • Visit a local library. Find joy in reading a book with yellowed pages and a faded cover. Make a return visit. Make another. See if you start to recognise the regulars.
  • Stalk us! Just kidding. Lurk at our events if you want, but also, add books to our Free Library, sign up to a (B)Read-A-Long, retweet us, or follow the discussions on Facebook.
  • You don’t need to get involved with us at all, and instead check out others in Brunei who have reading blogs or book groups.
  • Try international activities or programs that get you involved with other people or causes, such as BookCrossing or LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

5. Take the initiative

  • Start a discussion online. Start it on Twitter, and mention us @breadbn. Start one on our group on Facebook. Or don’t tell us. Write a Tumblr rant. Draw a scene from your current book. Write a book review. Post it online. Don’t write an angry reply to someone that disagreed with you.
  • Start a mini book club. Grab two of your friends, cousins or colleagues, pick a book, then pick a time to meet. Or create an online community about your favourite author or series.
  • Start a bookswap. “Isn’t that your job?”, we hear you say. Well, the first swap we were involved in was initiated by a non-committee member. Our first swap in 2013 after almost 6 months was initiated by a small group of UBD students. We are happy to support swaps that aren’t done by us!
  • Start a book donation drive or your own little free library. And please tell us when you do, so we can give you some books for it. 😀

6. You and something new

It starts with you.

How do you feel about your reading goals? Have you been meaning to finish that novel or work through that self-improvement book? Maybe your current reading levels are making you hesitate about telling others to read.

Instead, start with yourself and pick up the habit again. 🙂 Have a look at Teah’s list of ideas of new things you can try, to develop your reading habit.

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If you’ve tried something, go back to #1… tell us how it went!

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