Get them reading at an early age

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am


Reading may not be a favourite pastime in Hong Kong, but the record number of visitors to the annual book fair each year may be taken by some as evidence of a growing reading habit. Despite a ban on scantily clad 'pseudo-models' who might otherwise draw crowds of youngsters to their autograph-signing sessions, the attendance at the Trade Development's Council signature event still rose 3 per cent to 950,000. The electronic book corner, an expanded novelty from last year, also attracted 10,000 people to download reading material.

Certainly it takes more than a week-long bargain book sale to cultivate deeper literary roots. The record-breaking attendance each year may belie a developing reading culture in society. Although the majority find the book fair provides exposure to different categories of books, not all visitors are serious readers. Some are devoted fans eager to catch a glimpse of their favourite celebrities. Others just scramble for mementos or cosmetic samples.

A survey of 800-odd visitors found an overwhelming 97 per cent had read books over the past month. But only a quarter spent one to two hours a day reading. The majority, 52 per cent, spent around half an hour or less each day. The figures are hardly surprising, as many would rather spend time chatting non-stop on their mobile phones than plunging into a book that gives them food for thought.

With a record 526 exhibitors from 24 countries, the book fair is undoubtedly one of the most popular events in the region. But its success does not lie in the number of visitors. It should go beyond being a bazaar for clearing inventories. A reading culture has to be fostered at an early age. It is therefore encouraging to see children's books have become the fourth most popular category among the visitors, after fiction, literature and travel. Getting children to read should be made a priority. It helps nurture a culture of life-long learning which is essential in a knowledge-based society.