Saturday, September 03, 2016

How many Cubans read?

How many Cubans read?
JOSÉ PRATS SARIOL | Miami | 2 de Septiembre de 2016 - 15:11 CEST.

An article by Juan Cruz in the Spanish daily El País features
frightening figures about reading habits in Spain: 39.4% of Spanish
adults have not read a book in the last 12 months. It adds that 57.5%
have not set foot in a bookstore, and 74.7% have not been to a library.

If in the Spanish-speaking country where the most books are published,
and boasting the widest free access to books, and enjoying a European
Community standard of living, despite the local crisis, four out of ten
people have not cracked a book since 2014, what must the figure be for
Cubans, on and off the Island?

When we add to the rampant banalization sweeping the world the dire
everyday problems entailed by the Cuban economy (food low in protein,
the difficulty of accessing transport to get to a library, of paying for
lighting by which to read, and of being packed into overcrowded
housing), I imagine that not even the most deluded defender of the
regime (e.g. Abel Prieto) would dare to claim that there are more
readers than in Spain.

The logic is inexorable: more than half of Cubans - to be charitable -
have not opened a book. This begs a question that is pressing for any
country: how long has this phenomenon prevailed? And it gives rise to
another: what percentage of the population is in the habit of reading?

Scholars who are experts on the issue - even before Robert Escarpit -
agree that a habit means at least one hour of daily reading, on average.
This yardstick is used, without distinguishing between paper (which
still prevails, and much more so in Cuba) and electronic books, steadily
spreading thanks to their price, speed, interactive features, constant
updating and convenient storage; they are especially popular among young
people, although access to current literature via the Internet is still
somewhat restricted, especially when it comes to the Humanities or
Social Sciences.

This sad figure - half of Cuban adults do not read - does not seem
likely to change in the coming decades. While illusory Rousseauian
visions have portrayed a bucolic, traditional rural life that nurtures
reading an as an inevitable and unavoidable form of leisure in Cuba,
there is another question that the Ministry of Education has never dared
to objectively answer: how many teachers read? And its corollary:
however good one is in the classroom, can he inculcate a habit that he
himself does not even have? With what courage, enthusiasm or love? Or
are the students just dumb?

The next generation of adults is doomed in Cuba: in 2030 only one out of
three will read, not to mention (permit me a quick digression) other
"benefits" stemming from their deficient social education and their
teachers' improvisation, and the political habits of shutting up and
clapping while looking skyward.

In addition to the skewed supply of books available, shaped by
ideological and political censorship perpetrated by the Communist Party
(PCC), there are the repeated failures, year after year (only 30% of the
target in 2015) to carry out the Book Institute's publishing and
distribution plans; including its vaunted Fair, where they sell as many
"crafts" and silly trinkets as they do books.

With few releases available, and most of them unappealing, and with
prices that, increasingly, the average person cannot afford, or has to
pay in CUC ... who joins, especially among college students, the circle
of readers? Reading has never been more elitist in Cuba, where there are
municipal libraries - like that in Manzanillo - that for years have
been calling for new books, and for their chairs to be fixed, and the
leaks to be repaired, and for free Internet access.

That distant era of the 1959 Revolution - around 1959, and 1968 or 1970
- was, perhaps, that with the most readers in the history of Cuba. The
National Printing House, headed by Alejo Carpentier, Ediciones R, the
importation and sale of affordable Spanish books, the strong network of
libraries and bookstores, free education for young people and also for
adults under the pedagogical axioms of continuing education, with
reading at their center ... seem to support this hypothesis. Hence, the
contrast with the present is all the more pathetic. And the material
poverty is such a shame, and the repression such an outrage. Repression
in Cuba has censored not just dissident writers, like the late
Guillermo Cabrera Infante, but those in other languages: Milan Kundera,
Vasili Grossman ...

And what about the habit of reading among Cuban exiles? It seems that
none of us have come from another galaxy. Rather, we've been cut from
the same "revolutionary" cloth. Thus, especially the most recent
arrivals suffer from the same vices. Then there is the broader range of
leisure options and diversions, most as trivial as they are seductive.
In addition, children and young people whose mother tongue is Spanish
here in the US soon read and write only in English, such that the
statistics are different, though, for complex reasons, not too different.

So, how many Cubans read? Few! I would argue that the percentage isn't
even half that in Spain. If the Revolution went to pot along time ago,
reading as a shared pastime went with it. And let there be no praising
or seeking shelter in the past (a habit of mental dinosaurs, like Castro
Ruz) because the neither the avalanche of entertainment for imbeciles,
nor the absurdities imposed by pragmatic pedagogues in study programs
and school textbooks should stop us from facing a crisis that threatens
to eradicate the most beautiful and effective way there exists of
nurturing one's intelligence and sensitivity.

Because the truth - despite white the doomsayers would have you believe
- is that today more is read than any time in human history, which does
not preclude recognizing crises, setbacks, mistakes ... Efforts to
increase the amount and the percentage of reading should also address
another question: what are those who read reading?

I'll leave it there. Because sometimes, in my experience, it would be
preferable not to read.

Source: How many Cubans read? | Diario de Cuba -
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