By Mariam Mokhtar

The Perak State Library set a new Guinness World Record for the largest pyramid of paperbacks and hardback books. It was three metres high and was constructed from 70,247 books. The previous record holder was a Luxembourg bookstore chain, called Ernster, which constructed a pyramid of 63,377 books. Forty volunteers helped Perak win this record.

At a special ceremony to mark the occasion, on December 26, 2015, the director of the State library, Salbiah Mohamed, the Perak Raja Di-Hilir and his wife, the state Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee chairman, and the Ipoh mayor were present, when the Guinness World Records representative, Anna Lewis Orford, announced the library’s success.

Last November, during the preparation work for this award, Salbiah said, “If (we are) successful, we will get international recognition.”

The Perak library had been helped by Imagika Sdn Bhd, whose marketing manager C.K. Wong said, “Not only are we attempting to break a world record, we are also encouraging people to read.” After the ceremony, Wong said that the books would be donated to village libraries, orphanages and children who were unable to afford them.

Many critics would say that this is just a publicity gimmick, and that stacking-up a large pile of books, will not in itself stimulate reading. One mother said, “I would rather the effort had been spent on finding creative ways to make children read, rather than this one-off publicity stunt. It is pathetic to think people will read, just because someone makes a stack of books.”

Another mother said, “Why not decrease the price of books to make them more affordable? We are not a nation which is known to read. Find out why children and teenagers hate reading, then accept the challenge to overcome it.”

A teenager said, “Television programmes are boring anyway, and as I cannot afford to buy online games, I prefer to read. I accept I am a rarity, but my friends tell me that they do not know of any interesting books to read. Teachers could provide those who hate reading, with a reading list of simple and enjoyable titles, to start their interest in books.”

Another child said that being hospitalised for a few months, helped stimulate his interest in books. As he was forbidden to play electronic games in his ward, he was forced to read cartoon books that his mother gave him, and he has not looked back, since.

One 12-year-old said that his parents began reading to him when he was a two years old. Now, he is never without a book. He said, “I always carry a book with me. It does not have to be a heavy volume, but when we are stuck in a jam or the doctor’s appointment is delayed, I always dive into my book, and I am never bored. My friends play games on their phones, but I think that is an annoying habit.”

A young adult said, “I try and read a book before the film comes out, because in my experience, the books are better than the films. Sometimes, the plot is changed and does not follow the book. “My brother is the other way round. He says that he would rather wait for the film, because he is too lazy to read. He says it takes weeks to read the book, but a film is over within two hours.”

Perhaps, the Perak library could collaborate with schools, and find ways to get more children to read. Some children are petrified about reading, because they think that their teacher may pick on them to read to the whole class, and they fear mispronouncing the words.

Another child said that he was afraid of giving the wrong opinion, when asked about the content of his book. Another said that he gets a headache when he reads. One girl said that after school, she had too many chores, helping her single mother, that she is too tired and has no time to read.

Local councillors could lobby their MPs to reduce the cost of books. Adult literary appreciation classes could be started, to encourage the elderly to participate in reading and literary criticism.

The deputy Prime Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, urged Malaysians to write a book worthy of a Nobel laureate in literature.

Before that can happen, our teachers need to motivate children to appreciate books, not by stacking them into a large pile, but by physically reading the books. Parents could switch-off the television for a few hours before bedtime, and encourage reading.

As any writer will tell you, one can only write, after one has done a lot of reading; to explore styles, storylines, dialogue, plots, and the treatment of characters, language and scenes. So, before a Nobel laureate can be produced, we must instil a love of reading in our children.