Malaysians Don’t Read? Umm.. Yes, We Do

I’m taking a time away from writing for NaNoWriMo (which includes me not to do any reviews this month because the NaNo folks would bang me in the head if when I do) to tell you some of the most common trope of all time on Malaysian book reading habit.

  • Malaysian read 3 books per year
  • Malaysian don’t read
  • Malaysian read 6-12 books per year and its still saddening
  • Malaysian don’t read at all.
  • Malaysian hate books
  • Malaysian read only academic stuff and for leisure
  • Malaysian hate books

In fact, its so common to see folks who rather comfortable in this zone of “Malaysian don’t read” stuff than it was rather acceptable to see reading as a habit. Of course people don’t see it weird but sometimes I myself do get this… conversation thing…

In a moving LRT towards Kampung Baru Station (I was reading Allende’s Zorro I think)

Adult guy: Hmm… *look at book i’m reading* English book?

Me: *space out* huh? oh yeah.

40-something-ish guy: So rare seeing malay girls reading english books these days.

Me: (actually, I know a lot of english-reading malay girls) Hmmm…..

The guy kept talking about how good it was for people to read and something and I was doing a straight poker face while trying to read. Yes, people love to talk about non-reading problem’s like politic talks but I was more interested if you actually have read the book I’m reading and would love to talk about me more. I mean, it would be way cooler.

But no. It never happens.

Besides, a bunch of this perceptions is largely based on a published newspaper statistics conducted by National Library (that was behind my old cafeteria in my first year college) among its library goers.

and a bunch of stuff that the government do to promote reading habits…

and Rm1000 tax exemption for books per person….

and… still people still say we’re not reading a lot…..

I can tell you… its embarrassing as a nation that want to be first class country.

But at times, I was quite skeptical about the whole idea of “Malaysian reading less pages per year” thing.

1. E-reader’s Availability

While I was researching for an ereaders, I found there’s loads of Malaysian having ereaders. Not just the local bookstore-certified iRiver or made in korea ones, but Sony, Nook, Kindle and Kobo. There’s even a lengthy topic of how tablets can be used to read books.

frankly, e-readers are specific gadget for reading and if Malaysians don’t read, certainly I can’t find people with ereaders right?

….. wrong.

There’s a bunch of them in online market with unbelievable price. Hell.. my own Kindle 4 is RM315.. new Kindle 5? RM300. Its even cheaper than an average game console. Hell, these days, one original game cd is rm100 and ABOVE.

And since I was ACTIVELY promoting ereader EVERYWHERE I go…. (some people have their Apple, I have Kindle) I actually found a bunch of people with an ereader. And we, connect. Like seriously. You have an ereader, coool! #FF!!!

Besides, I could pass the reader to my younger sis or nieces. Besides if someone steal it… Kindle is still rare folk.

2. Big Bad Wolf Sale

I think I blogged about it in my final year’s blog. I found about BBW on 2008 or early 2009 when my sister bought a ‘Journey to the West’ book at RM10 and there’s a BBW bookmark with her. After drilling about it, turns out its a cheap warehouse sale. So from 2009 till now, I’m a huge fan of BBW sale. That and thanks for them for introducing me to various Urban Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy authors. (They have better selection in earlier years though)

Since I was an annual goer, I do see a very steep rise in BBW visitors. I’m not even joking. The reason why I wanted the preview pass was to avoid THIS..

I was actually in the first picture but further in front. I had to go out around 7am and does several LRT station exchanges to be at South City Plaza. Once in there, the crowd.. fuh… you see people crazy over book at bookstores? Imagine the same person times 100. Kids kept bumping on sharp corners of the books in your bags. Your arms hurting from handling a bunch of books and books falling down because people kept pushing you.

Trust me, I had them all.

And I got myself the preview pass for last year and last year, it was EASY to get them than this year. People are more competetive this year… but I got two passes for me and my younger sister. But my younger sister is going to get busy so she won’t come but my eldest sisters and my brother in law will be coming along so… even if you want to side up next to me… sorry. Passes are my preciousssssss

And if Malaysian don’t read anymore. Then why places like this is human traffic jammed la.. huh huh?

And back in 2009. The lines on the second pic is WAAAAAY longer. Like snake. Even last year with abundance of the cashiers, people STILL complain about the lines. What the-?

BTW, I’m too overqualified for BBW, so they don’t want me on their team 😦

3. Bookstores.. especially on weekend

Whenever I go to bookstores (Paradigm Mall’s Popular, Amcorp Mall’s Bookxcess, KLCC’s Kinokuniya). I usually find these place packed heavily on weekend. Like seriously. Every weekend since late October,  I was at Paradigm Mall for the usual annual NaNoWriMo writing session and I was quite pleased by the amount of people inside the bookstore (albeit, limited books which I had touched about it earlier this year I think).

So, if these perceptions that Malaysian don’t read. At all. Then why I see a bunch of people browsing for books. And reading on the aisle. (Even I was a bit pissed off sometimes when someone is leaning against my beloved YA section.. shoo shoo)

4. Rising E-Book sales 

Even Karangkraf has open up their app store. My sisters bought romance book of them you know. Hehe.. the joys of e-reading

In case people wondering, yes, e-books are relatively cheap. I’m not talking about those popular new books since they’re definitely near the same price but for some self-published ones…

Unless you skip the picture, read the red word again.

Now you see the REAL appeal of having a specific e-reader.

Can I get them for free? Yes. But since I do have  bunch of books already in my own kindle, I rarely download free books unless I was very interested with the blurb and the story. But its way easier to read free books with one. And its addicting as netgalley.

So here’s the reason why I can be skeptical over some authors especially if a self-published free books is the better author than the published you in either language, just accept that. Like I’m accepting myself as a basket case in writing in proper grammar for an english-medium author.

For those who are still being anti-e-reading, dears, don’t limit your own reading choices. That’s what you’re doing if you advocate banning books too. (I advocate banning 50 Shades from public viewing though.. who need an infection of ‘inner goddess’ while being force-fucked? That book is essentially are about that actually and another reason why some books need to remain in their ebook form. Its too private dont you think?)

I do read hardback or paperback these days. E-reader is not a replacement for me. Even earlier this days my dad says this : “lain kali susun, tau beli je” on the old books that that my dad throw it outside the house while he’s renovating this room. I’m thinking of renting a table place in Amcorp Mall to sell off some of my stuff. Hardback for RM15, Paperback for Rm10, Comics for RM5?  My sisters were antsy about it but I reminded them, I do have a great percentage of stuff that is mine, you know.

An e-reader is a sidekick that you have everywhere you go. Besides, who in the right mind bring their house library everywhere…. oh.. me.

5. Reality

I tweet a lot about Goodreads Malaysia group particularly about this Reading Challenge 2012 which I started to be the one collecting the tally this year. Its an annual thing that I joined since middle last year and frankly you can see… majority of Malaysians reads in abundance. We’re actually a perfect sample for reading habit studies as we don’t really have any much in common except for our reading habits. Some of us are teachers, students, parents and etc and a lot of us read in various kind of genre and literature.

And most of us are Malay female. How is that for some ego-busting…

If top ten of us read MORE than 100 books then how is it possible for us Malaysians to still persist on being labeled as thus “hardly readers”. I doubt people who complain these things hardly read anything themselves.

And if you’re wondering how its possible to read this much of books in a year?

Well.. there’s 365.242 days in a year and its not really that hard if you read several books once or twice a weekend. Besides, there’s 52 weeks in a year, so it made sense why Reading Challenge’s limit is 50 books btw.

And it was just 2012. You should see the 2011 ones… or 2010.

And it does irritates me seeing these kind of topic. I hated discussing stuff like this as if you’re agreeing everyone is a bad reader. Irony that is, its started by someone who barely reads as well.

Maybe he’s talking about it himself. Hmm..

But its true, it gets to my skin when people talking about as if a MASS of us never reads. We do. In university, at school, at work. Everyone read. But chill out already.


Honestly, I do think its insulting to generalizing reading communities to be unlike those from UK or US.  We’re still a considerably a huge country with diverse communities and each of us are bilingual and multilingual lots and are bound to read in many medium.

And like seriously, Malaysian folks who get to live abroad and are willing to live abroad away from their family and stuff, you are in no position trying to compare reading habits between any countries. Its internet by the way, I can talk movies with people from Sweden and thats was more cooler than hearing you say you stay in some place and some place as an expat.

Clue to everyone, there are bound to be people who hated to read because their eyes hurt or stuff, dyslexic who have difficulties in reading, near-sighted people who wished the text would be bigger (again ereader) and etc. One of my English cousin is dyslexic and even he’s amazed that I read this much.

Frankly, let us don’t judge people who don’t read in public…. and then say “I live in *insert blank* and we who live here in Malaysia’s Bolehland don’t face the same thing there” which is balderdash. Do you even remember Twilight which are riddled by grammatical mistakes but is a famous series around the world particularly have gigantic following originally based in US?  Yeah.

And not surprisingly, I do think some people think reading is a bourgeois habit for tea drinkers or blue-blooded super-rich old town Bangsar or PJ folks.


You know I really want to be a revolutionist over the art of convincing people from this country that reading is not dead in this country.  But no, its like politics, people believe in everything they hear or being told instead of perceiving the alternatives… like other people opinion.  And this is mine.

So stop saying Malaysians don’t read. I’ve been hearing about it by teachers at school and university and its get tiring. Its a trope that get into my skin and made me turning into hulk or something.


2 thoughts on “Malaysians Don’t Read? Umm.. Yes, We Do

  1. Would you accept that the cross-section of Malaysians who you see buying e-readers and going to book sales are mainly those who live in urban centers of Malaysia? Specifically, those in the middle-class/upper-middle class and above.

    I put it to you that the examples you gave are excellent indicators of a segment of Malaysian society, but unfortunately that segment is small when compared to the population of Malaysia as a whole.

    This may go some way to explaining why nation-wide studies of reading habits do not match up with your own personal experience.

    1. Because of my parents, for years I used to live around the peninsula states including the several years in the east coasts which is perfectly away from local average books store and urban centers.. for years. My opinion is not just based on the fact i’m currently living in urban klang valley but by the observing the trend of literacy in this nation.

      Malaysians, especially those who are not from middle class, will do anything to elevate their status and the easy way was by being educated and so older generation are more likely to encourage the younger generation in education more that they used to be. Even at school and universities, its not that uncommon to see students with variety of family backgrounds converge with the same interest. Here’s the thing, literacy rate and reading interest goes hand in hand. With more people being educate and literate, the higher chances it will be for the society to achieve developed status.

      Besides, compared to the the older generation, the younger generation are more likely take advantage with the internet accessibility. These days with internet banking and postal service, one could get the latest novel right out of the market. Besides, Malaysian books are generally more affordable than sustaining a smoking habit these days. The struggle is to keep the interest toward reading habit as a whole, not just at school but the people themselves.

      By accepting that our society is at abysmal with the reading habit would negatively affect our own perception as a society with a young growing literate population. In this age, being a reader or literate itself is no longer accessible only to the elite class of society.

      What I’m trying to come up with the post was pointing out the consistent lambasting of some privilege few who sees the country at virtually collapse and still maintaining the perception of the society prejudice toward literacy in Malaysia that it was still at the standoff. Maintaining such perception is still rather premature and unjust.

      Besides, the reading ‘study’ itself is not nationwide at all, by itself it is rather simplistic and bias and the research quality of it is very questionable and it could cease to be significant academically. Usually, if a person would want to a vast population study, they should have done a more rather extensive study instead of simple ratio.

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