In a country like Pakistan, the literacy rate hovers around 60% with a significant gender gap that favours men over women. According to UNESCO, the literacy rate among Pakistani women is only 45%, compared to 72% among men. These figures highlight the urgent need for initiatives to promote literacy and education in the country. For this, one of the key elements is a reading culture, which has never been a top priority in Pakistan. However, in recent years, the emergence of World Book Day as an annual celebration has helped to develop the reading culture in Pakistan. This day has become a beacon of hope for book lovers, as it promotes the importance of reading and literature in society.
World Book Day is an annual event celebrated on April 23rd worldwide, aimed at promoting reading and the enjoyment of books. This day is celebrated in over 100 countries, and Pakistan is no exception. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the power of books and how they can influence the world.
In Pakistan, where reading culture is not well-developed, World Book Day serves as an important reminder of the value of books and the need to cultivate a culture of reading. Individuals, schools, libraries, and bookstores celebrate the day, each with their own unique ways of promoting books and reading.
Developing a reading culture
The development of reading culture in Pakistan is crucial, as it is directly linked to the country’s education system, economic growth, and social development. However, there are several challenges to cultivating a reading culture, including poverty, lack of education, and the perception that reading is a luxury rather than a necessity.
World Book Day plays a significant role in promoting reading culture in Pakistan by highlighting the importance of books and providing an opportunity for people to discover new authors and perspectives. The day encourages individuals to read, learn, and explore new ideas.
One of the most important aspects of World Book Day is that it provides a platform for publishers and booksellers to promote books and reading. Many publishers and booksellers in Pakistan offer discounts and promotions on their books to encourage people to read more. This helps to make books more accessible to a wider audience, particularly those who may not be able to afford them otherwise.
An emerging author Sara K Ghaus who wrote her first book ‘The Nobel Beast’ believes that the book industry has changed a bit but its rapidity is still not up to the mark. “We must target the youth in every colossal city or teensy town. Monthly contests should be held regarding book reading and promoting young writers. The quota of book festivals must be three times more and should summon students from universities, colleges, and schools just the way music concerts are held. Youth must be savvy that reading dispenses equal rapture,” she said adding that reading is as salient as eating and breathing. It gives experience and knowledge. Young people are the easiest to divert towards the track of books if done in the way like western countries.
World Book Day in Pakistan
The Pakistani book community has fully embraced World Book Day and celebrates it in a variety of ways. One of the most common ways that people celebrate is by buying and reading books. Many bookstores and publishers in Pakistan offer discounts on books, making them more accessible to the public.
The day is also celebrated by organizing literary festivals and book fairs, which provide an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate their love of books. These events often feature book readings, panel discussions, and author talks, providing an opportunity for people to interact with their favourite authors and discover new writers.
According to Sara, World Book Day means a lot to an author. “It’s not a day when we commemorate books. It’s actually a day when we cherish the authors who did hard work in late nights of writing, creating stories in fever, not giving up even after a thousand rejections, the might to stay perseverant, wrote papers soaked in their tears, sometimes wrote to earn to feed kids, described words that expressed their desires, the life they actually wished for, the pain they faced alone and showed via their book characters, the unspoken words their crumbled hearts once spoke.”
“It’s a day to celebrate those author’s courage to stand back when they were hurt, their kindness towards the backstabbers, their pain of loss, the misery of being ridiculed, the moment when they stood firm to be with the loved ones,” she said adding that it is also for the pioneers of pens and pencils who lived with three words of ‘Never give up.’
For Arif who is working on a book of historic poetry, which covers the period from 1864 up to the 1940s, says that for her, World Book Day sheds light on the importance of having books in our lives and the knowledge that we consume from them. “Like many people who celebrate it via reading a new book. I do that too. Currently, I am reading ‘the books of Jacob’ by Olga Tokarczuk. Whatever, the celebration maybe the world book day that provides opportunity to appreciate the power of books in our lives.”
In addition to physical events, World Book Day is also celebrated online. Many book clubs and online reading communities organise virtual events, such as author talks and book discussions, providing an opportunity for people to connect with others who share their love of books.
The role of social media
Social media platforms, such as TikTok, have become powerful tools for promoting the reading culture in Pakistan. #BookTok, which is used by readers, publishers, and writers, has become a popular trend on TikTok, with users sharing their favourite books and discussing literature.
As TikTok is a continuously growing platform in Pakistan with the number of users increasing every year, in addition to establishing itself as an entertainment platform, it has also emerged as a place for book lovers to promote the reading culture and encouraging people to explore new books and ideas. The rise of platforms like TikTok has opened up new avenues for promoting reading and literature, and #BookTok has emerged as a powerful tool in this regard.
Many BookTokers have gained significant followings and influence, leading to a rise in book sales and publishers taking notice of the trend. From book reviews and writing tips to plot re-enactments and recommendations, #BookTok is a hub of creative and engaging content that inspires a love of literature in people of all ages and backgrounds.
The popularity of #BookTok has been growing steadily since early 2020, and with the launch of the campaign in Pakistan in 2022, it is expected to reach even more people in the country. By using the hashtag and engaging with other users, reading enthusiasts in Pakistan can join a global community of book lovers who celebrate literature in all its forms.
One of the ways that #BookTok helps promote reading culture is by showcasing the diversity and richness of literature from different parts of the world. The Pakistani creators are sharing poetry, landmark novels, and classic tales from prominent writers and poets in Urdu and other regional languages with TikTok communities across the world. This not only helps promote Pakistani literature but also creates a bridge between different cultures and communities, fostering a deeper appreciation for the value of literature in our lives.
By using popular formats such as #bookaesthetics and #bookhauls, creators can make reading and literature more appealing and accessible to a generation that is increasingly turning to social media for entertainment and information. Whereas, #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and #TikTokMadeMeReadIt also recommends top reads from the top authors and book critics.
Maryam who is quite active on TikTok says that she was able to get recognition and build a fan-base through #BookTok. She has 2.7 million views on #maryamarif and thousands of likes on her account @itsmaryamarif. “I create and review as well as recommend books, and discuss my reading experiences to help the young Pakistani generation to levitate towards reading books. Social media platforms like #BookTok on TikTok also bridge the gap between geographical areas of Pakistan which results in promoting culture and diversity in Pakistani literature and literature as a whole.”
On World Book Day, #BookTok creators on TikTok take the opportunity to celebrate their love of literature and promote reading culture. They create videos that showcase their favourite books, share recommendations for others to read, and offer tips on how to make reading more enjoyable and engaging.
Some creators take a more interactive approach, using challenges and games to engage their followers and encourage them to read more. For example, one popular challenge is the “bookshelf scavenger hunt,” where creators challenge their followers to find a book on their shelves that fits a certain criteria, such as “a book with a blue cover” or “a book by a female author.”
Other creators use the occasion to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and reading, especially in countries like Pakistan, where the literacy rate is low, and women face significant barriers to education. They create videos that highlight the challenges faced by women and girls in accessing education and promote initiatives that aim to promote literacy and reading culture in the country.
#BookTok has become a powerful tool for promoting reading culture and literature in Pakistan and around the world. By using popular formats and engaging with young people, creators are making reading more accessible and appealing to a generation that is increasingly turning to social media for entertainment and information.
Promoting reading among children
One of the key challenges in promoting a reading culture in Pakistan is getting children interested in reading. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020, only 51% of children in rural Pakistan have access to storybooks, and just 32% of children in rural areas have a parent who reads to them. This lack of exposure to books at a young age can have long-term consequences, including lower literacy rates and a reduced ability to learn.
To address this issue, World Book Day is celebrated in schools across Pakistan, with special events and activities designed to encourage children to read. These events include book fairs, reading competitions, and author visits, which can help to spark children’s interest in reading and to introduce them to a variety of books and authors.
In addition, organizations like the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) have been working to promote reading among children in Pakistan for over a decade. The CLF holds annual events in different cities across the country, featuring a range of activities and performances designed to inspire children’s love of reading. These events are free and open to all children, regardless of their socio-economic background.
Another way to promote reading among children in Pakistan is through the provision of libraries in schools and community centres. Organizations like the Citizens Foundation, which operates over 1,600 schools across Pakistan, have set up libraries in many of their schools, providing children with access to books that they might not otherwise have access to.
Arif says that reading is especially important for educational and economic opportunities. “It can improve language skills, make vocabulary better, and increase critical thinking in young children which is needed in Pakistan so that they can better analyse their situations. It can also help young children better understand difficult worldviews and cultures.”
Similarly, The Gluco Kahani platform was created in collaboration with Bilal Maqsood with the inspiration to create rhymes for children in the Urdu language. The aim was to create purposeful content under the umbrella of Peek Freans Gluco for the benefit of our future generation. Since its premiere in March 2022, the initiative so far has received a phenomenal response. Gluco Kahani aims to be the vehicle that attracts children to view content in our native language, using easy-to-understand rhymes that helps little ones build vocabulary.
To keep strengthening the bond with its consumers, the same stories/rhymes have been made available in book form to allow children to see the fun side of our beautiful language with lovable Gluco characters. The stories are designed to help parents engage and laugh with their children as they learn counting in Urdu with Haathi, run along the jungle with Khargosh and learn the power of helping others with Chirya. There is a QR code on each page to link with the online video and content.
Bilal Maqsood while sharing his motive and inspiration behind the project, he said, “This was a dream project for me. I partnered with Peek Freans Gluco of EBM to compose, write, and sing nine original Urdu nursery rhymes for children to play my part in giving our children something to hold on to while growing up – something that’ll keep them connected to their language and cultural values without losing the element of learning with fun.”
Promoting reading among children in Pakistan requires a multi-faceted approach that includes increasing access to books, providing engaging reading materials, and creating a culture of reading that values the joys and benefits of literature. By investing in these efforts, Pakistan can help to ensure that the next generation of Pakistanis is equipped with the literacy and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
Arif adds that investing in reading programs for children is critical and reading camps can encourage them to read more. Thus, this will create opportunities for people to access books of their choice.
In recent years, literary festivals have become an increasingly important part of the book community in Pakistan. These events offer opportunities for readers to come together to discuss books, meet authors, and share their love of literature.
Events like the Karachi Literature Festival, Islamabad Literature Festival, and Lahore Literary Festival draw large crowds of readers and writers. These festivals feature panel discussions, book launches, and author signings, providing readers with an opportunity to interact with their favourite authors and discover new books and writers.
In addition to promoting reading and literary culture, literary festivals also offer a platform for writers in Pakistan to showcase their work and connect with readers. This is especially important given the challenges that many Pakistani writers face in terms of publishing and distribution.
Lahore International Book Fair is one of the largest and annual international book fair held in Lahore, Pakistan. The five-day was held from March 5 to 10, 2023 that featured thousands of people from different walks of life. The importance and impact of the events can be seen with international brands like TikTok partnered to create a hype of the event on the platform under their in-app trend #BookTok. It helped the event generate more than 30,000 videos with more than 100 million views. This helped the event gain international visibility.
Sustaining the Momentum and Encouraging Lifelong Reading Habits
While World Book Day and other book-related events in Pakistan provide an excellent platform for promoting reading and literacy, sustaining the momentum and encouraging lifelong reading habits requires a more long-term approach. Some of the strategies that can help in developing interest in book can include;
Encouraging reading at home: Parents and caregivers can play a crucial role in promoting reading by reading to their children and providing them with access to books.
Incorporating reading into the school curriculum: Encouraging schools to make reading a regular part of the curriculum can help to foster a love of reading and encourage lifelong reading habits.
Investing in libraries: Libraries are essential in providing access to books for readers of all ages, especially in areas where books may not be easily available. Investing in public and school libraries can help to increase access to books and promote reading culture.
Building community partnerships: Partnerships between community organizations, schools, and libraries can help to promote reading and literacy initiatives in a coordinated manner.
Leveraging technology: Digital resources, such as e-books and audiobooks, can provide readers with access to a wide range of books and can be a useful tool in promoting reading among younger readers who may be more technologically inclined.
Support local publishers: Arif says that the Government should provide subsidies for publishing books that can meet the needs and interests of Pakistani readers as it is definitely. Also, promote and publish Urdu books as there is a market for these books as well.
Local bookstores: The local bookstores should offer discounts to the bulk buying of books. Book stores like Liberty Books in Pakistan is already attracting youth by place a booth of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt at the stores that features top recommendations on #BookTok in Pakistan.
Sara believes that book literacy can be promoted by extremity of kindness and immensely sincere advice from the old age or more experienced authors to the young ones. “They must lift the young authors up and in return, the young ones must pay tribute and honour the older ones. The nations who progressed in the past always helped each other rise,” she said.
Giving advice to young writers, she said the way of pursuing a dream is either you quit it at the beginning or go till the end. “There is no leaving the midway. If you wrote it on paper then push it a little harder so that it shows on the bookstore shelves or on television,” said that writer who is in the progress of writing her next young adult fantasy fiction called ‘Slayer of Evil,’ and children’s fiction called ‘The X File of my Bad Mom.’
By implementing these strategies, Pakistan can work towards building a sustainable reading culture that encourages lifelong reading habits and promotes literacy for all. The benefits of promoting reading go beyond just personal enjoyment and academic success; it can also contribute to overall social and economic development in the country.