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    Daniel Martinez, an American lecturer, urges Vietnamese youths to devote more of their time to reading, a highly beneficial, enjoyable pastime.

    I have lived and worked in Vietnam for almost three years. This period of time is enough for me to have certain thoughts about Vietnamese culture and people.

    This year, during my Tet celebration here, I was most impressed with the book street held next to the Nguyen Hue flower show. Though this event has been held for three years in Ho Chi Minh City, it was my first time visiting it.

    This book street is indicative of the city authorities’ dedication, which is manifest in its relatively large scale and the considerable number of visitors it attracted. I was almost overwhelmed by the huge number of people there on the first night of the Lunar New Year. The only pity is that there were few books for foreigners, so some of my foreign friends and I went home empty-handed.

    I was quite surprised to learn that roughly 58,000 copies were sold at the book street in just seven days. Despite the country’s economic malaise and its negative impact on local expenditure, the fact that people spend money on books is really appreciable. However, given HCMC’s population of 10 million, perhaps 58,000 aren’t really that remarkable.

    By the way, I wish to share something that has concerned me: What do Vietnamese youths read?

    Many of my Vietnamese students admitted that their greatest obsession when studying at international universities or studying abroad is having to read huge loads of books and materials in preparation for exams. “Even for social subjects, we would merely read and memorize what our teachers provided in class,” they shared about their learning habits in high school.

    Perhaps due to this prevalent rote-learning style, when assigned books to read to complement what they acquire in class, they divide the reading task among their group members instead of reading all the books themselves. On the contrary, foreign students typically spend sleepless nights doing intensive reading to prepare for their exams. Through this learning style, Vietnamese students still manage to pass their exams and move on to the next year, but the knowledge they acquire isn’t comprehensive and they will encounter more difficulty in applying for jobs than their foreign counterparts.

    I’m a bit disappointed to learn that a number of my Vietnamese students prefer perusing innocuous information websites for recreation, gobbling up romantic novels or going to the cinema to reading academic, theme books. If only they realized that such masterpieces as Cloud Atlas and Les Miserables (The Miserable) are considerably more compelling and fruitful in the form of novels or short stories than their abridged versions of movies. I could only sigh when they make the excuse that it saves time in today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world. Others read passively, i.e., they buy the books which are faddish best-sellers rather than choosing ones which suit their tastes and levels.

    The most worrying thing is that many of my Vietnamese colleagues rarely read as well. Perhaps with modest incomes, they have to do lots of extra teaching, but what would happen if teachers keep passing on outdated knowledge to their students?

    I know a case in which a lecturer was outraged and embarrassed when he failed to argue persuasively with a student. That student has suffered from a bad reputation ever since and is disliked by many other lecturers. This incident has also considerably undermined that lecturer’s confidence in front of the students. Since that incident, many lecturers have stopped encouraging class discussion and question from students. This is all because lecturers read even less than their students.

    In the US, students are strongly encouraged to join debate teams which compete with those from other schools in contests. These teams receive considerable support from their schools and are looked up to by their peers. This is also a way to encourage youths to do more reading, as only with extensive reading can they be armed with rich, insightful life experiences and keen, incisive debating and reasoning skills.

    What a shame I don’t know the precise number of books read every year in the US, but I strongly believe that in my country and other developed countries such as the UK, Japan or South Korea, the number of book readers is high, as reading culture has long been considered a key indicator of a country’s culture and development.