22/12/2020
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My year-round reading report

By Chong Lip Teck, Sin Chew Daily

2020 has been a very busy year for me, with family and work. As if that's not enough, we still have the coronavirus to deal with this year, making one easily feel depressed while rummaging for solace to appease the irritated hearts.

With more time confined at home, reading has become the best medicine for my soul.

Going through my reading check list of the year, I find myself having read quite a good number of books of late, books covering a very wide variety of topics and genres. Sometimes I may even forget about food and sleep if I happen to chance upon a truly great read.

My biggest achievement this year has been finishing within a short month the three bestsellers by historian Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Reading Harari's trilogy against the backdrop of a ravaging coronavirus pandemic rings the messages of human history louder into the ears of the readers. The pandemic serves as a valuable historical lesson for the arrogant earthlings as they collectively scramble to face an unprecedented catastrophe for ignoring their past. Many precious human lives have been exterminated up till this point owing to our own selfishness and egotism.

While we cannot undo the past, it can nevertheless serve as a reminder for our future lest we sink ourselves into the same cyclic events again. Despite the tremendous accomplishments humans have made in the most sophisticated computer and communication technologies, AI, facial recognition and so on, our human consciousness and attitude remain very much bound by the inferior traits that we have persistently failed to improve through the ages.

The current coronavirus outbreak has derived from the clashes between the human and other animal species, as well as the mutual distrust and deceptions among individuals of the same species after the virus started to get us, as people bank on the viral outbreak to bag gains for themselves. Are we actually moving forward or backward as a civilization?

After finishing the trilogy, you should come to realize that you will at least see light at the end of the tunnel in the face of the virus as you confront the future and tackle the unknowns ahead.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Harari said in an interview with Taiwan's Global Views magazine that 2020 would be a crucial year to reshape the world. He reminded the world that the virus is about upend all known human orders as the world gets growingly fluid and supple.

As such, we have to closely watch the moves and talks of politicians, while governments must adopt the right strategies and draw up the right policies, or get wiped out at the emergence of new orders.

Up till this point we cannot help but admire the author's unparalleled farsightedness.

Instead of keeping all to myself, I long to share what I have learned with more people as we exchange our favorite reads. The joy of doing so is simply beyond words.

And since we have the luxury of time to do more reading thanks to the virus, I was keen to find out what my colleagues and friends have been reading this year. So I did a simple WhatsApp survey.

As the media guy, I'm spontaneously curious about the reading experiences of my present and past media colleagues.

In a nutshell, they read a wide range of genres from literature to history, fiction and non-fiction.

As for our columnists and contributors, many of whom are educators and learned people, they read history, business administration, internatiobal relations, classics, novels and science. Besides topics that enrich their professional knowledge, many also explore new areas of interest through reading.

No doubt the current political situation in the country is downright sickening, as many voters have started to give up hope on old generation polticians. Having said that, when will we actually see young politicians emerge from the shadows of their predecessors and inject a new breath of life into the Malaysian politics?

I have talked to several young politicians on both sides of the divide. Although they are currently not the first-tier players in their respective parties, they have had the opportunities to be assistants for much more seasoned political leaders. They, too, read very widely. In addition to politics, they also read about economics, international relations, geography, and a host more. I hope that through reading, these emerging future leaders of our nation will acquire more knowledge and experience in order to enhance their political quality and competency. This, I believe, is the one political change many voters would love to see.

From the little survey I ran, I discovered that many Malaysian readers are like me, reading an extremely wide range of topics and genres beside those directly associated with our jobs or professions. Most importantly, the reading must evoke pleasure and must be fulfilling and rewarding.

Then, what books did my "respondents" recommend.

I was most impressed by a lawyer friend's recommendation of 11 Amalan Memiliki Kekayaan by Ebit Irawan bin Ibrahim Lew, an Islamic cleric who shot to fame of late. The lawyer friend's curiosity was aroused by the video about the many good deeds of the cleric posted online. Right from the start the book tosses a question to the readers: is material wealth synonymous with riches? Basically the writer is guiding the readers to the right path from the religious perspectives, encouraging them to constantly conduct soul-searching, do the good deeds and pray for the blessings of their parents, among other things.

As a matter of fact, many of the points raised in the book are largely similar to the values upheld by all other religions in this world. If we look beyond the confines of religion, these should offer some heart-warming inspiration for our day-to-day lives.

In a multicultural society like ours, reading books by writers from different backgrounds could be a good start to disentangle the intercommunity mesh we have planted deep inside us for so long.

While most of the books in the reading list of liberal Malay scholar Prof Tajuddin Rasdi entail Islamic issues, writings such as A world without Islam by Graham Fuller and Islam without Extremism should offer non-Muslims a glimpse from an alternative angle into this religion which we appear to be so familiar with yet know very little of.

Meanwhile, Associate Professor Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi from UM has recommended another must-read with a macroscopic vision, Political Science A Global Perspective.

Many economic sectors are suffering from the pandemic, including local publishers. Some of them have given us a whole lot of talented local writers and have become hotbed for local creative writings. They therefore deserve our undivided support. This is all we can do to support the local publishers and help promote the reading culture.

The pandemic this year has allowed us to spend more quality time with our families, time that we can do the reading together with our children. Perhaps this is a good place to start promoting the reading habit among Malaysians in our continuous quest for self improvement.

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