Sex up the titles

At first appearance titles like "Meeting you is to meet the unchanging innocence" would impress you as two other additions to today's mass-produced chicken soup articles.

At first appearance titles like “Meeting you is to meet the unchanging innocence” and “Life is lovely in every way if you choose to love” would impress you as two other additions to today’s mass-produced chicken soup articles.

They turn out to be two collections featuring works by two established contemporary Chinese authors Xiao Hong and Feng Zikai, according to the China News Service. Such typical chicken-soup style titles were favored by editors or publishers as part of salesmanship.

That otherwise quite respectable publishers and editors would deign to resort to such crude and shallow tricks also reflects, ironically, the challenge of encouraging people to read.

In the increasingly Internet-enabled society many people spend an inordinate amount of their time on smartphones. As human attention span steadily shortens, videos over 5 minutes will be too long to tolerate, let alone hefty tomes by serious authors. Meanwhile, many who care to read at all are turning to the gooey, cheaply didactic fast-food disdainfully known as lizhi (self-motivational) content, in their attempt to extract some consolation in view of the daily drudgery. This explains why the bestselling section in bookstores is often loaded with titles in the self-help genre.

There have been discrepancy in surveys regarding the number of books an average Chinese adult will read in a year. One survey put it at less than five, and another put it at less than one. If text books were counted out, the number might be even more embarrassing. The latest figures for Russian and Japanese adults are 55 and 40 respectively.

We are witnessing various reading-promoting activities, together with mobile libraries or 24-hour bookstores. The truth remains that if reading has never been a salient feature of the Chinese public in terms of their past-time, fostering reading habits in an e-device dominated society could be an arduous task. Any progress in this dimension does not only require promotional effort from the society but also, critically, calls for people to put aside the smart gadgets in their hands for a moment.

Special Reports