OK, so I'm used to constant stimulation, entertainment, consumerism and activity. Now I'm here in el djazair and it's raining and the dish isn't working, and the only books in the house are the ones I've read (tomorrow I'm going to the librairie to look for some new books...mama always said be reading one and have one on the side). I feel lost when I'm not into a book.
That makes me think about how important reading is to me, and has been my entire life. I don't see that here. Whether it's my husband who has 2 PhD's yet I don't think has read a novel in his entire life, or the fact that his family, all educated people, apparently never ever read. Sad...and frightening.
According to UNESCO, youth literacy in Algeria has increased from 60.6% in 1980 to nearly 90% in 2004. That's a pretty impressive increase. The ability to read is apparently not the problem. However, books are expensive and inaccessible for the average Algerian. Libraries are few and far between. Latest figures on the public availability of books estimates one book for every two Algerians (or a 1/2 a book each), when the average # of books per inhabitant of a developing country is 2 and 4+ for the rest of the world.
The director of the National Library, Amin Zaoui, summarized this crisis very elocuently when he said "Of one million university students, how many of them read [for pleasure]? 2000 maximum!" He calls for an increased emphasis on reading in schools and universities, an expansion and revitalization of municipal libraries and a public campaign to promote reading. He recently proposed a cigarette tax to fund these programs. He also feels that the state needs to support all those involved in the culture of reading, from the author to the publisher to the bookseller.
He believes there is hope. Algerians read newspapers, which is a tradition unique in the Arab world. Now, he feels, the challenge is to help Algerians transition from reading newspapers to a more profund and lasting reading, that found in books.