Sunday, May 02, 2010

Viva print literature!

I submit an argument for the enduring value of print literature.

Lying down and thinking of how I got interested in the natural world in the first place, I remember the day I sat down at the newsstand in Hock Choon supermarket along Jalan Ampang. A curious atlas beetle was staring at me out of the front cover of a magazine.

That magazine was called 'Bugs!' and very soon I, or rather my father on my behalf, began subscribing to it. It was published, first fortnightly, then weekly, and ran for a total of 64 issues. There were profile pages on various invertebrates, articles on their behaviour and physiology, as well as ideas for D-I-Y projects like building a compost heap or an ant farm.

These little projects were always designed to be environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable, long before those terms became hip and trendy.

* * *

As I lay down and thought about this, I wondered how it would be different for today's children.

Today we have the internet, where there is far more information than there ever was in those 64 issues of 'Bugs!' And most of that information is free.

And yet National Geographic, and TIME, and Newsweek, and The Economist, among many other magazines, continue publishing printed versions. Why? Surely it's not just for the benefit of those of us who'd rather not bring our laptops into the toilet.

* * *

I submit an argument for the enduring value of print literature.

There is a clear difference between a National Geographic website you have to click to access (and slowly wait for pages to load before reading), and a characteristic yellow-framed magazine on the rack, with an attractive cover image, whose pages can be flipped through with immediate ease, transporting you in a matter of seconds from Malaysia, to China, to Peru and to the ends of the universe.

Had that magazine not stared at me from the newsstand, I would never have spent the time I have thus far staring at the 'micro' aspects of the world around us.

Someday I would like to work in a publishing house, and help to get similar magazines out on the shelves and racks of bookstores and newsstands all over the world. And maybe in some obscure corner of a town I have never heard of, a little boy or girl will reach out for that magazine, and have his or her life changed forever.

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