Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — Some of my son’s high-school friends and other kids from around the neighborhood often come over to my house to play video-games on our computer.

Sometimes, the noise they make becomes unbearable and I want to throw them all out. On other occasions, however, while my son is taking a shower and they are waiting for him to come back to resume the game, I try to have a chat with them to find out what they’re into. It is not my intention to pry – I am merely interested in the viewpoints of young people who are caught up in the dizzying pace of video-games and Manga series.

Among other things, I ask them questions about literature. “Do any of you read?” I ask them, trying to conceal my curiosity.

They begin to answer me individually. David, for instance, tells me that he hates reading and that he prefers to watch the weekly TV packages his mother buys. I know these packages include a good many educational and other interesting materials. I recently read an article written by a journalist who was defending these packages as an entertainment option.

Pablo tells me that no one reads at his home, that it is unusual to see anyone in his family open a book – that they don’t even have bookshelves. They put away his school textbooks in a closet. His parents watch soap operas and romantic comedies – both want to unplug at night.

Neni confesses that he once made the effort to read a chapter of Tom Sawyer, because a girl in his classroom had recommended it to him, but that he gave it back to her the next day. It had struck him as far too silly.

Lastly, my son tells me of his own preferences. Even though he sees many of his relatives read and cultivate this habit, he wants nothing to do with books. The TV series and videogames that take up part of his time are far more exciting for him, as are playing and watching soccer.

The new generations care nothing about the past. They make quick judgments about things and take it one day at a time. They cease to exercise their imagination and opt for the palpable, the now. Romanticism is out of style. Their tactics and strategies are far simpler, and the inner world recedes to the background. Technology swallows them up in many different ways. Digital books occupy an important place among modern gadgets, but reading on a screen isn’t something that captures people’s attention for long, not longer than 2 hours, at least, and straining one’s eyes that way may actually be detrimental.

I am sure there are many young people who don’t fall under this category. I know that the son of a friend and colleague of mine is writing a fantastic novel and that he’s read several works by Shakespeare.

I suppose they are the ones who have been saved, and who save literature. At the very least, they don’t consider it a boring mistress.

It is not my intention to conduct a socio-cultural study of this phenomenon or anything of the sort. I am merely sharing my experiences here. There are far too many factors involved in this business of people not wanting to read.

For me, on the other hand, reading was a passionate adventure. My father and sister even read me books when I was ill or bed-ridden. It was like listening to one of those audio-books, but there was a warmth to the reading that a recorded voice will never have.


9 thoughts on “No Books for Cuba’s Youth

  • Sorry Gordon, but I deliberately don’t reveal our city in order to protect my wife. I take the CDR and Cuban Intelligence services very seriously. But, it isn’t Varadero, it’s in Cuba proper.
    I do hope you have a great time with your daughter Angelica, in November. I shall be in Cuba at that time – its a good month, not too humid.

  • As one who was a Scot and attended an English School, I always had appreciation for Shakespeares HENRY V and a line from Henry’s speech prior to the Battle of Agincourt:
    “And block up the gap with our English dead.”
    Was it not Plato who said:
    “They deem him their worst enemy who only tells the truth.”

  • I suspect that the decline of reading–and of serious culture in general–has been going on for a very long time now; I remeber passages from the classical Greek philosophrs and playwrights bemoaning the superficiality of youth. You are shrewed in choosing not to confront this problem head on, by lecturing and hectoring. All you can do is lead by example. At some point at least the most perceptive members of the younger generation will tire of videogames, telenovelas, and adventure films heavy on the special effects and violence, but light on the plot and character development, and advance to reading.
    What sort of reading? One of my favorite writers of the last half of the 20th Century, Gore Vidal, divided novels into two categories: “R.&R. (Rest and Recreation) and “R.&D,” (Research and Development). The latter teach us something about ourselves and our society, the former, often found on the New York Times Book Review’s “Best Seller” lists are distractions, keeping us entertained, like videogames, telenovelas or “reality shows,” but giving us no genuine insights, and I’m not at all sure that there is a bridge between the “R.&R.” novels and the “R.&D.” ones. In any event, those who don’t make this transition to “R.&D.” reading are forever stuck in our Kali Yugic Age.

  • What cities are you folk in ? I will be at the Iberostar Varadero in November for Angelica’s 12th birthday party !!!

  • About four years ago much time endeavor and money was spent in our town restoring a building to become a library. There was then a big fair with neighbouring streets shut off so that tented bookstalls could be set up selling State approved literature. Lots of Che scribblings and masses of publications about or written by Fidel Castro Ruz.
    After the week of festivity, things went back to normal.
    Last year I paid a visit to the library and as our town is located in one of the best agricultural areas in Cuba I looked for books on agriculture. There was one. It was a well thumbed Spanish publication of 1963 full of pictures of British livestock breeds. There were pictures of Romney sheep, Aberdeen-Angus cattle, Wessex pigs, Light Sussex hens, all very familiar to me and providing me with happy memories.
    I then browsed around and found the real State Treasure House! Thirty seven copies of LENIN all in pristine condition. These were not cheap paperbacks, but well bound with a quality normally associated with copies of The Bible.
    There was a scattering of books for children.
    Subsequently I donate all the books in English which I take with me each time I go home to the library which must by now have at least fifty. I have to date refrained from taking any with political content as I realise that by displaying them, library staff would be risking their jobs – and who knows, even prosecution.

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