How does reading change as you grow older?

  • Family
  • Thursday, 15 Jan 2015

For seniors, the practice of reading can be more challenging, but it is still very rewarding.

For some seniors, increasing age brings poorer eyesight and less energy, making it more difficult for them to remain as captivated by long books as they used to be. Yet for others, growing old gives them more time to indulge in their favourite books, and have a deeper understanding of the world. Their reading experience becomes all the more satisfying.

E-books are convenient but I still love the touch and smell of paper. Nothing beats the feel of a real book, says theatre practitioner Sabera Shaik.

Yet, regardless of their changed experience, many senior readers can attest to the power of the written word. Their love for literature remains as strong as it was on the day they picked up their first books.

“A good book stays in your head all day, even when you don’t have it in your hands. A really good book stays with you throughout your lifetime, and colours the way you see the world,” said creative writing trainer and teacher trainer Sharon Bakar, 59.

“Books take you to so many places you would never ordinarily have a chance to visit, and plunges you into situations you would have no other way to experience. They help you to understand other lives apart from your own. I don’t think I would be the person I am without the books I’ve read over the years.”

Sharon, a fan of literary fiction, said she was first introduced to reading by her parents, who had a high respect for books despite not being readers themselves.

“There were other factors that fed into a love of books at an early age – very well-stocked public libraries, teachers who read to us at school, and the excellent BBC children’s TV programme Jackanory, in which a novel was serialised over the course of a week,” said Sharon, who listed Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, TC Boyle and Cormac McCarthy among her favourite authors.

Now, Sharon still enjoys reading, with mornings being her favourite time for a book.

“I love to read when I first wake up, on the veranda with a cup of tea. This is my favourite time of the day. I always carry a book with me and also read in odd moments, especially if I’m sitting in a café,” she said.

Asked if her reading habits had greatly changed from when she was younger, Sharon replied in the negative.

“It hasn’t really changed, except perhaps I am more impatient with books I’m not enjoying and am more inclined to ditch them. Life’s too short to read a bad book!” she said. “I don’t need reading glasses but I’ve always found the horrible tiny print in mass market paperbacks incredibly annoying.”

Sharon added she didn’t mind newer, more modern forms of reading books, such as audiobooks, and also enjoyed reading essays and articles online.

“I read many of my books on Kindle now. I love being able to buy a book as soon as it is released across the world, and having a whole library in my bag. It’s easy to add notes as you read which is great for me because I like a record of my reading. I also find it easier on my eyes since the print is larger and the lighting good,” she said.

Sharon also coordinates Readings, a monthly literary event where writers are given a chance to read from their works and to socialise and network with other writers, book lovers and publishers.

Retired headmistress Johnson Nga, 62, said her reading habits are different now that she is older.

“I find it more difficult to read at night now, especially when the font is small. Hence, I’ve switched to reading in the afternoon as I do not take naps. I read more when I was younger as I could stay up the whole night just to complete a book!” said Nga, whose favourite authors include P. D. James, Margaret Atwood, Farish Noor and Tan Twan Eng.

“I used to like certain romantic writers, like Chick Lit, but I find I can’t read their books anymore. However, there are some who combine romance with the detective genre which I don’t mind.

Books help you to understand other lives apart from your own. I don’t think I would be the person I am without the books I’ve read over the years, says Sharon Bakar.

“I used to read more serious stuff but now I find I can’t read a long serious novel at one go. Thus, I go for shorter novels these days. I am also more inclined towards Malaysian and Asian writers now. I guess it’s going back to my roots.”

Describing herself as an eclectic reader, Nga likes good writing that is emotionally and intellectually engaging, such as whodunnit mystery stories.

“I like Qiu Xiaolong because he combines food, politics, architecture and culture all into one story. I never read his books when I was living in Shanghai. Now I guess I like his writing because I am nostalgic of the places he writes about,” she said.

“Books on travel and cooking like The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones also enriched my knowledge of Chinese cooking and the history and culture of China.”

Full-time theatre practitioner Sabera Shaik, 62, said that recently, she was getting more attracted to books on self-help and spirituality.

“I don’t know if it’s age that makes you more interested to know more about these kind of things!” Sabera said.

“I like learning about people and their experiences. They’re for reflection, when I have the time. I’ve always enjoyed books by Robin Sharma, like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, but now I enjoy his books more! They allow my mind to fly!”

Sabera said she came from a family of readers, with her first exposure to reading coming from her five elder sisters, all avid book lovers.

“One sister loved Westerns, especially by Zane Grey. And I loved them too! They all had the same storyline, you know. Cowboy meets girl, they fall in love and get separated, that sort of thing. But there were so many shelves of them in my home, and I read them like crazy!” she quipped.

Sabera said she was attracted to books which conveyed deep ideas in simple language, citing the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho and Pablo Neruda as examples. She added she often read for her work as well, using elements from stories as influences for her theatre projects.

Like Sharon, Sabera said she too didn’t mind more modern forms of reading such as e-books, although there was no substitute for the real thing.

“E-books are convenient. You can carry them everywhere, and they are usually quite thin. But I still love the touch and smell of paper! Nothing beats the feel of a real book. And that’s why I still buy them,” Sabera said with a laugh.

She added it was difficult to convince the younger generation to read books, however, due to the prevalence of other kinds of media.

“I’ve tried to get my nieces and nephews to love reading, but it’s an uphill battle. They have YouTube and all,” Sabera laughed.

“They go: ‘what for auntie? We can see the movie what?’ But the written word is still important. You need it for imagination, for thinking and speaking.”

“And reading helps your critical thinking. After reading a book, you think about it, don’t you? You question the author’s philosophy and ideas. Unlike other forms, where you just sit and watch.”

What book or author would she recommend the younger generation to read?

“Shakespeare,” Sabera said without a doubt. “He speaks of the whole gamut of human emotions in his plays. The man could write everything so well!”

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