Thailand has a reasonably rich literary history. At the very base of the country's literary structure lie many talented innovators of the poetics of language. Unfortunately, as the country stepped fully into the Capitalist/Industrial era, the arts were left behind, and literatue has since then grown more and more into being a subculture rather than a practice capable of creating inspirational powers of imagination for the masses as it should be.
This is not to say that Thailand produces few books. On the contrary, the publishing industry has blossomed magnificently over the past few years and many book titles have sold enough copies to make being a writer seem a glamorous career. But very few of those bestsellers have been books of literature. Most of them are books written by or about celebrities and many of them are translated "How-to" books. Local novels, short stories, and especially poetry books continue to struggle for recognition.
Thailand is not a country of readers. One reason is that percentage of the uneducated population still exceeds that of the educated. There are approximately 60 million people living in the country, but even the best-selling daily newspaper has a circulation of only a million copies a day. But another reason has to do with the lack of support from the authorities. In Thailand, art is last.
The essential literary audience is the middle class living in big cities, especially Bangkok. Elsewhere in the country, books are difficult to find and when accessible they are not considered a necessity.
In countries where reading is part of everyday life, people read while on the move. They read on the bus, on the train. They head before going to sleep and read during breakfast. On the Thai bus very few passengers have books with them. At night, most go to sleep in front of their television sets.
To make reading a "culture" in Thailand would take time and great effort from the literary community. Considering how the publishing industry is flourishing at present, it might not be an impossible task to help literature flourish with it.
Thai writers have not been properly introduced to literary communities in other cultures. few Thai books have been translated into other languages. Literature is a universal art. Any well-written piece of literature has the potential of being recognized internationally. That possibility should somehow be encourage and supported in Thailand as well as in other Southeast Asian countries.
© Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia. SEMUA HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA 2002
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