KUALA LUMPUR – Books authored by local indie writers are gaining traction with the younger generation of Malaysia’s reading public.
“Kelabu”, “Anarki di Kuala Lumpur” and “‘Ngeri” are among the works of indie authors that were hugely popular several years ago.
The indie – short for independent – genre refers to creative works that are produced independently without any affiliation to well-known brands. In the case of indie literary works, the books are published outside mainstream publishing.
The findings of an interim survey carried out by the National Library of Malaysia showed that Malaysians read an average of 15 books a year in 2014, compared to just eight books a year in 2010.
The rise in the numbers can be indirectly attributed to the indie genre which, during the height of its popularity between 2006 and 2016, sparked an interest in reading among the younger generation.
Despite the role it played in reviving the love of reading and providing readers with a wider choice of books, the indie genre has its share of detractors who are none too pleased with the writing style of the authors concerned.
Said Syazrul Aqram, chief operating officer of local publishing house The Patriots: “People tend to look down on indie publishing due to its writing style which is deemed too ‘independent’ and the use of coarse language at times.
“In fact, indie books are also labelled as language destroyers and anti-mainstream.”
Pointing out that indie publishers are also involved in publishing general titles, Syazrul said the publications are independently published by their authors and are targeted at specific readers.
He said members of the younger generation are often drawn to books that carry content deemed as out of the ordinary.
“They are always on the lookout for something different… since indie books tend to go against the mainstream, they manage to attract the attention of the younger generation who also like the (authors’) use of language that is unpretentious and close to their way of life,” he told Bernama.
He, however, admitted that some Bahasa Melayu indie books are written in a less than wholesome style interspersed with coarse language and a mix of English that youngsters are familiar with.
“These are the books our traditional writers and language activists are probably upset about,” he added.
“But then, that’s the way indie writers express their right to freedom of speech. They pour out their thoughts and emotions into their writings so that they can get closer to the hearts of the young people.”
Stressing that indie activists also deserve their fair share of opportunities to develop the local book industry, Syazrul said many of them have been facing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we have learned from the pandemic is that we cannot function independently but need to work together to overcome the various challenges we’re facing,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nazli Anim Mohd Ghazali, founder of a book club called The Classics Challengers, said there is nothing wrong in supporting the younger generation’s inclination to reading indie books if it cultivates a love for reading among them.
She, however, hoped that they would choose their reading materials wisely and select only those that would enrich their knowledge.
“One can cultivate the reading habit by reading any publication… the most important thing is to develop the culture of reading. I believe that the younger generation will switch to more serious reading as time goes by.
“For example, there are readers who start with comics before going on to more serious stuff such as non-fiction books and novels. So, it doesn’t matter whether they are reading indie books or other genres as long as it helps them to cultivate the reading habit. It is a great start as reading is the bridge to knowledge,” she added.
Malaysian Institute of Translation and Books chief executive officer Sakri Abdullah is also supportive of indie publishing and said that it should be given the space to develop in the local book publishing industry to provide more choices to readers.
He feels that the reading public should have leeway in choosing reading materials they like to read, instead of requiring them to only focus on serious reading.
“Like motorists on a highway who need to stop at an R&R (rest and recreation) area to take a break, (young) readers too need books for leisurely reading after going through their academic books,” he said, adding that students, however, need to be taught to be more selective in their choice of indie books.
Sakri also said that the type of reading material one reads is immaterial to the knowledge transfer process as long it is a source of knowledge and allows the reader to learn something new.
“In Japan, for example, its education system uses comics as textbooks for students. The syllabus is delivered in the form of comics to make learning more creative and enable the students to understand faster.
“Depending entirely on textbooks will produce students who can only memorise and not learn, thus making it difficult for them to excel when they start working,” he added.