On Reading and Dreaming, Relentlessly

This is an essay by Novita Poerwanto.

Reading is not a habit, let alone a tradition in my country. The oral approach is still perceived as more popular and convenient. Tales have been passed on for generations, orally over bed time and during leisure. Books are considered a luxury. There are theories this is the offspring of colonization and imperialism. We were alienated from education at our very roots. Written thoughts were considered a serious threat. They challenged the imperialists. The safe way to convey a message was to imply it in orally told tales. These stories were passed from one generation to another. So you can understand, let me start by telling you a story…

Every weekend, my dad used to take my little brother and me to book stores. That was in the 1980s. Back then, in Indonesia, not many parents did that. We would spend time reading and got to choose one book to go with us. We took the weekend trip to the bookstore seriously. I was always the one who looked forward to Saturday. My dad would leave the car at home and together we would take public transportation to the bookstore. It was an adventure. We took different routes and stopped to grab lunch and ice cream.

My dad was a book advocate. I wish I had a chance to hear more stories from him. He passed away when I was just seven. Even after he passed, though, I kept hearing stories. I would hear how big a dreamer he had been, and how determined he was to pursue his dreams. Growing up in a poor family in a small town in East Java, my dad was not left with much time for himself.

He was the eldest of six. Even before the sun rose in the morning, and long after it set in the evening, he was always preoccupied with endless tasks. For example, he helped around the house, ran errands, helped my grandma sell traditional snacks, and much more.

He loved going to school, because he got to read books and nurture his dreams. There were times when he had to let my grandpa punish him with a rod, just because he spent too much time in the library reading.

He excelled in classes, went through the best state university in East Java, graduated with honors, was awarded a scholarship from his office to study in the States and taught economics at the University level.

What my father taught me, without him telling me in person, was that reading will get you to your dreams, not only take you places. It was a reminder that hope does exist, even in the worst condition. Reading is dreaming. Seeing it before living it. It takes guts to dream and even more to live it.

My mom was never much of a reader, but she loved to tell stories. She didn’t tell classic tales, though, she loved to tell stories of her own. She made up characters from anything around us, like a light bulb, water jar and anything else she saw. When she gets really sleepy, she forgot the details. That’s when my brother and I start protesting the discrepancies. About that time she suggests, “Ok, let’s just start over.” What I remember most about her tales growing up, they were not “judgmental”  nor “directive.” When I ask her now whether she did it on purpose or because she kept forgetting the details, all I got was her wittiest grin, “isn’t it supposed to be open to interpretation?”

For the love of reading I took literature at the university. It was the best four years of my life. I spent time with Hurston, Walker, and Amy Tan. I admire their distinguished voice on roots and identity. They complimented the oral tradition of their origin. They were proud of it, but they shared the same dream of birthing history for their people. Their books are their printed dreams, and preserved voice.

During my university years, more students took linguistics instead of literature, simply because they can’t stand reading books. So instead of citing why they wanted to take linguistics, they simply state they would rather not take literature.

Today, I see more quality and imported books in our bookstores. They are not as expensive as they once were. Some people are still spoiled by the perceived ease of the oral tradition. They would rather have others spoil their excitement by asking, “how does the story end?”

More people read now, though, which leads them to want to write. People want to go beyond dreaming. We owe technology a flood of thank you notes. Missionary approaches in reading have not had as big an impact as social media. The need to express one’s self, share one’s voice, and pass on dreams is big. Suddenly, it is as though we have too many reading materials instead of not enough. Technology, to us, is like keeping a journal, but instead of keeping it private, you get to publish it for free and relate to others. Reading is now popular and writing even more so. Everybody is suddenly a reader and a writer with instant access to quotes, lines from famous poems, and links to literary reviews.

Perhaps the country that my father and mother have always seen in their dreams will become reality.  From the moment they decided to introduce reading and storytelling to my brother and I they have been doing their part to make it so.  This country can do better, though.

As I read to my four year old boy, I am confident that this country will write and rewrite their own history. Indonesia will take pride in their broadcasted voice and printed dreams. It is because I see this, exactly this, I write and read all the more.


Novita Poerwanto is a Creative Consultant entrepreneur, fashion designer. She published a collection of flash fictions and short movies with four of her @fiksimini friends in March 2011 and is now finishing the final draft of her first novel. She is a proud mom of a four year old wizard. She lives in Surabaya, Indonesia

Photo: Some rights reserved by glenngould


  1. Michael Chibuzor

    What is great story. Reading is the #1 antidote to failure – and as you pointed out rightly, reading is dreaming; living it before seeing it. Oh, I wish you can write more on this – Indonesia is a great country, I’ve read so much about their arts and culture. I hope they take pride in literature – it brings the world together.

  2. novita poerwanto

    Hey thanks for dropping by. Yes, it is ideed a great country. We still have a lot more reading to do, and while we are on it, we are in fact rewriting our destiny

  3. jatrifia Ongga. S

    Dear mb Novi, somehow read your story is like reading my own life told by someone. I love reading, same with you, it is because of my dad who always tell me: “read a lot and you will know the world and think beyond it.” And I feel it. How reading can take you to something that really interesting, and bring you to some beautiful moment at your life. I do take literature as my major study at university, and it was great years. You learn culture, habit,issues from one book to another. My dream is one day I could have my own free library for spread the habit of reading.

    I love your work, it is a good story and simple yet touching. You are lucky have a parents who give you a great impact like that, and your little handsome boy is lucky too have a great mom like you. Keep writing, mbak. I am your writing’s admirer hehehehe :p

  4. Lyly

    I love it your story, I can’t wait for your next book :). Hopefully people will read this and understand that a book can help you achieve your dream. Someday if I have kids, I will surely follow ur dad’s footstep :).
    Our achievements start with a simple dream :). So please do write more and show them that reading is not boring

    Proud of you 🙂


  5. novita poerwanto

    Hey Onggaaaa. Thanks for dropping by. Yes, keep reading and writing all the more

  6. novita poerwanto

    Hi sis Ly. Thanks. Yes,it never is boring. Let’s make more people see that

  7. Read.Learn.Write

    I notice that this post is drawing some non-native English speakers to the site. More power to you for learning and practicing another language so openly.

    To be honest, I am a bit embarrassed to admit I know only one language, English. How lazy of me!

    1. novita poerwanto

      Hi Brandon, thanks, you made it possible. Hopefully it brings more readers in non english speaking countries to write for readlearnwrite.com. And yes, you cant just speak english. Try bahasa indonesia!

  8. Daniel Prasatyo

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us. Reading has been my favorite activity even before I could read. I always think that those old dusty books of my grandparents hide mysteries and adventures.

    I strongly believe that eventually, we will be able to make reading not only a hobby for our next generations, but also a habit, or even better, a need.

    It’s a beautiful piece, and — you know already — I’m always your biggest fan.

  9. novita poerwanto

    Hi Dan, thanks. What you did with jejakubikel.com is also amazing. You make more people write and write and write. It is inspiring. Imo Reading has become a need, especially to those who write and ‘live’

  10. Lariza Oky Adisty

    very great piece of mind, Bu Lik. Being a literature student myself, I found similiarities in your stories to my very own experience like how it was the best four years of my life. and I guess it’s also safe to say that both of us were lucky to have parents who spoiled us with bunch of books!

    what’s more important, however, is that you remind me that not only does it make you smarter and understand things in a better way, reading also makes you dream. I’m not sure if I still like writing, let alone dreaming of being a pro-writer if I hate reading in a first place. I sincerely hope that reading will no longer be considered as boring/dreadful activity by most people in Indonesia, but rather as a fun and exciting one.

    can’t thank you enough for sharing this story and I’m looking forward to your first novel, Bu Lik.

    1. novita poerwanto

      Disty,the pleasure is mine. Glad you like the post. Yes i guess we are among the luckiest in the country. Thanks to our parents and social media. Thanks to @fiksimini too for reigniting the sparks. Let us dream and thus, we live

  11. Indria Debora

    I’d love books. When I was a little I had a small library and it always been my favourite place to ‘hide’ and took me to faraway lands hahaha..
    Now I realize I don’t read much, so many books so little time and reading your post reminds me how fun to have a dream again.
    You had a great dad, I wish I could teach my two girls to love books the same way as you dad taught you.
    Thanks for sharing this great story and you know what, I am going to find me a good book and lay in bed aaand see where my mind takes me! 😀

    Peluk & cipok!

  12. Sri Maya Sari

    When my childhood was spent with little books doesn’t mean I dislike reading by now. It’s hardly pushing me to do so even more. My crazy thought in reading and buying books also make me to move some of mine to my parent’s house, I just think to get more happiness by seeing them reading books to watching tv.

    Your story and yourself have been inspiring me much, and thank you indeed to let me reading your final draft.

  13. Rina

    Wooy, Nopek…
    Another nice post by you. I love it! I love you 🙂 I probably will share it to my students in class so that they’ll learn to write happily, without any burden. Thanks for sharing this. Keep on writing… and dreaming :*

  14. Anita

    Thank you for this story.
    I hope you have many more opportunities to share your work with an international audience.

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