Why Americans Are Smart

Posted on: July 12, 2008

This article was published by The Jakarta Post on July 17, 2008. Read the article on The Jakarta Post, here.

libraryIf you ask me what makes Americans so smart my answer is very simple: Because they read books. By that I mean lots of books.

In America it’s not an unusual view to see someone placing his or her left hand onto the holding bar and reading a thick novel with the right hand while standing in a subway car during the rush hour.

It seems that reading is something that is so much valued and appreciated.

Unlike Indonesians, Americans have a much better access to books. Finding books and reading them for free are not difficult at all. In Jakarta, I remember, I had to be clever to find ways to read books for free at bookstores. The challenge for me was tough, bookstores in Jakarta are probably intentionally designed to be uncomfortable as much as possible for so-called cheaters like me. They just wanted me to pick a book, buy it, and leave.

In America it’s a different story. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, to my surprise at first, let their customers read their books as many and as long as possible. They even provide their customers with comfy chairs. No sealed books or magazines, you can grab any book you want and get a perfect spot to read it for free! If you have some money to spend you can buy their coffee and enjoy it with the book you’ve been dreaming to read, but let me remind you that buying the coffee is not obligatory.

Bookstores are not the only places to find books in America. For some Americans, public libraries are so much better than bookstores. And I have to salute American government for this matter. Americans are indeed so lucky to be blessed by the easy access of knowledge and information.

In the county where I live, there are twenty one public libraries that will happily serve their residents. Getting a membership card is so easy and it only takes a few minutes after you present your ID card. The facilities are amazing.

I can borrow up to fifty books and I can return them at any library in the same county. Yes fifty! I couldn’t believe myself when a librarian unearthed that fact for the very first time. I even felt I had to make sure one more time and asked, “You mean fifty books?” The nice librarian nodded and smiled.

I can check the availability of a book online and I can place a hold so that other people won’t take it. I can even choose in which location I want to pick up the book. And yes you’re right, it’s all free (some complain it’s not actually free since they pay taxes and of course they’re right to see it from that point of view).

A new public library in the county where I live opened in late 2006. It’s the biggest library in the area and it was built on a $26.3 Million fund. It has everything you want: 200,000 collections, 22 PCs on each floor, free Wi-Fi service, and more.

And that’s just one county. I believe other counties in America have almost the same quality when it comes to public libraries. No wonder Americans are smart.

Some of you may not like America. And although I’m still a big fan of pecel lele and nasi padang I think at least there’s one thing we can learn from this superpower country. And it is their ability to provide books and knowledge to their citizens.

In Jakarta, based on, there are “actually” six public libraries. I don’t really know who to blame, whether the local government or Jakarta’s residents, but it seems to me that those libraries are completely unknown to the public. I myself feel ashamed to know that Jakarta has actually six public libraries while I’m in America.

I can’t tell much about the facilities that those libraries have, but six libraries are clearly not enough for a city as big as Jakarta.

I know it’s not the wisest thing in the world to compare America with Indonesia. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t apply some of the good things that advanced countries enjoy.

It’s something that everyone of us has to understand that making our children smart is the key to making Indonesia a competitive nation in this already-competitive world. Depending our future solely on natural resources won’t be enough, it’s our intellectual resources that will be the answer.

I do enjoy going to a public library or a bookstore in America. Although I have to admit that my first experience borrowing books from the library wasn’t entirely because I wanted to read all the books, but now I’m an addict.

And when I sit down in an air-conditioned library with my hands holding a nice book and admiring the facilities around me I sometimes think how in the world we can be better if one small library in America is ten times better than the library I used to go in my university in Jakarta.

It’s time for us to think about books and how we can provide them to our people. So next time you want to join a demonstration make sure whatever issue you and your friends are trying to protest don’t forget to bring a big banner that says, “Give us more books!”

Picture above is from here.


22 Responses to "Why Americans Are Smart"

Also of possible factor, in my opinion – compared to how it is in Indonesia, is that they are educated to be smart – to be critical, open minded (?), and able to express their opinion (freely).

TRUE. I consider our public library (Los Angeles central Library) as the best library I’ve ever been to. It’s more like a mall but full of books 🙂


Wow, it always great to talk about this topic, Tasa, and I believe that the reading culture not automatically born in every of us, although it can be build when the environment influences like you say how easy Americans find and access to books and information but I believe that the reading culture should come from home at the earliest stage of children.

Here I want to share my experience on how I applied the reading culture to all my kids when they were very young. Most of them are able to read below 3. My eldest son this year is going to University and my little girl is going to elementary 3. And I love to share my experience to all parent here, that please help the kids since they are very young. We all believe that we all now fighting with the world that bring those ‘toys’ called TV, game, etc while kids hate to facing the plain paper of words for them to read. It’s hard to imagine that they should engage with their study in their most exited time to play around.

One of my favorite books to introduce to them was taken from wordbook series (, as this set were consider provide the best integrated children story to build their early world of learning, character, critiand reading culture as well as the world best encyclopedia both to kids and adult. Oops, sounds a very salesman person I am! But whatever, I only love to share that I just a happy buyer:), and one more thing, since the books was not cheap at all that time, I didn’t mind to share with my colleagues that time to got my rewards as long as to get those book collections free for my kids:)

Another comparison towards our beloved country, eh? hehehhe…
However, it’s absolutelly true, pal. That’s why the emergence of recent enlightment is always born outside there…
Indonesia?? Fiuhhh… sometimes I feel a bit ‘drowsy’ talkin’ bout this one… better I watch infotainment then laughing how stupid a** our celebrities are…!!!

I believe a love of reading starts at home. My mom shared stories of how she’d buy a book for me each month, using her hard-earned money. I am now doing the same with my son, who is now almost 2. Any chance I get, with any way, I get him books. The points I earned from work go to books instead of some frivolous rubbish that I’d haphazardly put away in the storage closet. From the time he was in the belly to the time his eyes first open, he was read to and read to a lot. Now, he reads to himself and is very inquisitive to his surroundings. A trait that at times can be annoying-as how many times do we have to answer what THAT is when we already answered it ten times already lol – but is very endearing.
Libraries won’t mean much if a love for reading and learning has not already been engendered from the home environment.
Many American children do not take advantage of the libraries either. They do look down at the “bookworms” who check out over ten books at the library, or can say that they have read all the books at the school library lol

Parents nowadays tend to just dump their kids in front of the TV and “be done with it”. Though TV time is not bad, now and again, I believe reading to them first and getting them to like books first would greatly benefit their development than plopping them in front of Baby Einstein before they are even a month old (this is an exaggerated idea, I know). And limit TV time later on, and be consistent about reading to your child, to your younger brothers or sisters – give them power to spark their imagination.

As for Indo, the amount of money and time spent on building malls could be spent on building libraries instead, and that, in the long run, would be more beneficial to Indo than any mall can. Well, IMHO.

Nice to read your writings again!

I read it somewhere that the need to read in Indonesia is not small, but the possibility to read cheap, good books is so small, people can only stare at the covers in bookstores. The government is not interested in investing in library, because, there’s no money in it! I didn’t realize who cheap books can be until I went to Australia and literally bought one novel each day for AUD 2.00 (brand new novel, but it’s published 2-3 years before).

You’re right about bookstores elsewhere. We could just sit down for hours reading from cover to cover without no interruption. And they always encourage us to buy with the programs like buy the second book half price, or buy two you get one free, etc. If even that is too expensive, there’s always charity shops like Oxfam which sell books with much cheaper price. In Indonesia, even the sales assistant stares at you suspiciously if you ask to remove the plastic wrap because you want to read the inside of the Hallmark card.

However, I am quite delighted there are some private institutions which understand the importance of books. Petra University (Surabaya) has large, 2 stories library with great selection of books. As well as some tiny cafes in Bandung which lets its patrons to sit down and read their collections. I read in some magazine there are some “taman baca” managed by individuals as well all around Jakarta.

Geez, typo,

I didn’t realize who cheap books can be until I went to Australia…

should be
I didn’t realize how cheap books can be until I went to Australia…

We could just sit down for hours reading from cover to cover without no interruption.

should be
We could just sit down for hours reading from cover to cover without any> interruption.

I love 2 read books, especially when its free.
in Sydney you can find a lot of great books, but its still expensive for me,
Since our exchange rate is quite weak compare to Aussie dollar.

Kalo di Jakarta pasti orang2nya bakal bilang gini, “untuk mendirikan lebih banyak perpustakaan kan pasti butuh lebih banyak budget lagi ?”

Yeah, that’s right ! But, how people in this country could get their facility to learn more things ? Exactly, it’s all out of their school and their campus.
So, we need it !! 😉

Hey Tas, you should visit Perpustakaan Nasional at Jalan Tambak Salemba, and you’ll figure out why Indonesians are so lazy when it comes to reading :mrgreen:

I myself grew up in a book-geek environment. If you had a daddy who was crazy about books and had his own book cabinets (yes, you aren’t misread, cabinets mean plural and it means more than one, you should see by yourself if you don’t believe me) not to mention, my mom collects her magazines and books and keep them in the storage room. It was a strange thing to some people because they were wondering how many times spent to read one book (seeing those books inside the cabinet) and they think all of us are smart. Well thank you, but we don’t think so because we think we are stupid that’s why we read many books, if we were smart then we don’t need to read any single book, right?! 🙂

Reading is a must way to bring a country into a modern civilization. No wonder why Americans are smart, Japanese are smart, Europeans are smart, Indians are smart. They read book and they love doing it!

Having a chit chat is number one Indonesians’ hobby. Gossip shows on television tell us all. If we go to a public place and watch around us, we’ll see many Indonesians are talking to each other rather than reading a book.

I believe the most important thing is after the reading. After you read a book, you should think about the content, what it was telling about to us, what was the point, how you’re going to do things said in the book, etc. In short, walk your knowledge.

That’s why I like discussing. After you read a book, then you’ll try to “digest” them on your mind then you start to talk to others who have already read the same book, try to synchronize your comprehension to the same wave, then try to implement to your daily life and so and so.

I believe Americans are smart not just because they love to read, not because their eyes reading the book. Both their brain and heart are also “read” it and they are successful in their life and become developed country because they also pay some efforts in the “after the reading” part. This is more than just pointing your eyes to a book, this is about to be able to take the essence from book we’re reading.

“God gave us two eyes and one mouth so we can read more often and speak a little”

extremely out of topic

“I do enjoy going to a public library or a bookstore in America. Although I have to admit that my first experience borrowing books from the library wasn’t entirely because I wanted to read all the books, but now I’m an addict.”

I’m an addict? I’m an addict! It rings my bell, really. Hold on, loading process. Hmmm….uuummm…..

BINGO! I’ve got the answer.

You are an addict now because you need a media to kill this craving period.

jangan ngamuk, jangan diapus yak komen gue yang ini. Huahahahaha, peace.

*makanya kalo orang kirim sms tuh dibales jadi gak kumat gini :mrgreen:


BINGO! I’ve got the answer.

shall be

BINGO! I got the answer.

*pantes Alan and Barbara Pease nulis buku tentang cowok dan cewek, gue salah satu buktinya, hehe.

nice suggestions! Gimme more books 😀

Great post that you have here. We definitely need a lot of books.
But I didn’t see any solution being offered from you beside protesting to the government.
It would be great if you could put in some ideas on how to add books to our country.
It will cost a lot of money to build a good library.
And it will cost a lot to maintain the building, to keep up with the new books offered in the market, and to pay the librarians.
I just don’t see how the government could help us build better libraries when they have so many problems.
What do you think?

Congrats Tasa, another published piece. You’re getting more productive everyday. You must have been reading many books lately, so ideas are flowing. Any news on the postcard? You owe me one (nagih nih, habis jarang2 jadi “postcard girl”)…. 🙂 Thanks sweetie.

hello Tasa, i read ur article yesterday… i like it. i can’t wait for your next one.. regards.

salam. bang tasa, i am interested to know more how you put your idea in such organized word and sentence.
about topic that you have posted above, i really agree with you. many Indonesian people, including in village area, need good quality library so they can access many knowledge as much as possible.
i my self admit, that in my village in Bandung, many people are stick to the television program. but i think, if there is a good library and accessible to the people, there will be balance.
so, my question is, how to establish a good library not only in urban area but also in many rural district?
i hope such dream can happen as soon as possible.
your posting is so great.
even the best can be improved.
thanks friend

bleu: You might be right. But I do see that a lot of educational institutions in Indonesia are working hard to see that happen.

Friska: Wow, that’s interesting. You might wanna show it to me sometimes 🙂

bpeace: Yes indeed it’s very interesting. Thanks so much for the advice, I believe that would be a great insight for me raising kids, I don’t know when. I do agree that reading behavior should be planted as early as possible. It’s hard when, as you said, when we have all these so-called enemies. We obvioulsy have to be strict. Thank you for sharing.

Anton: I know I can’t help it. But you raised an interesting topic for another article. Well watching that kind of thing can make you learn of something too, you know. Hehe.

ns: It’s good to know that you’re doing a noble thing to your son. Go Mom! I feel ashamed now for going to malls every weekend in Jakarta, haha. I believe you agree that six libraries are not enough for Jakarta. I think everyone agrees that teaching kids to love reading as early as possible is essential. It’s not easy but of course it’s a must.

finally woken: Yes you’re absolutely right. Books are expensive in Indonesia, that’s what I felt too. I don’t know exactly how everything works but somehow it’s so hard to get or read good books. I think the government should do something about it, they may set up a collaboration with international publishers or something.

Building large libraries is essential and not just malls. C’mon man, this is serious. The government should do lots of creative and smart strategies for this matter.

Gilang: Who doesn’t like free stuff bro? Hehe.

Izmi: Setuju banget!

Yonna: You have to take me to that library next time we meet. You might be right, we Indonesians like talking better than reading. But that doesn’t mean we don’t or can’t appreciate good knowledge. I think one of the reasons we don’t really like reading is because we weren’t taught to appreciate books when we were kids. Books were too scary.

Discussing is indeed fun. Hehe. Craving period? What’s that supposed to mean?

Saut: It’s just a thought. Hehe.

Dino: That’s extremely a nice question! I may have some answers and solutions, but they need to be more intellectually laid out. Let me have some time to think about it. Thanks.

Jen: Hi Mba. Don’t worry I don’t forget what I owe you. Hehe. Please be patient, it’ll reach your door pretty soon. 🙂

auditorcantik: Wah kenalan donk 🙂 Thanks for your support.

ahmad: Hi brother, long time no see. It’s good to have you back. I hope you’re having a great time in Saudi. Of course we need libraries and we need lots of them. Before building those expensive facilities we all should be aware that we have to encourage people to read more and make them believe that reading so much important for their lives. Yes, even the best can be improved.

For Jakarta, a huge metropolis, to only have six libraries is shameful. Six libraries and over a dozen malls in just one suburb of it is very disheartening. I remember seeing all the new construction popping up all over the Jabotabek area and was sad that not one of them is a new library or even a museum. Only new apartments, hotels, and malls.
And upon reading your confession at only going to the malls every weekend there, I realized that there really isn’t much to do there BUT go to malls. Or maybe, the historical sites need to market themselves better so that the locals would take a weekend or two to visit them. Sometimes the locals take for granted the wealth of knowledge and history surrounding them.
There are many places here in the DC area that are significant tourist draws but the locals put off visiting – for over 20 years lol There are sites that I want to visit that my husband, a local, has not gone to or discovered yet.
Maybe when you go back you need to see Jakarta not with a Jakarta or even Indonesian eye but through the lens of a tourist. Maybe you will see things you have not seen before. I promised myself that on my next visit I will not be local but a tourist. Insya Allah.

hehehe, pokoke caur meneh tu perpus, kalo udah diperbaiki ya syukur tapi kalo belon, mending baca buku di rumah degh :mrgreen:

yeah, you right, books are scary to some people because they would love to watch tv or have a chat to others. hmmm….when we are reading it means we are alone, just the reader and the book, reading means silent. some people don’t like silent, they love crowd, reading can’t give them noise. reading means study and do homework or like me, reading means bulky documents…this is spooky too hehe.

numbers show interest. by hind sight six libraries tell us that most of Jakartans, for instance, don’t like to read. or for a positive presumption, most of Jakartans read book at the office, in the class at school, at home, in the car, etc because they don’t like libraries hence there are only six libraries. maksa ya?! :mrgreen:

Ditto with comments stated above.

Not only that we lack public libraries, but the tax!? Pajak buku di Indonesia kebangetan!
But being smart is not necessarily about books. It’s about the books you choose to read.

Dear Tasa,

Haii Tasa, salam kenal yaa, namaku Maria. Aku gak sengaja masuk ke blog ini, trus aku koq langsung suka dengan semua tulisan kamu yang apa adanya, natural, hangat, asyik lah. Tulisan di blogku masih sedikit, next I’ll share to you yaa..

Anyway, thanks for reading my message.

Jabat Erat,

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guebukanmonyet is Tasa Nugraza Barley. He's a free man with unique thoughts and dreams. He sees his life and this world differently from anyone else. That's because he knows what he wants; and for that reason he doesn't want to be the same. Read why he blogs, here.

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