Friday, December 2, 2011

LifestyleBohol * Reading Takes You Away to the Farthest Reaches of the Universe

Finally, after a million years!  It's been well over a month since I've last written for LifestyleBohol.  After Losing Jobs, I went on hiatus from the paper.  Don't ask me why because there's really no acceptable reason.

I'm posting this here for those who didn't get to buy a copy of last Sunday's issue.  Of course, that includes those who are out of our delivery range.

Anyhow, this one is dedicated to reading.  Yes, like what you're doing right now--except that it advocates printed books over any other type of reading material.  No, not eBooks; books on actual paper.  Let's face it:  Print media is dying and I don't want it to.  I have sentiments to match my advocacy, so just read on.



Do people still read books these days?

When was the last time you took a stroll along Plaza Rizal and caught someone reading a book?  Could you even recall an instance when your seat neighbor at your favorite coffee shop had a book in her hand rather than a lit cigarette?  I know I could—once.  Yes, just once for the 22 years I’ve been living in Bohol.  People don’t seem to want to be caught dead reading a book.  Why is that?  Is it something they’re ashamed of?  And, no, laptops don’t qualify as books in this case—not even tablets.  Call me an old man; I couldn’t care less.  I know you could read eBooks with those devices and that’s well and good.  It’s a giant tech company’s noble way to funnel book junkies into the digital world.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with joining that bandwagon.  All I’m saying is no matter how much you argue that you’re technically reading books minus the weight, if it isn’t on paper, it’s not a book.

Nothing compares to the feeling of turning real pages, one after another, as you read John Grisham or Jane Austen under a huge acacia tree on a quiet Sunday afternoon while the soft breezes tickle your neck and exposed ankle hairs.  And am I the only one who loves the smell paper gives off when you run your thumb through all the pages from cover-to-cover creating a short, refreshing rush of air on the face?  Better yet, the smell of old books when you enter a public library and the haunting feeling of privilege when your thumbs produce sweat that dries up on a page of a browning book, knowing that your print is now in the league of everyone else who may have held it—living or dead.  I certainly hope others share these feelings, too.

It’s indubitable that some may regard me as weird for having said those things.  However, book reading is a dying fancy and that’s another indubitable matter.  Even high school students at Holy Name University said that last Friday when I came over to judge a reader’s theater competition.  A lot of people, especially young ones, now regard books as a waste of time and money.  They’re much better off spending entire weeks playing video games with their cousins or drinking beer somewhere.  It’s a sad reality and I wish the sensible few who still do it “old school” could help others see how wonderful it is to be able to finish a thick book knowing you’ve created your own movie inside your head.

Yesterday was celebrated by sensible schools all over the country as the “National Day for Reading.”  The whole of last week was called “National Book Week.”  November is “National Reading Month.”  Back in elementary and high school, I used to love Novembers particularly because of the things done in my school to celebrate the existence of books.  There would be public readings at the library, essay contests that gave us opportunities to talk about our favorite books, drawing contests to visually portray what we imagined story settings to look like, and many more.  I won a couple of competitions here and there, but that wasn’t the source of my joy.  I was happy because of the fact that books, as long-lasting sources of knowledge, insights, and ideas were being honored.  Nowadays, we have internet videos for virtually all our information needs and books are largely ignored.  From cooking lessons to instruction manuals to steps on how to kiss your girlfriend, YouTube has it all!  I’m not against it, though.  I even have a channel of my own.  However, in this digital age we’re in, let’s bring the reading culture back.  Help me bring it back before it dies completely.  Help yourselves by helping me.

FINE!  I’ll give leeway to tablet people even if they don’t share the kind of passion I have.  I’m willing to allow any sensible reader to hop in on this cause since I’ll need all the help I can get to convey my message.  You see: reading doesn’t just have an informative effect; it takes you to places and allows you to meet different people.  It can take you to India, America, China, the moon, Mars, some obscure star, or even inside the human body—as in the case of Gray’s Anatomy.  And I’m talking about the medical book, not the television series.

Reading affords you an opportunity to converse with Marilyn Monroe and remain, for days, haunted by the quandaries that beleaguered her celebrity life—her love affairs, her passionate encounters, and her thoughts while in the ladies’ room.  Can video games do that?  Maybe movies can do similar things, but the difference with books is that you’re able to visualize a place, a person, or a situation your way.  You wouldn’t have to complain of any actor’s poor portrayal because it’s basically all up to you.  You could even turn the story into a cartoon mind movie.  Nobody’s going to keep you from seeing things the way you want.  Whether it’s putting your own face in a character or imagining the setting of “Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp” to be in India even if the book explicitly expresses that it happens in China, no one can hold you back.  Only bad text and bad stories could ever be disappointing, but then again if you’re a seasoned reader, you can even work around those things.  The possibilities are limitless.  You just need to kick the ground hard and you’ll find yourself flying in no time.  I’m not really sure about that metaphor, but I think you know what I mean.

Last Thursday, a Bangladeshi friend of mine gave me a book called “Hope for the Flowers,” a picture book by Trina Paulus described as “a tale—partly about life, partly about revolution, and lots about hope.”  It’s a beautiful childish-looking novel full of drawings but intended “for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read),” which means children can read it, too.  Upon picking it up, I knew I already had a copy of it somewhere on my shelf and that I’ve read it once before, but I also knew I loved it so much, so I gladly took the new copy.  Who could refuse such a masterpiece?

Upon returning home I browsed my shelf and found the old copy there which was given to my mother by an old flame of hers in 1988—a year before I was born.  I showed her my copy and we read it together.  It’s relatively brief and very easy to understand.  It delivers a powerful message about refusing to conform to conventions that don’t amount to anything.  It encourages its readers to break away from useless old habits and dedicate life to productive goals.  It’s second only to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” on my list of all-time favorites.

Reading broadens horizons and exposes you to a lot of new ideas.  Some ideas are easy to agree with, some may require further journeys to grasp, while some are just plain wrong.  It doesn’t matter if you pass through some sort of struggle stage.  They’re not uncommon in the world of readership.  If you continue to read after breaking away from an intellectual skirmish with yourself, you’ll find that there will be more of the sort and you will literally find people all over the world to share such predicaments with.  You’ll even make new friends because of the same book.  And, who knows?  You may even end up tying the knot with someone from across the world who shares a favorite book with you.  The possibilities shoot as far from the pages as they could and most of them occur in real life.

Whether you read to learn, to think, to search for truth, to dream, or to live in other people’s lives and get away from your own, it doesn’t matter.  You can do what you want and you’ll find that your desires are no more than a page turn away from coming true.  Of course, you can always choose to remain sane.  I know I am.  So go ahead and pick that book up!  Read and feel the words.  Allow yourself to be lifted from the ground and taken through the pages.  Allow yourself to be free!


Seen on Print: