Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Culture of reading

THIS is my first column for this year and unfortunately, my second to the last. But it took me one sleepless night to brood over a sensible topic while being preoccupied by late-night haunting of deadlines. Worrying over tons of unfinished academic tasks prior to graduation is equivalent to drinking five cups of coffee in succession within one hour–the high dose of stimulant is strong enough to bleed “everything” dry inside my head and leave nothing but an accumulation of caffeine.

I remember that last December, I came across with a book entitled Stacking in Rivertown by Barbara Bell, aside from a tech-oriented magazine and two more novels which I haven’t managed to finish reading. I owe the former from a close friend, as a sacrificial gift, during our kris kringle. It tells about the tragic story of a part-time writer-cum-prostitute, her painful love affair with a sadistic pimp, how she overcomes the recurring memories from haunting her, and how she ends up finding requited love in another woman.

Now, I won’t talk so much about the book. I mention this novel because for one, it’s set against the backdrop of Valentine’s celebration, and two, I want to emphasize that reading is a healthy and enjoyable mental exercise. But take note: about 2.8 million Filipinos could NOT read and write according to the Functional Literacy Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS). Imagine the number of “unhealthy” minds not being treated! Perhaps, an average Filipino’s lack of devotion and time or laziness in reading concerns with this figure.

I have classmates who are “loyal” when it comes to Hollywood’s giant productions such as the LOTR trilogy and Harry Potter series. They would not miss watching those all-time literary classic and contemporary ones as adapted on the big screen. One time, I asked one of them how they could appreciate the films rather than the book, and he said, “The movie versions are great but I don’t read the books. Para ano nga showing sila sa sinehan?”

Nevertheless, this is just a sad reality. For example, during weekends, if you try to compare the number of students reading a book inside a library and the number of students (yes “students” since you see them in their school uniform) in a nearby Internet cafe that offers online games, for sure you will see the disparity in numbers, having the heavier weight in the latter case. Then again, we blame this defect to the Filipinos’ reading culture, either because of poverty or technology, or even both. Poverty, because a large number of children which belong to poor sector of society could not go to school and learn how to read; and technology, because of, well, its diversionary effect.

Whatever the reason is, we should bear in mind that reading is a habit. As early as in childhood, a person must be trained to read so that s/he would get accustomed to reading and consider it as a way of life. If a person grows old without enjoying the pleasure of reading, he will die without dreaming of opening a book.

(Published in The Augustinian, Jan 1-Feb 15, 2006 issue)

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