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A Plea for Reading

It is already a cliché to say we are nation of non-readers. But when the Popular Bookstore in Manila posted a photo showing their façade splattered with red paint, literally tagging them as front for the NPA, this issue of books and reading took on a surreal turn.

For those who did their graduate studies in the social sciences, the said Popular Bookstore, harking back to its old branch in Doroteo Jose, a street sharing a corner with Rizal Avenue, which used to be known as Avenida, was and still is noted for their huge collection of Marxist titles.

Again for the scholars or would-be scholars, Marxist literatures encompass a wide swath of tradition, which begin with Marx and his Das Kapital and other books written by those who either claim to be Neo-Marxist or closet Marxist. The problem with this categorization is that being a Marxist does not necessarily start from one’s personal acclaim; rather, a critic or a school or a school of thought would label a particular thinker or writer as espousing ideas that are Marxist in influence.

These so-called Marxist literatures are not default readings for uprising and revolution. You could use Marxist theories to examine a rural society or even a collection of folk dances and folk songs. Myths are subjected to Marxist lens.

All this one learns by reading. This act of reading, however, is mediated by many other elements, like education, listening and writing. Reading, like love and respect, begins at home.

Unlike the usual pedagogue, I believe in a wider understanding of reading. I am less normative. I do not prescribe any material that will aid a person – specifically a young person – to learn how to read. Learning, as we know, is tedious. To sustain a good behavior and attitude toward reading, we must find in this act of reading joy. Like knowing. The path to knowledge should not be about pedantry which in Bikol is closest to the term “pasale.” We read not to impress others but because we have fun getting to know about the splendors of this world, our society and our neighbor.

Another cliché I can think of about reading has something to do with parents and teachers. The parents, of course, remain to be our first teachers in the ideal sense of the word. Our socialization, which is to understand our role in societies, is always at the heart of every home. Parents should also love to read. The materials are not limited. Bibles written in the local languages are good impetus for readings. My grandmother who grew up in Ticao knew mainland Bikol through the novenas and prayer books, which were in the Bikol language and not in Tigaonon. These were materials printed by the predecessors of Cecilio Press and later the said Press itself. This explains the Bulawan Bikolnon Award, the highest given to a Bikolano artist or institution. The award was not to romanticize or exoticize the actions of Cecilio Press but to pay tribute to its contribution in the development of the Bikol language.

The parents should read anything. There are newspapers and there are tabloid materials. Read komiks. Or ask your children to introduce you to the news on the Internet.

In Bikol, we are lucky that we have local publications, including this paper I write for. Read local news so the children will be interested about local affairs. I always subscribe to the belief that all readers begin with the most basic things but gradually move on up to denser and what the uninitiated classify as difficult materials.

In Savage Mind, where I spend two or three days each week, there are many happy moments that take place within our sight. We have parents brought by their children to the bookstore because the latter wanted reading some materials. This is heartwarming for us. But we also look forward to the day when the parents, outside of being the chaperone for their kids, become interested in our books. There are sad moments though when we see a young couple wasting an hour posing in front of the bookshelves and books. We do not call them out. Deep in us, we whisper strong wishes that they open at least one book and read a page or two.

The role of the teachers cannot be overestimated. They need to read. The good teacher, no question, is the one who reads avidly beyond textbooks and outlines. How can, for example, a Social Science teacher in this region teach about society and social stratification without having read “Social Class in a Bikol Town” by Frank Lynch, SJ?

I will be very tough to deans, directors for research and education officials. You have to read beyond the inspirational and “educational.” For the researchers, the test of good reading is an optimal review of literature where books are not merely cited but read from Foreword to Epilogue. We should not ignore the tradition of Annotated Bibliography and the responsibility of assigning references published in the last ten years.

When was it when the Noli and Fili were banned in Catholic schools? Even in the 70s, there were teachers who blushed at the thought of reading D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Was I lucky that I had older cousins who were reading Fanny Hill in that florid language, which reduced the sexual scenes to botanical descriptions rather than scenarios for lust?

Reading is a brave act. For someone or a government to red-tag a bookstore is a cowardly act. Let us not allow this.

By the way, Doroteo Jose is a street named after a Filipino who was arrested by Spanish authorities in 1898 for standing up against a corrupt archbishop.

After I finished writing this column, I was informed F. Sionil Jose’s Solidaridad Bookstore was also defaced with the red tag, NPA. This is sad and bad.


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