June 13, 2005

To Read or Not To Read

To Read...

Everytime when I linger at the book section of National Bookstore, I see droves of people inhabiting the aisles of novels and magazines. Some would squat down with heads buried in a tome or would scan stealthily pre-wrapped books in a hidden corner or would just solidly stand at the aisle reading the latest novel of a who's-who author oblivious to the congested alleyway he or she has created. Many go for the humor section where they can read "Pugad Baboy" or to the Spiritual section where they read books like "A Purpose Driven Life", or to the magazine section reading Time or FHM. Although only a handful of Filipinos go for avant-garde non-mass produced books (by publishers such as Random House and Modern Library or the classics, it's still heartening to note that many still thirst for the written word. In a country where senseless soap operas, stupid sitcoms and demeaning noon-time shows are the staple of the literate (and illiterate) masses, it has come to the point that books are fast becoming an endangered specie. For Filipinos, they would rather spend an afternoon oggling in front of the boob tube for Korean telenovelas than to relax and read a good novel about the Korean war.

Speaking of novels, why is it that Filipinos have a narrow sense of reading preference? It seems that we're stucked in reading mass-produced novels and non-fictions like Mitch Albom's "Five People You Will Meet In Heaven", or "Tuesdays With Morrie" where diabetic sweetness is the dictum of the day. Also, we tend to gravitate to spiritually uplifting materials be it a novel like Cuelho's "The Alchemist" or the non-fiction "Chicken Soup for A Hooker's Soul." And if you ask anyone or any celebrity at that, their choices are the same albeit in varying degrees of sappiness and we the proletariat tend to lap it up.

Take a look at all those Friendster profiles! Many place "The Alchemist" as their most favorite book as if it's the only book published that year. And it's the only book they'll place (insinuating that's the only fiction they ever read.) I mean that's all? One measly book just so people will say that you're interesting or witty.

Why do literate people venture not into other genres or lesser known titles such as Kazuo Ishiguro's Pulitzer prize-winning Remains of the Day? Why is it that the only novels that keep popping up in people's shelves are by Anne Rice, Dan Brown, Robert Ludlum, Mary Higgens Clark, Michael Crichton, Daniel Steele, etc. whereby though they are hugely popular, they have yet to earn a Pulitzer or any prize in the literary field? I don't demean them, but shouldn't we seek those works that were highly praised (and prized) by critics for their merits like those that have won the Palanca awards or the Pulitzer's? Why should we let ourselves stagnate in the pool of the mass-produced? Because... it would be immensely sad that if we shall reach a ripe age of 78 and your grandchild will ask what your most favorite book is, your ready answer would still be "The Alchemist."

...or Not to Read

It's sad that the country's premier bookstore is half-occupied by school supplies, calculators, gift wrappers, vcds, and novelty items. This, in full light, shows how Filipinos define a bookstore. Go to stores like Borders, Barnes&Noble or Brentano's in the US and they'll show you what a real bookstore should look like: 3-4 floors of books. Nothing but books.

Since we are race whose preferential mode of learning is via the television and live audiovisual entertainment just as our pre-Hispanic forefathers like the Igorots pass down their tales orally, reading then becomes the lame duck alternative that only a diligent few can relate with. Thus, it is not good for one's business (and one's own business sense) to stock every corner with works of Socrates, Dickens and Ludlum because if the majority would rather watch and listen to the shenanigans of Ethel Booba or the wailing of Kris Aquino instead of buying books from the shelves, then it is not only unprofitable to stick it in the mud but more importantly, it's very Quixotic. This is why National or Goodwill thought of the need for other materials to sell(school supplies, pens, cds, vcds, cards, giftwrappers, albums, Christmas decors, etc.) in order cover their overhead expenses. And this reflects the fact that the only way for a bookstore to flourish in this hell-hole of a nation is to "diversify" its contents even if it means sacrificing half the floorspace to non-literary items. Tsk... Tsk...

And hence, National bookstore, the unofficial barometer of our functional literacy, has shown how the Filipino race is not inclined to read. This shows why we tend to repeat history again and again and again- never learning its lessons. This explains why we are such in a whole lot of mess because the minds of our leaders are full of corrupted kamote instead of enlightened wisdom.

Book recommendations:
1. to GMA: The Purpose Driven Life (because for the past 5 years, her administration has showed no purpose or direction whatsoever...) & Orwell's Animal Farm (because little by little, she has shown herself to be like the PIGS in the story wherein they enslaved and oppressed the masses bit by bit...)

2. to Bayani Fernando: Sun Tzu's Art of War (because his stint at MMDA shows how primitive and futile his tactics are...)

3. to Kris Aquino & Boy Abubunda: Life of Pi (because I would like to see how those two will survive alone in a raft for seven months in the middle of the Pacific accompanied by a very very hungry 450-lbs Bengal tiger... )

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