August 25, 2005

The Reading Habits of Goldfishes (Part 1)

I went to meet a friend at Glorietta a few days ago just to unwind from the daily grind. It was somewhat turning into a routine... well, a routine I'm beginning to enjoy- meeting at a bookstore preferably Powerbooks, eating a light dinner at one of the restaurants in the Makati area, and lounge around a bit.

Before I walked over to our rendezvous, I took a short side trip to National Bookstore to scour for books from the sale bins. It's not everyday that this bookstore shells out 20% mark down on books, or better yet, 50% discounts on selected items. I headed to the bargain bins and started looking for choice titles while shoving my elbows against fellow bibliophiles on the prowl for sale items. I found two for half the price. They were Arturo Perez-Reverte's "Flanders Panel" and James Hilton's "Lost Horizon." I was glad to have found those, because normally, those books are priced way above my literary budget. Observing my surroundings, I was gladden to see fellow Filipinos browsing through shelves and bins for good reads- books by Ayn Rand to C.S. Lewis, Isabel Allende to Dan Brown.

I remembered a comment from my previous entry wherein I said that Filipinos have a "narrow sense of reading preference" where only mass-marketed books like Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Mitch Albom, Paulo Coelho, or Michael Crichton were appreciated and patronized by many. That person reacted by saying that to choose what titles to read is a matter of personal choice and I agree with her whole-heartedly. It's anyone's choice whether to read tomes as simple as Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince or as complicated as Dante's Divine Comedy, as popular as Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code or as obscure as Ananta Toer's Buru Quartet. It's all up to the reader what he or she likes to read. Period.

Some have a narrow reading range, while others have broader ones. It's indeed a matter of choice. It's also a choice whether to stay within your literary comfort zone (comprising the works of a single author or genre) or learn to discover other good works by different authors. It's OK I guess to stay loyal to the collection of Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson, but wouldn't it be richer and enlightening to try the stuff others wrote? Not sounding too sanctimonious about it, what is there to fear by trying out other novels and non-fictions? One may or may not like it, but at least you tried to like it.

When I was in Elementary School, every one of my classmates was feverishly reading The Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventures. I rented one Hardy Boys novel from the library and unfortunately, I can hardly finish the book. I returned the book half-read and went back instead on reading Herge's Adventures of Tintin and Steiger's History of the Orient (a 1920's book owned by my father.) It was probably the first and the last Hardy Boys novel I have ever read.

Several years later, I began reading the other novels that were tucked among the shelves on the foyer of our house. I picked up Clavell's Gaijin and surprisingly it was an enjoyable read, much to the delight of my dad. From there on I was hooked, and began to look for the rest of his Asian saga- King Rat, Shogun, Taipan, then Noble House. I began reading Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot series (thanks to the library) to which I derived great pleasure in guessing who the murderer was.

When College rolled by, I was introduced to the glory that was Booksale, Powerbooks and National Bookstore. It was sheer enjoyment whenever their month-long sale arrive- scouring under those pile of books for good reads. There were several "lemons" which I thought were interesting enough but ended up as shallow and convoluted pieces of trash. There were fortunate ones like David Davidar's "House of Blue Mangoes" (P250), Eco's "Name of the Rose" (P100), Toer's "Child of All Mankind" (P75), and Saunders' "Pastoralia" (P70).

There are several books bearing Oprah's seal which I constantly see among Booksale "below P100" items (Midwives, Vinegar Hill, Poisonwood Bible, etc.), and I know that they are good heart-warming tales extolling the human spirit. They are good picks but they'll have to take a rain-check because I for one have developed an allergy for All-American apple-pie eating, Dixieland accented, angst-ridden, politically correct novels. For me, it's more exciting to read those books situated in exotic Asia or in historically-rich Europe, or in adventure-laden Africa, than in bland, pimple-ridden whiny whiny suburban white America. But then again, I might just eat those comments later on if this Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"(P50)novel in front of me proves to be a very fulfilling read. So far I have finished James Hilton's "Lost Horizon" (P90) which was an uber-classic; an atmospheric Shangri-La for cold mid-afternoon readings.

The problem with Filipinos' "reading range" lies not in the slim variety of the works, but in the willfulness of choosing other books. There are lots and lots of cheap good books out there and they are crammed into bargain bins and Booksale shelves. And there are also expensive shrink-wrapped books up on display at Powerbooks and National Bookstore. So, there's no reason to complain why one cannot find another good title besides Five People You'll Meet In Heaven, unless it's Five People You'll Meet In Hell.

The commentator then followed up with an Ad Hominem saying that reading non-mainstream, non-bestselling books is an elitist pastime. Ah, ok, that my friend will be dissected on the next installment.

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