Saturday, April 02, 2011

“Matamata”: Summer showdown*

SO many books to read and not enough time is a dilemma that never afflicts my boys.

It plagues their mother, which should balance some divine scale but fails to bring the poor woman any comfort or her children, any rest.

When summer begins, the battle of will and wits begins in our home.

For my boys, the first day after final exams spells glorious liberation from everything that smells like a requirement. Unfortunately, books fall in that detested category.

It falls on me to set aside and pack their textbooks for giving away, and to scatter around our house, without any attempt at subtlety, works of fiction and soaring imagination with which I hope to inveigle the boys into unplugging their computers.

Every summer, the electricity bill only jumps to a heart-jolting level.

I’ve mulled not paying the bill so the utility firm will be forced to cut us off. No power means no computer and no Internet. Also, candlelit quiet evenings with a book for companion.

On the other hand, the boys might just start a nightly habit of bonfires, using my old books with their lovely dry pages. As the insatiable flames reach for the sky, will the brightness induce the boys to scan a novel, instead of chucking this into the fire?

Then I spotted my younger son playing a game where he took on the virtual role of a medieval lord storming a castle with torches and pitchforks. Forewarned is forearmed.

Another tip I find dubious is rewarding a child who reads with another book. How do you get them to pick up one in the first place?

From a Mr. Bean video that’s very popular at home I’ve ruminated about the strategy to leave invisible glue on book covers in case the boys mistake it for a bar of chocolate or an external hard drive. When they reach out for this, splat!
If you’re glued to a novel, wouldn’t you be curious to check out how the first page reads?

Then it happened one day that one of the boys (no one has confessed) spilt maple syrup near a pocketbook (while I was a bridge and a city away because never in several lifetimes will I endanger a book this way).

One of the cats came to investigate. The family dog happened to pass by. What remained of the book afterwards was, I am sorry to say, not enough to infer an ending, even a cliffhanger.

In a recent school event, the father seated in front of me held a book for the daughter perched on his wife’s knees. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” so well-thumbed and sporting proudly curling cover and pages and totally unlike the uptight like-new copy at home, read seven times, all by yours truly.

When the little girl’s older sister came by, she got the book from her father and after pushing her spectacles up her small nose, bent over a page she showed to her younger sister. Two readers! All in the same family!

Short of swapping my wired boys for my bookish niece—at her pace of three hours per pocketbook, my sister’s older daughter can minister to all the books suffering from inferiority complex at home—I’ve negotiated an agreement. For this summer, the boys choose a time in the day to read a title of their own choice.

While my 12-year-old cracks with much melodrama the stiff spine of “The Philosopher’s Stone,” my teenager wonders if I can find him a biography of Lee Kuan Yew.

We don’t have anything on him, I say. We have Wimpy Kid and Lyra and the daemons and Bilbo and company. Nothing on someone who believes caning makes good citizens.

He suggests searching for an e-book on Lee.

You mean something that requires a gadget to read? I croak.

With a promise to find a free format to download, this son of mine escapes back into his computer. I don’t expect to see him again until the end of summer.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 3, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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