Saturday, November 19, 2011

Evergreen and floating libraries

HOW do we covet?

Hannibal Lecter, that fastidious cannibal, memorably said in “The Silence of the Lambs” that people learn to covet what they see.

In my case, reading undoes me.

These past weeks, two emails stand out in my inbox. One informed me that the Ateneo Press Bookshop is holding a Christmas book sale from Nov. 14 to Dec. 15 at the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.

My former student Joy also wrote that the Logos Hope, tagged as the “world’s largest floating book fair,” is due to visit Cebu in January and February 2012.

Not only will coffee, tea and Christmas cookies come free with browsing at the Ateneo Christmas sale, this university press is known for the excellence of its publications.

According to a press release, the Logos Hope is the sister ship of M. V. Doulos. Since 2009 was the Doulos’s last stopover in Cebu, I’m looking forward to losing my way around the Logos Hope’s over 5,000 titles.

Covetousness is fairly simple to fill when it’s just about one person’s desire. How does one sate an entire public system famished for reading?

Given the timing and reduced rates of these two book fairs, are public school librarians taking advantage to buy new titles or order more copies of the staples and classics?

Unlike private schools, public education has greater constraints in resources and processes. Yet, if a library stops acquiring new books and other references, it will come to assume, in this age of exploding information, the relevance of the rotary dial telephone or typewriter: a modern oddity that’s both funny and sad.

Yet, despite public mispriorities and mazelike bureaucracy, there’s hope that books find their way to public school students and teachers.

Many book lovers are as generous as they are voracious in their reading. Not for them the self-absorption of the collector. Some like Edna give back to schools in whose libraries they explored the ludic magic of opening a book and disappearing into other worlds.

While updating a school library they support, Edna’s family donated the previous collection to Tsinelas Association, Inc. To keep students in school, this non-government organization raises funds through book fairs, such as “Their Books 4,” which is now on its last day at Ayala Center Cebu.

When her niece outgrew her Nancy Drews, fellow writer Melanie asked around and also selected Tsinelas to be the conduit for several boxes of books, keepsakes of a well-read girlhood.

One of the recipients of a Tsinelas grant to start a reading center was the Valencia Elementary School in upland Alegria, south of Cebu. A dedicated head teacher and a parents-teachers association willing to construct shelves and attend reading appreciation talks more than made up for the expenses of transporting books, some sourced from outside the country.

Book donors do not just meet the numbers but also recognize the importance of including storybooks, fiction, poetry. The public school system has barely funds for textbooks but any book lover knows that when one picks up a book not to study but to enjoy and escape, that is when reading takes hold, not just for the moment but for a lifetime.

“Spontaneous pleasure reading (ludic reading) deserves attention for at least two reasons,” writes Victor Nell. “It is an important goal of reading instruction, and it offers rewards that are powerful enough… to sustain reading for long periods...”

One quiet afternoon in the faculty room, I sat down to prepare a syllabus incorporating creative nonfiction. I left behind academia when I lost myself in literary journalism, memoirs and personal essays. Such ludic excursion is impossible in the desert of state-funded libraries.

Fortunately, for UP Cebu, Carol Ediza-Marin of Illinois remembered the school where she once taught. She sent all the programs boxes of books. That quiet afternoon spent among her books refreshes for me why we read: to enjoy, to share, to breathe.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 20, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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