Saturday, September 15, 2012

Readers of all ages

Of the many works of art strewn around the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines, the moss-covered reclining figure of a man curled in concentration still arrests me every time the Ikot jeepney unloads passengers near the checkpoint.

Carved from stone and sprouting moss and ferns, The Reader has the air of someone who has just closed a book but is still lost inside the maze. My guess is that he wasn’t reading a reference required for class. Yet who knows? Factorial ANOVA might be to someone what J. M. Coetzee means to me.

The book can be any book as a door can be any door for the seeker. Once you step in and stay till the end, Seeker becomes Reader, the timeless captive, rooted by a tale, disconnected and set free.

Did I say “timeless”?

This moss-grown fellow hardly resembles the child of today’s polymedia libraries.
Based on the Third National Book Development Board (NBDB) Readership Survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations last May 2012 and presented last August 2012, Filipinos who are mostly likely to read a non-school book are not brooding loners, contemplating the Future of the Novel in the minute screen of their big toe but well-adjusted extroverts, quick to snap up information from newspapers, radio and TV programs, video tapes and—gasp!—malls.

GMA Network reported in their website last Aug. 23, 2012 that the Third NBDB Readership Survey also points out that going online fans affairs with books, with an SWS official declaring that “all Internet users are non-school book readers”.

This is very good news. At the same time, it fuels my techie sons’ argument that the Internet does not make them less literate. Aside from being a true daughter of my generation, stolidly clinging to rules of grammar and punctuation even in texting, I think it’s not just the rules that are bent when young LOTR fans worship the ground Peter Jackson levitates on but fall asleep in the middle of J. R. R. Tolkien’s winding tale of how the Fellowship of the Ring came to be.

Yea, what does it matter which door if all kinds of seekers go in those doors? In the crush of the morning rush at the MRT, I stood beside a young white-garbed student who had eyes only for her hand-held phone. Since I was tiptoeing to reach the overhead hand grip, I was, more or less, hanging over her shoulders.

This gave me a very good view of her My Phone screen. At first, the lines I picked out (“Kumusta? … Magkita tayo”) shamed me into thinking I was reading an SMS. Unfortunately, in the sardine-can intimacy of MRT crowds, a Peeping Jane cannot swing very far.

Back to hanging again over the student’s shoulder, I found out that she was reading an e-book, “Meeting You,” written in Filipino by an Asian-looking lady that looked of the same age as her rapt reader. The text was all in Filipino. The diction was not the sort that trips from the pen of National Artist Rio Alma (“Buwan, Buwang, Bulawan”), but it was surprisingly easy to follow.

Despite the absence of periods and paragraphs and an anarchy of commas, my first e-book reading ended too soon when its owner got off at her station. On a teacher’s salary, I’m never going to start a habit that’s connected to a gadget. However, that MRT episode made me rethink my biases about reading.

Unless you maliciously flush a book, stories that are printed lead long lives.
Unlike lovers, you can pass them along. Unlike toys outgrown by owners, books hibernate until the next generation seeks and discovers them. As for the truly precious, they flit in and out of the multitudinous rooms of our imaginations.

However, as the Third NBDB Readership Survey results seem to suggest, the kind of door does matter. With the average non-school book reader getting younger—from 17 years in 2003, to 16 in 2007, and 15 in 2012—the new portals matter in converting more young people to a pastime that may yet become a lifetime affair.

If a writer can enthrall a young girl at rush hour to scroll up and down the tiny screen of her mobile phone to seek the end of the tale (at last! a period is finally sighted!), then long live the multimedia portals that anoint the converted into becoming lifelong seekers.

( 09173226131)

*First published in the September 16, 2012 issue of Sun.Star Cebus “Matamata” Sunday column

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