TO book lovers, the sight of abandoned books has few rivals for pathos.
On an assignment to write about a heritage home in Cebu being dismantled and shipped piece by piece to be reconstructed in another province, I came upon a scene that reminded me of Ground Zero photographs of 9/11.
Even with the mask and glasses I wore, it was hard to breathe and see. It seemed as if the dust and the din were weapons the old house was flinging against the humans stripping it down to its carcass.
After only a few minutes, I sought the main door to clear my head when I almost stumbled on a box placed in the middle of the lobby. Tools, cans and plastic bags reclining against it suggested the carpenters’ temporary use for the box.
Inside the box were books, piled higgledy-piggledy. Handsome, leather-bound volumes bearing in gold print the name of its erstwhile owner. Once, these books must have formed the core of a law library. With the library now a hull, the tomes, coated in lead dust and paint flakes, were good only as a makeshift table.
Paper also makes good tinder to start a fire for cooking.
I never found out more about the fate of those books and the story of its owner. But it made me remember the stir among the neighbors when an ambulance stopped outside the house of my father.
Expecting to see my father carried out on a stretcher, they were surprised to see him tottering to supervise the loading of his tomes on surgery and medicine. Even when he retired from practice and then from teaching, he still woke at 4 a.m. to reread those tomes.
After he donated his collection to a government hospital, our mornings now started with his haranguing AM radio commentators. I was just grateful he didn’t load my books by mistake in that ambulance.
But which causes greater pathos: abandoning or letting go of books?
Some years ago, the niece of a colleague was leaving for college and wanted to donate her collection of Nancy Drew novels. I gave suggestions and the young woman chose Tsinelas Association Inc., volunteers who help public school students through book donations, storytelling sessions, scholarships and other programs.
When I ran into Insoy Niñal, founder of Tsinelas, I asked him about the Nancy Drews. He said they received several boxes, they had to arrange for its temporary storage and transport to their office.
Knowing something about the rites of passage one goes through from high school to college, I was still amazed by the maturity of the Tsinelas donor. Her aunt said she wanted to give the books where it would be read and appreciated.
Insoy’s account of “several boxes,” did not mean probably all the 175 volumes of the original Nancy Drew series, published from 1930 to 2003. But those boxes signify a whole girlhood of reading, a life of privileged exploration that would cascade into other discoveries for public school students.
I should know. I’ve given away books over the years but have never been able to let go of my box of Nancy Drews. She was the first detective whose novels I collected. My copies show how I wrote my name, wrapped the cover with plastic, and learned new words in the 1970s. I’ve bargained hard to get my sons and nieces to read the adventures of a super teenager created before feminism, political correctness and reproductive health altered the landscape.
But Nancy Drew, eternally 16, now reminds me how storytelling reinvents more than language. The campaign to promote reading and learning is driven by volunteer groups like Basadours, Zonta Club of Cebu II, and Beep Beep Books-Mobile Library.
Accepting book donations, these volunteers take time from work and family to promote storytelling. Basadours holds readaloud sessions at the Cebu City Public Library and public schools. It Matters takes its jeepney of books and storytellers to out-of-the-way places where books may soon not be an oddity.
Through the “Alimbukad” program, Zonta Club of Cebu II wants to empower parents to start and nurture home reading. They rotate book bags among families and train parents of students of Guadalupe Elementary School and Poo Elementary School in Barangay San Vicente, Olango, emailed Wi Suan Tiu, Alimbukad program director.
Where do you want your books to be?
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 3, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”