Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bookavores, unite!

BEFORE E. could leave the country, she had three matters to settle: the cat that adopted her, her books and bookshelves, which she couldn’t lug back to Melbourne.

With prescient feline wisdom, the cat spared E. by disappearing a few weeks before her departure. It knew what E. did not: that, after finding a dirty ball that pussyfooted into a coffee shop and bringing this home, all clotted fur and lice, E. would never be able to leave it.

With the novels, E. was less sentimental, leaving several boxes to me, a stranger whose Sun.Star Cebu musings about reading had become part of her Sunday ritual.

Then there were just the bookshelves.

These were beautiful, solid wood mellowed with the patina of age and frequent contact with paper. I yearned for, even dreamt about them. But unless I could convince my boys to sleep on the shelves or move up on the roof, our home could not accommodate another bookshelf.

Less prescient than E.’s cat, I was slower in drawing up a conclusion from the incident of the unrequited shelves: life is short; books, unending; and shelves, finite. Conclusion: share books.

Last Nov. 27 was an opportunity to renew these articles of faith. Since 2008, the country observes November as National Reading Month. Its culmination is on Nov. 27, “Araw ng Pag(b)asa (National Reading Day)”.

Nov. 27 is also the birth anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. The play of meanings in “pag(b)asa,” interchanging “reading” with “hope,” was an advocacy of the late senator, in whose honor were dedicated last Friday’s storytelling sessions in public elementary and high schools.

Reading a story to a child can translate into sharing novels with young adults. Familiar with the ways my students read, write and express, I tried to match titles and authors with last Friday’s classes.

I’m happy to report that the appeal of a free book still cuts across generations. For these Cebu-based millennials—only two of us in one class use a basic phone and that’s only because my student said, sheepishly, that she recently lost her smartphone—the paper book is more than a thing inspiring wonder and delight.

Unlike an e-book, a traditional book stuck together with glue, words and imagination can be turned over and sniffed. J., a bookseller, once said that buying books, a luxury in this country, constrains us to stick to favorite authors. A gift of books frees one to take risks and discover new voices.

Paper books are also better for testing your BQ (bookavore quotient): do you leaf or flip through the pages before choosing what to read? Leafing helps one search for the first paragraph (or page) that decides the leap into the tale.

Flipping is for quickly checking if the previous owner left any trace. (E. and I clip book reviews and insert it in novels. After reading, we review the reviewer. Judging by the squealing, a student or two share the same quirk.)

Any separation anxiety over breaking up a book series or works by the same author collected over the years can be assuaged by donating to public libraries. As the librarian of a public school attested, fiction is rarely a priority for scarce funds. Yet, students look for fiction to make book reports.

And for pleasure, I should think. All bookavores live by this article of faith.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 1, 2015 issue of the “Matamata,” an editorial-page column that usually appears on Sunday

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