Books I Love

      I have a dilemma. I would soon be moving to a two bedroom condo unit that boasts economy of space, meaning most of the things that accumulated all my life has got to go.As I peruse my room it seems that the thing that had built up most in twenty years are … my books.                                                                                                                                                                     

      Everywhere I look books – in the shelves, on the table, on the bed, even crawling on the floor. What will happen to the tons of books that are a part of me as my memories are?There is no one book that touched my life. To say so would be telling a lie, for there were hundreds of them that kept me awake for so many a night. The second that my toddler eyes engaged with the words of Doctor Seuss, words like cat, hat, box, fox, I was hooked.                                        

     There were no sacred grounds for me. I read in my room, I read in the bathroom, I read on the sofa, I even read in the closet. My yaya kept her Tagalog classics in there next to the blankets, and discovering them was one of the best things that happened to my young life. I started with Mars Ravelo’s Darna and ended up with Vincent Benjamin Kuah’s Cecilia’s Lullaby.                                                                                                                                                                                                

     I remember my old school’s library. It was filled with musty odor, dank and mystifying. Rows and rows of books lined up like hoarded antiquity. As I walked down the narrow spaces between the shelves, the sunrays brought millions of tiny floating specks casually landing on the book covers. They were like fireflies in the afternoon.Was I Nancy Drew, whipping up her magnifying glass to hunt for clues? Titles were like an array of cryptic messages, asking to be unearthed and brought to light.

     A book is a puzzle, an enigma to be solved.There were secrets untold and there were secrets that waited for me to unfold. In high school, spotting an Agatha Christie paperback would be enough to give me goosebumps. It was the utmost pleasure to outthink the author by getting ahead of the story. It was even utter bliss to be completely wrong! Hercule Poirot tickled me pink for the most horrendous self aggrandizement in the annals of mystery novels. He is horribly arrogant but dreadfully funny. His repartees with his partner Hastings will delight even hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans.

      A book is a nanny, a teacher, and a mother.It had opened its pages and welcomed me with open arms. There were times that reality seemed too bitter to swallow that I found solace in a corner with a book in my arms, safe in the knowledge that although the world may not be right, there was Atticus, Scout, Huck, Levin, Silas and all the other unforgettable imperfect characters who gave me strength and wisdom and restored my belief in humanity.My favorite book “Sightings” by Susan Trott introduced me to Buster. Trott said of Buster, “the good hearted ones are always the strongest, the most courageous, the most intelligent, i.e. clear thinking, because they’re unfettered by ambition, greed, fear, and other crummy needs humans are heir to that drag us down and make us craven or base”.

         This book took me to a place where reality and myth touched intimately. Imagine the crystalline sea and characters as insouciant and blithe as the weather.A book holds its meaning until you are ready to realize its wisdom. It gives meaning when meanings do not exist. I found the meanings that I looked for in the pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. At a time when I was surrounded by people who took drugs for amusement, who thought that freedom entitled them to drink alcohol and throw the nights away in bars and parties, I found eternal values in the chronicles of bygone strangers.Now I have to choose. Which one should I let go? Is it the crusty “Silas Marner” who has held that darling girl and protected her with his life? Or is it this coffee stained copy of “Anna Karenina”?                                                                                                                                                                             

       Oh, my dear old quixotic friend, how I adore your misadventures! But off you go. Slowly and painfully, I select a title, touch its jacket and perhaps feel if it has a message for me, still.The story that haunted me by its beauty is Henry James’ “Beast in the Jungle”. This is the story of a man who thought something terrible was about to happen to him, that the “beast” would spring upon him.  And so he waited, not knowing that the woman who waited with him, waited who “knows with what passion”, was the only escape from the nothingness that was about to happen to him. Then she died and left him all alone. He travelled around the world only to find out that the thing that mattered to him the most was to be beside that tiny slab of grass that was her tomb.

      A book is a journey.To have traversed the Mississippi River with Huck Finn was a rite of passage for me. In reading his books, you never really know when the laughter ends and the recognition of truth begins. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are characters Filipinos would relate to. We find humor in everything, we grit our teeth during hard times, and we forgive like hell.And so I pack my books in boxes, like children off to school, or to some other place in another country. I have this terrible ache in my guts.This box goes to my son in Macau, this box to my niece, this box to a colleague, this one to a friend.I have some books left, the ones I cannot let go.I have learned through bouts with our weather the importance of knowing what to value and what to discard .The possibility that I would read them again or that one of my children will keeps me holding on. I read them once sometimes twice. But the pages turn rust and brown. Perhaps it is time to let go.

     A book is a tree that grows in our minds.It is rooted deeply, connecting us to all that we hold dear in life.It is a comfort to know that wherever the books end up, they will not die but keep on growing.Do you see that last page where it says “The End” ?

 Well, it doesn’t. And holding that thought, I smile.



Reading a Book is a Walk in the Park

One of my friends said that books are passé. Now that computers have virtually dominated our milieu, books will become a relic of the past according to her. I begged to disagree with her. I tried reading on the computer for a few hours and I got an eye strain. Well, assuming that iPads and Kindle have gone viral and infected just about everybody in cyberspace, books still have the greatest impact on some of the most celebrated leaders of our time.
I’m not exactly a techie, but I have moves of my own when it comes to the keyboards. And I love my computer. But it doesn’t give me the relaxation that a good book can.
Alas! With all the techno craze going on in the virtual sphere, our children are all spaced out. And they are actually enjoying the time of their lives.
But why books? Are we not now in the future as what Isaac Asimov predicted?
A book is like a walk in the park. It gives you time to reflect without the temptations of facebook, google, messages, or whatever. It’s the grass under your feet, the clouds floating idly by.
Here are some courses of action you can do to save your child from the clutches of his cyber attachment and lead him to discover the beauty of the pages.
1. Be sneaky. Buy the latest craze in the market like the Hunger Games or the Harry Potter series. Make sure the books lie around where the kids can find it. Read some fascinating parts or mystery and tell them about it during dinner. Use the cool words in the book like quidditch or something unpronounceable and have a fun time tongue twisting. Talk about the characters like Katniss and Peeta.
2. Create a game where in the children have to guess the characters in a book. It can also be a story game. This will stimulate interest in the characters. What magical powers do they have? Who is Harry Potter’s love interest? Where is Panem? What do you mean by “hunger games”?
3. Go to the bookstore with the kids and browse. It’s free to browse. The smell of the pages, the illustrations, the touch of the book jacket, they all come together as an experience in itself. The library was a magic kingdom to me when I was small.
4. Buy books that have familiar characters like Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys. Tell them that the movies were actually made based on the novels not the other way around.
5. When you go to the beach, have a picnic or travel to another country, buy a book in that place. Make the book a part of your travel.
6. Always scout for great buys in second hand stores. I found most of my classics in bargain bins.
7. Make them choose whatever topic they like. I have hundreds of classics in my shelves but my kids prefer Libba Bray and J.K. Rowling.
8. Be firm when it comes to playing computer games. Put a password in the computer.
9. Tell them reading is cool. It makes one a more interesting person.
10. Read. Perhaps that is the best way to do it. When a child sees you reading, he will be curious. Make this curiosity work for you by taking him into your world.
11. And when you take a walk in the park, don’t forget to carry one. It’s the one friend that will always be there.

Published in the Manila Bulletin.Image