Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Dear readers,

It was only months ago when we thought of having some kind of a book borrowing-cum-sharing project among readers in SPi. This eureka moment was brought about by books that are stored at home, lonely in their dust-covered skins begging to be read again. God knows how many times I’ve read Count Tolstoy’s War and Peace (the mere mention of this book usually comes with a standard joke I read from a Time magazine cartoon, but you have to personally ask me about it) and I don’t recall how many times I’ve reread my Amy Tans or Isabel Allendes that I swore never to touch them again while I’m still living. Lately, DVDs have been taking over my life (not in the manner that you are thinking, no) and I admit to having seen books-turned-films even before I read the print version. Talk about a decline. My work schedule has rendered me sluggish and I do not mean just lately. Oh yeah, give and take a few more other reasons for ignoring the alarm clock and going back to sleep only to rush and cuss (in no particular order) when I’m about to be late. How cool is that?!

Lately, I found myself dusting my old books and opening them. As a habit, I always make a note re when and where I acquired a book. I opened one and it said “National Bookstore. Mango Ave. 1998.” A-ha! This book was bought in Cebu. I imagine that it must have been one of those super boring slow Sundays when simply staying at the dormitory could render one catatonic. Mango Avenue, formely Maxilom, is a windy winding avenue of schools, eateries, shops, one old seedy theater (which comes alive only at night) and a large National Bookstore branch across Jollibee. I used to spend my time there when nothing good is showing at the Ayala or SM Cinemas. Living on a pauper’s budget in those days meant hours of tulo-laway moments at titles I can only dream of having. These days, anybody can just enter Powerbooks, grab a book, finish it in one seating, put it back on the shelf and then leave without even having to pay for reading it. Readers in this age and time are so lucky. Back then, my friends and I would put together coins and bills to buy one Jessica Zafra book. Whoever gave more cash would get to keep the book after everyone else has read it. We were so agog over Zafra then. Thank goodness I am so over her now. I do not even read her blog for fear of having to read the same things over and over again but I digress.

Eventually, I found myself a job in my friend’s pseudo-Greek restaurant in Ayala and then I was able to afford to buy books again albeit on a 15-day interval (minimum wage earners cannot afford to be impatient, you know). The modus operandi was if I find a good book and can’t afford it yet, I would hide it in another shelf behind other books where it cannot be found. Come pay day, I would re-claim it, triumphant that my plan worked. The thing is I am not alone. I later found out that many other (poor) readers like me do the same thing. I had to hatch another plan pronto.

When did I start reading? As a kid, naturally, and that’s stating the obvious. When you grow up with an English Literature major-teacher for a mother and a journalist-lawyer for a dad, you cannot afford not to read. No, let me rephrase that. It would be a scandal to not read a book.

In all honesty, even if my life memory started when I was 5 years old, I don’t recall the books of my early childhood (anybody out there who does?!). I did have a favorite compilation of story books before which had Charlotte’s Web, etc. One of my favorite stories then was about this statue of a prince covered in gold leaf who asked a bird (yes, the statue did talk) to peel it all off piece by piece and give it to the poor whom he sees every day from atop his pedestal. It was a very touching story. I also miss reading Tin Tin and Friends, the never-ending adventures of a French boy and his white dog, Snowy, but then again this is a comic book. Does this count?

Since a better part of my elementary days was spent in the public school system, I also discovered the joys of reading from donated Adarna books. For once there was a reason to thank Imelda Marcos for supporting the dreams of one National Artist named Virgilio Almario to produce storybooks for children. I recall lazy afternoons of being cocooned in our dark library with only storybooks to keep me company.

In college, things were different. I had nothing with me but science books and I was then dead set on becoming a physician. I gave up drawing, painted little if at all, never attempted to learn even one musical instrument. I cannot recall reading one novel or such during the first half of my college life. Eventually I got bored and found myself getting lost in the dingy halls of our University library. I discovered a section there which a library assistant later told me was very notorious for midday trysts of the rhythmic kind between campus lovers, much to the chagrin of library assistants, but what struck me as peculiar to this section were volumes upon volumes of classic titles which when opened would make their hapless discoverer sneeze for days on end. That’s when I started a love affair with books by Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, more so on the latter than the former. At least I didn’t have to give the university janitors a reason to be irritated, hah!

If my mother labeled herself a Romantic (the poet Robert Frost, who belonged to that literary period, was her personal favorite), I labeled myself a Dickensian. Being in a Jesuit-run university, I found a real-time link between the perils of Europe’s Industrial Revolution in Dickens’ books to the life of peasants and farmers in Northern Mindanao where my university is based. Looking back, I wish I took on the character of Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectations. He seized the moment and lived his dream. For is this not what books are for? To inspire? To push? To change perspectives? These days, one can only do so much with a busy schedule of running a household, doing business and maintaining a 9-hour job. I am sadly stuck in this routine. I am hitting 32 this 2007 and I am not even halfway there yet when it comes to achieving my life goals.

Was I reading the wrong books? I can’t really tell. Many readers read to escape, ‘di ba? Maybe this is the reason why self-help books aren’t such hits.

Last February, I lost my mother to cancer. She was the main reason why I got a day job instead of pursuing medicine. I recall how I used to frighten myself to sleep with horror stories when I was 11 or thereabouts and Mom would remove my eyeglasses because I have fallen asleep – yet again - with them still on. She also bought me The Hardy Boys because it was the fad back in Don Bosco. I still have them. I miss the many weekend nights we’d sit on the porch and discuss poetry, history, and our life together as mother and son, and how we’d retreat to our books when we run out of things to say. A copy of Robert Frost’s poems stands next to her cremation jar at home – a reminder that she once had “miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.” (from Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening) I owe her so much, my mother.

Last March 2, the Writers Guild which I am most unfortunate to be heading at the moment launched Readvolution. This is a reading project designed for readers in SPi. By “designed” we mean a 24-hour access to reading materials. At the onset, the plan was really just to lend our own books to whoever would find them interesting. I brought my Milan Kunderas while Mahros brought her Kafkas and Zukavs in our vain attempt to be haughty (but, thankfully, not pretentious). JP brought out his Adarna storybooks to be used for our storytelling sessions. We simply wanted to share what we read to whoever was interested.

The day Elaine Kunkle, Director of Operations of Content, donated to us a sackful of books, things changed. We thought, oh wow! What do we do with it? In the beginning, book borrowing was done through text messaging. Someone would text me a title, and I’d leave the copy with the guards. Now, with over 150 titles to choose from, bookcases had to be bought and a plan had to be drawn.

Readvolution was born. Two bookcases (B1 and B2) now form the Guild’s little library. Each will stay in a business unit for six weeks before it moves on to another unit. We still are figuring out how to send these to Laguna, Cebu and Dumaguete but we are confident we’d be able to find ways to do it.

Last night, while everyone else were either sleeping soundly at home or hunched over their computers at work, I sneaked into the Journals lobby where the bookcases were left prior to assignment. Looking over the books, I felt that there are many lessons to be learned from the collection. The morning before the launching, I espied some guys poring over my Che Guevarra biography, Compañero. As of this writing, I believe Tikboy of the Mountaineering Society has it. “Idol ko”, he says. I’m happy that finally, people can discover this physician-revolutionary with depth than simply knowing him as a pop icon from shirts, caps and stickers which carry his Andy Warhol-esque images.

And then there are contemporary titles like Dan Brown’s (in)famous Da Vinci Code. I seriously hope readers and the plain curious would pick it up just to discover how much has been left out in that horrible film version. Oh, add to the list Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha which I and my Cebu friends drooled over for years only to be disappointed by the film. Fortuitously enough, the bookcase also carried several Salman Rushdie titles. My favorites are Midnight’s Children and Fury. The former has a funny take on books and their film counterparts. It has a scene between two goats munching on reels of film left on the floor.

Goat 1: “Hmm, this tastes really good!"
Goat 2: “I heard the book is better!”

Priceless! Never fails to make people laugh during dinner parties.

For those born decades after the war, there’s also a chance to sneak a peek into a famous little girl’s diary. Anne Frank’s entries would probably make an eye or two cry among the readers but she can be funny and stubborn, too just like any other girl her age. There’s also a wonderful collection of science fiction stories in Bookcase 2. Isaac Azimov fans will be very delighted.

And then there are the poetry books - love / hatred, life / death, joy / mirth, sadness / glory. Each poem can be the voice everyone wished they had.

Allow me to end this long epistle with an exhortation: Let the books of Readvolution help you discover more about yourselves and the world. Do it while you’re still young and there’s a chance to make things better for yourselves. Read now or forever rue it.

Best regards,


March 6, 2007
Parañaque City

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