A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: The precious gift of reading a book

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 6 Feb) – Is reading a book these days – which I have always thought was a rare precious gift – an endangered species in our day and post-modern age?

There are days – especially when I am at airports and bus terminals – when I am seized with despair seeing no one else holding a book and reading it with focused attention. I feel like a member of a cult sitting there holding this book and having a great time while everyone else is tinkering with a gadget or two. A few still hold newspapers or popular magazines, but a book – heavens, have they become museum pieces?

To my delight, during my last plane ride to Davao from Cebu, a lady passenger beside me read a book while I was reading mine. I couldn’t help but smile, utterly pleased that there was another one who is a member of this book cult. I thought this was so appropriate as I wanted to rush to see the First Mindanao Book Festival at the Ateneo de Davao University after we taxied down the runway.

Since the main organizers of this activity – the ladies who have responsible jobs in the outfits that sponsored this historic event, namely MindaNews and the Ateneo de Davao University’s Department of Literature and the Arts – were BFFs, I knew it was going to take place in early 2014. And it finally did this week, to the delight of the other members of this book cult who share the dream of expanding book readership despite the uphill fight.

In my youth, we worshiped books. They were expensive, some copies were very rare and were placed inside glass aparadors that were locked to make sure no one stole them. Teachers held them with a sense of reverence as they held these books covered in plastic to protect them from dust and rain. Libraries were hushed places – with librarians ready to ring the bell even with a slight giggle heard – because the books needed to rest.

And we understood why. When finally one discovered the great pleasure that await a reader – usually courtesy of teachers who had such great passion for reading and who made sure they could find disciples – the reading does not stop. The craving for words never ends; the addiction persists! A Brother of the Sacred Heart got me intoxicated in books and I was his lifelong disciple. Today I always pray for him on All Soul’s Day, truly grateful that my soul is constantly nourished by what the books have to offer by way enriching my grasp of truth, compassion and all those virtues.

In my 20s and 30s one felt that one was part of an elite section of the population while having a book clipped under one’s shoulder. One had a sense of superiority and could project a know-it-all attitude. A book with a pair of glasses – that was the epitome of identity when identity was not even a buzzword for the millennials! Of course in college, the Jesuit professors knew who were their favorites, they were the bookworms, a word no one uses now. A pity!

So why is it that in my 60s, romancing the books is at the bottom of the list of a young person’s favorite things. And why do I hear the groaning and moaning of teachers across the corridors of academic institutions with the same complaint – the young people do not like to ready anymore! They only read because they must. They seem not to take any pleasure at reading. They hate it when you give assignments of long pages to read. And ask the quiet lady at the library: how many books get borrowed every semester? Are there still enrollees in Library Science course?

So the ladies organizing the First Mindanao Book Festival must be cultists! Are they so confident placing the word – First? Are they really sure there will be a Second, a Third and so on? Well, good luck!

But surprise of all surprises. I go check the First Mindanao Book Festival at the Finster Hall at ADDU which I must say has a catchy poster (of Itok, Davao’s original cartoonist) with a trendy theme – WRITING MINDANAO, RIGHTING MINDANAO. But I had a modest reason in going to the bookfest, namely, only to show my face to encourage my lady friends in what I thought was their quixotic dream! And as I entered the room, it was full of young people checking out the books! I couldn’t believe my eyes; the book cult still has a following diay!

Well one more reason to believe in the mantra: build it and they will come. The ladies intuitively sensed this was a good idea and the crowds who came proved they were right in their belief that power arises when we write. I thought I would stay for just a few minutes; but I stayed long enough to savor the pleasure of being surrounded by books on Mindanao, written by Mindanawon authors and published in this BangsaTriPeople (I know Mac Tiu frowns on this, but let’s face it, many books refer to Mindanao’s tri-people).

And I felt proud as a Mindanawon. We’ve come a long way. We no longer just import books from abroad and north of this archipelago. We have been writing books and there are more writers in our midst these days. All kinds of books – textbooks, books of poetry, coffee table books, serious stuff, books for children and those advocating various causes. They come in various shapes and sizes, some printed in expensive paper available in Singapore or cheap newsprint courtesy of printing presses eager to project the profile of book publishing. This Book Festival is a portent of things to come in terms of publication; the future seems bright despite high costs of printing and other hurdles that would-be authors face.

One wishes though that the hegemony of the English language is not so aggressive, but we cannot escape the fact of our being a colonized country – English rules! At the First Mindanao Book Festival, only Pilipino has a presence among the local languages. Cebuano, Ilonggo, Karay-a, Maguindanao, Maranaw, Tausog, Bagobo-Tagabaya, B’laan, T’boli… well one can theorize that these were oral languages, only recently codified for writing purposes. Thus, the paupacity of books in these local Mindanawon languages.

But why spoil the fun! It is a feat enough to get this Festival on the road! It will have a road show; it is traveling to far Zamboanga soon, and then perhaps to all the major stops in this BangsaTriPeople and even beyond where Mindanawons could be reached.

So you thought reading a book is passe? Look around at the First Mindanao Book Festival and exclaim – Long live the book!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)