A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Books to read through the Christmas holidays

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 December) – Perhaps some of us may have the luxury of finding time during the Christmas holidays to just take things easy. Life can be so hectic for most of the year – as we try our best to survive health issues, stress in the workplace,  traffic, frustrations with politics, slow internet connections and so many other concerns – that one finds it difficult to find the time to just relax and do what the heart desires.

It used to be – in the pre-internet days – that reading provided great pleasure to the multitude. I remember in my high school and college days that it was common to meet students reading not just their required textbooks but especially fiction for the sheer joy of reading. In college at the Ateneo de Davao, when a good novel was available in the library, one had to wait weeks before one can have a turn to borrow the book.

Alas in the post-internet epoch, reading books has become an “endangered activity.”  At airports and bus terminals these days, it is rare to find somebody holding a book to read while waiting for boarding time. Search the bag of any millennial entering a mall and you will hit jackpot if there is one in a thousand who has a book he/she is reading as a hobby.

And things could get worse as technological gadgets take away the youth’s eyes from books to screens.  And if totalitarian regimes worsen, who knows – one day, what Fahrenheit 451 predicted might come true. (This was the title of a 2018 American dystopian drama film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, based on the book of the same name by Ray Bradbury. … Set in a future America, the film follows a “fireman” whose job is to burn books).  And if the great multitude have no more love for books, they couldn’t care less if the burning of books will take place.  What a tragedy that would be!

But there are green spots here and there. There are still pockets of the population who do continue to find delightful moments reading a book. And among our young creative writers, there are all kinds of indication that there is a minority among them interested to pursue writing – although it may not provide a paying career.  Recently I got invited by the University of the Philippines Mindanao’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences for the forum – Pag-Aboll: Facets of Mindanao. I was asked to speak on the status of Mindanawon Literature and I discovered there are still teachers and students out there with a passion to both read and make attempts at writing poems, short stories, essays and novels. And lucky us these days – there is Booksale in most malls in the city where one with limited budget can still buy books and the supply never runs out.

After a very busy year, I resolved to find time to read during the Christmas break, which is why I am spending the holidays in the isolated village of Nuing, Jose Abad Santos in Davao Occidental. Located by the coast of the Davao Gulf facing mountains, it is the ideal place to take a rest and read.  Lately, my reading list had included the following very interesting novels including:  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (who also wrote The Kite Runner), Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Magical Thinking (True Stories) by Augusten Burroughs (who wrote Running with Scissors), The Headhunter’s Daughter by Tamar Myers (a most interesting read for anthropologists).  I was also privileged to get autographed copies of Dr. Jimmy Tan’s Book of Letters (when he began his CBHP work in Samar/Leyte) and Of Tyrants and Martyrs by Manny Lahoz (which just won a National Book Award).

In Nuing, I hope to finish reading two books I had started reading but because they are thick need more time to finish reading. These are Denise Guardain’s Saints and Villains (a novel regarding the last years of the life of Bonhoeffer, the German theologian put to death by the Nazi regime; the book is most interesting in terms of the parallel’s of Hitler’s Germany and Duterte’s Philippines in terms of their popularity ratings), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, K. Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Bernard McLaverty’s Grace Notes.  I also wanted to read a non-fiction and recently a friend gifted me with Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins (on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies).

Meanwhile, I have finished writing a book which is being edited by a pool of editors. If the editing and the lay-out of the book is done by early January, we could have the book published towards the end of January or early February.  In another column, I will write what this book is all about.

As the Christmas season unfolds, here is wishing all MindaNews Readers a Blessed Christmas.  And to those who have remained part of this reading cult, here’s hoping that you find the books you wish to read in the coming days as 2019 creeps into the planet’s existence! (Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, the most prolific Mindanawon book author — at least 20 since 1985  — is a church worker, anthropologist, artist and professor who has written several books on Mindanao history, peacebuilding and Indigenous Peoples. He has also been a recipient of several awards from various institutions, this year the Datu Bago Award from the Davao City Government and the Pro Deo Et Patria from the Ateneo de Zamboanga University)