One of the things that would surprise my teachers, if they would remember me at all, is that I'm into books, that I'm into reading big time. You see, I was a bad student. I was one of those who could pass, sometimes excel in, subjects without ever having to study. I spent my times in class doodling and designing my classmates' prom dresses and my time after classes doing everything that did not resemble studying. I could pass certain subjects without ever having to tear through the text book's shrinkwrap. By March, when the schoolyear was about to end, my books would be pristine and my notebooks practically empty.
I liked reading then. As a kid, I went through all 56 Nancy Drew titles. When adolescence struck, I was the precocious one who would pilfer my mom's Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldons and bring them to school so that my classmates and I could learn about the facts of life. Can you blame us? We had to wait for two more years before bio class, when we could learn about making babies; we had to satisfy our curiosity or forever think one could get pregnant by sitting on a chair with a boy when you had your period. We had to rely on Professor Harold Robbins to tell us which goes where and how. The humongous dictionary in the library supplied us with the vocabulary to supplement what Prof. Robbins could not explain in detail. Boy, do I digress. Where were we? Ah, books. Then, of course, I went through the Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High phases. So, I wouldn't say I disliked reading back then.
But I hated required reading. This aversion must have been caused by the trauma of having to plod through Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. For somebody with issues with delayed gratification, this was a painful read. A real drag that made me promise to myself that I would never let my teachers tell me what to read.
Maybe it's also because I never really bothered to write down our assignments. So, I just never knew which books we had to read. The whole class went through 3 levels of hell in Dante's Inferno; I didn't even bother to read the cliffsnotes. I did read Merchant of Venice, but that's because I had to play the role of Shylock in one run and that of Portia in another. Frustrated thespian that I was (still am.), I was motivated to read this required reading.
The worst was required reading for Filipino class. I found reading Tagalog difficult, so that aggravated my aversion to required reading. Besides, why did I have to read Ibong Adarna when I already saw the film with Dolphy, Panchito, and Babalu? And then, there was Noli Me Tangere for 3rd year and El Filibusterismo for 4th year. I remembered reading and wondering what the big ado was about tinola. There was nothing in those readings that excited me. The romance between Ibarra's and Maria Clara, depicted as virginal and oh-so-feminine, did not titillate the way our well worn Mills & Boon literature did. Furthermore, the book was rather sad-looking with newsprint pages that transferred ink onto my hands. Rizal's novels were delivered to us in condensed versions with each chapter as dry and bland as the previous. And so I halfheartedly flipped through the pages and read just enough to pass high school.
It was only in college, when my Rizal class got me reading El Filibusterismo in English, as a novel and not in abridged form, that I got an inkling of how great this literary work is. And I was surprised to find myself enjoying required reading. By that time, I was just about done with the hell called school, and happily saying goodbye to the necessity to read required books.
Insert time lapse sound effect here. Tingininginin.
More than 20 years later, I find mysef required to read 24 books of various genres, not because some teacher needs to fulfill a lesson plan and not because I have to get a passing grade. But just because I want to, and just maybe because I can.
Flips Flipping Pages, probably the biggest congregation of book nerds, in the country today, set up a challenge at the start of 2009. (Yes, we do have other things to do than just read. And no, it's not because we don't have social lives.) The challenge is to complete by midnight of December 31, 2009 twenty four books that should include the following:
- 12 fiction - (6 Euro/American/Commonwealth, 4 Asian/Latin American/African, 2 local[at least one of the 12 should be classic lit])
- 6 nonfiction - (1 science/math, 1 lifestyle, 1 poli/eco/soc, 1 bio/autobio/memoir, 2 local)
- 3 reading group requirement - any 3 of the 10 or so FFP reading group titles to be discussed in 2009
- 1 award winner - (booker, pulitzer, palanca, national book) In this case, it has to be the piece that won, not a book by palanca award winner XXX.
- 1 common book - as dictated by our resident canon
- 1 partner's choice - recommended by an FFP member
I will keep you in suspense regarding my progress towards meeting or not meeting that challenge. My teachers would not be surprised to know that I am still a big crammer, so it's not a done deal at this stage. I'm in the middle of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere as the common book, and once in a while I would stop reading and just smile at Rizal's wit or sigh when I get to the parts that remind me of the Filipino's sad plight then and now. I hit myself on the head for not having had the maturity to appreciate, to love, this piece of literature back then. I honestly think now that every Filipino must read this book, now that your teachers do not require you to read it but your being Filipino does.
I also think we should all require, push, motivate ourselves to read beyond the usual -- beyond the usual bestsellers discussed over dinner, beyond our usual favorites and preferences, even beyond what we can easily comprehend. There's nothing wrong with an occasional nosebleed.
What this book challege does, aside from assuaging us from our rabid book accumulation habits, is to get us to experiment with other genres, discover authors we've never read nor heard of, push us to get through our gargantuan TBR (To Be Read) piles, and just expand our hearts and minds to the world wide wonder of books.