My mother may have taught me to love the English language but it was only lately that I realized it was my sister who taught me to love reading. She was a voracious reader; half a wall of our shared bedroom was filled with her Nancy Drews, Harold Robbins, and Sydney Sheldons. To an impressionable child like myself, it was a veritable library.
And so I started tinkering first, with the Nancy Drews—The Mystery of the 99 Steps comes to mind, although I can no longer remember the details. Then came the Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers), which I vaguely remember. There were gangs and robbers in the forest and women getting raped. Then there were the Sydney Sheldons, with jewelry and art thieves, African sojourns, and nuns getting raped. (I remember Ma expressing distaste over said books, but did not exactly ban them in our household; I doubt she knew exactly what was in them.)
I was hooked.
In high school, our English teacher–I don’t know what came over her–started flicking her tongue at a classmate and made a Harold Robbins reference; I remember being the only person in class who got that.
When my sister was in college, psychology books took most of the space on her shelf and so I started reading about those too. I learned about both mental and sexual disorders and realized people are not always what they seem. (Good to note for the upcoming elections.) I’ve started to become suspicious and pragmatic of people’s behavior and their actions.
I truly, truly regret not being as absorbed as I should have been with my school books. I wish I was more attentive to my world and Philippines history, to Florante at Laura, King Lear, and Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (the latter two I only came to read, appreciate, and value in the last two years). I wished I read them and asked questions–debated with my teachers, if I had to; I wished I didn’t merely memorize information and recited them back to my teachers so I’d have a high grade.
In first year college, our English professor asked the class which Filipino writer do we read. No one raised their hand; I, the self-proclaimed ‘book-lover,’ could not raise my hand. “Not even Jessica Zafra?” she pressed. (The same professor, in private, asked me what book I was reading then. I answered, “Leo Buscaglia.” I would never admit to that now.)
That began my love affair with Jessica Zafra. I carried her first Twisted series wherever I went, whether I was by my lonesome in the Sunken Garden, on my bus ride home from QC to Mandaluyong (wala pang MRT!) or at the dentist. (“Mukhang maganda yang binabasa mo ah,” he quipped, seeing me in the waiting area laughing quietly; I was reading the Arnel Salgado part.)
Zafra thought me about sarcasm and dry wit, and definitely helped me in my first few forays into creative non-fiction and features writing. Most importantly, she thought me how important it is to WRITE CLEARLY. Her copy is always tight; no word is out of place.
Three years ago, I started a goal of reading one book each month. Through this, I’ve come to ‘discover’ the words of Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Selzer, Muriel Barbery, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Levithan, Nathaniel Rich, Jose Saramago, Harper Lee, and only last year, Nick Joaquin (shame on me), among others. There are more to discover: I haven’t read Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Butch Dalisay, or F. Sionil Jose.
It’s been a long way from The 99 Steps, a long way from the boy who knew way too much for his age, and now has realized, he knows way too little.
(For the record, I’m against all types of violence. Just because I read them, it doesn’t mean I’ll go ahead and do them. I’m not stupid.)