I’m reading a book a former editor gave me after I got promoted from a job I already quit from early this year. The book is “The City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt. I caught myself closing my eyes every five minutes as I try to read the book. I am not a book reader. I never was.
Which is quite a surprise and a shame since I insist on calling myself “a writer first, before I’m a journalist.” Reading is the writer’s exercise. It pumps up one’s irony and burns the poison of bad TV grammar. It introduces the creative writer to style, mood and character development. On top of that, reading, a hard bound book especially, makes one look smart. It’s the eyeglasses for the hands.
But I don’t read books. I never enjoyed it.
Perhaps, it’s because books scare the shit out of me. They’re usually thick and often have no pictures for my eyes to stay glued on. Maybe it’s also because I’m part of a generation that’s been introduced to the Internet on an early age. The Internet makes books less fun to read. Why would I sit through and read Victor Hugo’s 800-paged boregasborg “Les Miserables” when I can just go on Wikipedia and have a digestible version of it? While reading on the Wiki entry, I could open one more tab and log on to YouTube and watch the broadway version of the novel?
Why would I choose to read Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” when I’ve already seen the trilogy at least 5 times? No need to be bored by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” when I can watch the film version via live streaming. The last book I’ve read was David Sedaris. Wait, I didn’t read Sedaris’s “Me Talk Pretty One Day”; I listened to it via podcast.
Like what I’ve said, I don’t read books. I never enjoyed it.
One day, while surfing the net to get inspiration for my dining article ( I am after all a food magazine editor), my former boss, the one who gave the book, messaged me via Gmail.
After exchanging pleasantries, our chat veered to the books he gave me. I told him I started reading them, but lost interest in the long run.
“I think you should read more books. Be more cosmopolitan,” he said point blank.
“But I don’t read books. I read essays and magazine articles. Books bore me,” I retorted.
“But how can you write better if you don’t read? That’s the only way.”
I brushed off his opinion and went ahead in looking for a food essay I can draw inspiration from.
But from that day on, I began to reassess my situation. Virginia, I’ve been having difficulty writing. I have been writing quite erratically for several years now.
How erratic? I start writing then lose interest immediately. I dread writing like the plague. And that’s bad.
I’m a writer before I’m a journalist. I write to breathe. But I find myself slowly out of breath.
I was able to write the food article with much effort to the relief of my new boss. But I did not enjoy it one bit. When was the last time I enjoyed writing? When was the last time I wrote down anything I was truly proud of? When was the last time the words came out of my head with fluidity?
Ah. yes. It was in 2003. I was a freshman in the University of the Philippines. I did not have a lot of friends. While pretending to find solace in my solitude, I wore my eyeglasses for the hands: “Jessica Zafra’s Twisted series”. It was fun and I found myself laughing so hard like a weirdo, all alone in the middle of Palma Hall. After finishing books 1 to 7, I wore new handglasess: Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things”. It was for a class requirement. I forcing myself into reading it one day in the new College of Arts building, when a French lady sat beside me.
“What?” I asked.
“Kerala, India. That’s where I stayed for five years.”
“Oh yeah? Is it beautiful?”
“Oh, magical. I like that book. Roy. Arundhati Roy, is it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“You like reading books?”
“Oh no, it’s for a requirement.”
“That’s a shame.”
We talked for two hours about the book, about her trips to Europe and about the sunsets in Manila Bay. I was feeling invisible my whole Freshman year, yet a book suddenly made me glow. We bid farewell to each other and I felt that I found a new friend. I just forget her name.
Now, I’m trying to get back on the stationary bike for the mind. I’m lifting grammar barbels and stretching my imagination with John Berendt’s novel about a fire engulfing a Venetian opera house. It’s a lot of sweat but I’m trying to shed off some unwanted TV/Internet junk.
I’m reading, people. I never enjoyed it. But I’m trying.