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Smoking is my religion and reading is my vice.

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Literary God: Borges

Because these days have been extremely dreary, I have had another episode of bibliophilia. I wandered about the mall trying, extremely hard, to calm down and prevent myself from spending my last dimes on books. But all efforts have been to no avail. What else is a better panacea for everything dark and painful but a book? I’ve let the insipid world fade away as I crawl into the web of plots and magic, of twists and story-lines, of Nietzsche and Borges.
Because these days have been extremely dreary, I have had another episode of bibliophilia. I wandered about the mall trying, extremely hard, to calm down and prevent myself from spending my last dimes on books. But all efforts have been to no avail. What else is a better panacea for everything dark and painful but a book? I’ve let the insipid world fade away as I crawl into the web of plots and magic, of twists and story-lines, of Nietzsche and Borges.

AAWe are currently having a wicked obsession. The hues and gradients of this greenery that redefines the concept of good and evil teem beneath desolate surfaces. We are surprised that Maguire has not been placed on a pedestal alongside Ellison or Barnes in this account of how the wicked witch of the west came to be. A work like this could only defy gravity, or motion even. We think.

Because reading is my raison dˆetre (second only is combating plagiarism), I believe I have a moral and intellectual obligation to sway everyone to read novels this summer. It doesn’t matter if Meyer is your cup of tea (or blood) or if you can go as far as Calvino. As long as you read, it is fine with Thursday Next. But since apes are too busy playing online games and publicly displaying perversion in this country where people think Sydney Sheldon is a woman and Harper Lee is a man, I think it is also a part of my duty to recommend good reads for the season. The list can be as long as the previous sentence is but I will try my best to catalog the novels as comprehensively as possible. And yes, I am solemnly aware that each reader is idiosyncratic. What makes a book special to a reader is not the gold stamp that says “Winner of Pulitzer Award” but its significance to our unique human experiences. Believe me, J.D Salinger could not possibly bag the “Nobel Peace Prize” for “The Catcher in the Rye.”

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Because summer is two months long, the first good read would be the series called “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin since the book is extremely thick and Martin does not know how to end a book. The series is composed of 5 books so far (Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast of Crows, and Dance with Dragons) with approximately a thousand pages each. I do not know really if saying the number of pages promotes the series but damn it is worth it. I do not know also if I’m being bias because I was a Political Science student but politics in this series is really comprehensive and accurate including the political strategies used. The excitement builds as Martin takes you into the mind of his protagonists since the chapters of the books have different perspectives. But he has a way of cutting short a certain thought that will make you want to read the next chapter of that character. Unluckily he does this to all his characters so that you’ll want to read everybody’s chapter and everybody’s mind. My favorite is Tyrion’s though.

The best way to wrap the premises of the first four books (since I have so far read only them) is by quoting a riddle to this effect,

One day a wealthy man, a priest, and a king decides to kill each other. They each hire an assassin to kill the other two. But all three of them hired the same person. The wealthy man promises gold to this assassin who is caught in catch-22, the priest offers salvation, and the king guarantees power. Whom would the assassin work for and whom would he kill? He has to kill!

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

I have been recommending this book to all the guys who’ve asked me for a good-read as beginning readers. It has made them love books even more. Effective, eh? I am personally not into Coelho though.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupery

This is one of the books that a person must untiringly re-read because the story changes as a reader ages. Also, this is an easy read for beginners and a universal favorite too. So sometimes, you just have to say that you love Exupery’s “The Little Prince” in order to have 500 friend requests. I’m exaggerating of course. We are a dying breed.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is a book about a reader, an author, and the ever-beautiful power of books. I’m recommending this to all the readers with healthy bookworms in their belly but not to new or beginning readers for although the latter may like love the plot, they will not be able to relate to the characters (especially Daniel, Julian, and Fermin) as much as a bibliophile would. I think this is why students are made to read this only during the finals of World Literature classes in DLSU-D. I may be wrong so the effect can be different (like loving books).

After this you could leap into The Angels’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, which are part of the same chronicle.

The Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde

Same conditions of recommendation with The Shadow of the Wind applies because I think only a certified bookworm will be able to pick up Fforde’s humor let alone the plots and citations of the books in the series. But after reading the book, I swear by all the old gods and the new, you will never look at the world the same way again. By the way, this book is about writing, reading, and being human.

Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

Because a good professor said, we sometimes have to read poorly written books.

Memories of my Melancholic Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This, er- made me, er- believe in love.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

 Extremely moving and incredibly beautiful. This is a favorite. It shows you the value not only of life but also of death and not only of finding the truth but also of searching for it. Many readers closely resemble the main character of this novel to Holden Caulfield but I beg to differ for while Holden tends to separate himself from reality, Oskar works his way with everything real even to the extent of hurting himself. What they are similar at however is their inclination to simplify things although Holden’s is really oversimplification and not mere simplification.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The way Roy has written this masterpiece distresses the mind even when the plot means to dishearten you. Its overflowing eloquence would make you dream even while the whole world is crumbling around you. I think reading Roy is a good way of relaxing your mind whilst puzzling your heart.

 The Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man by Joseph Heller

I think every writer must read this.

 General Recommendation

 If you are one of those friends I know who wants novels about lawyers, crimes, and laws, there’s Grisham and there’s Baldacci. If you want mystery then there is the best-selling author Agatha Christie. If you want uncertainties and a long file of twists then the best man to read is Sheldon. If you want to know my favorite its impossible cause I’m torn between several books. If you want hardcore literature then you can read nietzsche, Dickens, Tolstoy, Orwell, Faulkner, Hardy, and Dostoevsky among others. If you want humor, there’s Groucho Marx, of course, and other curmudgeons. F. Sionil Jose, dubbed as “a writer better that Tolstoy,” would also be a good read. As I’ve said, wherever you find your poison as long as you become a reader. It is a process, really. It is hierarchical too by the way.

Damn! I should be paid by NBS for this blog entry.

Reading a good book this summer is a free vacation. Traveling through books is free although it forfeits the tangibility of things.

Somehow, a fire in my heart feebly flickers in its hope to create more readers in a world where men have morphed into douche bags even when most do not know what a douche is. If the world was god’s SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth), he too would have been impeached by our incredibly unfair congressional representatives as requested by our orally fixated President. Because the world’s assets pale besides its liabilities and the disparity is enormous.

After all the insults that I have mused, what I am just trying to say (even if the length of this entry could pass as a column for “The Philippine Star” but not its content) is… nothing really, except that beyond the massive walls of our mind is a universe almost parallel to ours. In that universe, our aspirations are lived while we are made human, again. Literature does that; it makes us alive again.

IMG_20131115_234143Nothing is really idiosyncratic about reading. In fact, it has become a common past time for different people from all walks of life. Students are encouraged to read books just as teachers are obliged to do so.    Nevertheless, it is undeniable that only few people take reading seriously. These are people who have not opted to spend their time in playing online games, courtships, puppy love, trivial tete-a-tete, and what have you.

Commoners perceive people who read as in break times as the “boring, unhappy, lonely” featherless bipeds that have been completely oblivious of the fun and frills of Friday nights. While those who do not take reading “seriously”- those who read only when Stepenie Meyer has a published book on pretty and loving devils, read merely for the sake of responding to the fads and crazes of the society.

I do not remember how or when I fell in love with books but I do remember the first book that caught my totality. It was a story about a witty and humorous little prince with an adventure so heartening by Antoine de Saint Exupery. It is one of those books which one should read before one expires.  From there on, I have been reading books whenever I have the time where ever there is space. It has become a part completely inseparable from me.     I read for a lot of reasons and purposes that cling to the ultimate contexts of my principles in life. I do not read for the sake of reading. Reading speaks so much about how I view life, the world, the society, and beyond. It is an intellectual vessel that creates worlds with words and worlds in words.

There is a theory that states that men are separated from all other men within only six degrees; that the next door prostitute and Obama can meet each other, regardless of power or stature, within only six degrees, that Mubarack can meet Pope Benedict even by happenstance at six degrees, that George Orwell and Shakespeare could have actually met at six degrees, and that Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes are related within a degree not greater that six. A meets C through B who is a friend of A, B and A, however, met through D who was the best friend of B’s brother E and so on.     However, it is evidently impossible for anyone to meet everyone in a world where billions of people have epidemically attached with one another. Even the most powerful person needs 6800 lifetimes to meet all 6.8 billion people at an impossible rate of 1,000,000 persons in 70 years. Apparently, this is an overwhelming impossibility. Thank the non-existent god for books and for authors, praise him for publishers and exalt him for Bookstores (including book sales of course). Else just thank the human mind, that’s more sensible. For without it, I will not be able to transcend my mind to Brazil or hear what Socrates has to say just hours before he dies or see across the blindness of Hellen Keller or be in Gabriel Marquez’s “Macondo”.

Books have allowed me to meet people with whelming dexterity as they present different views about life. When I read Veronika decides to die by Paolo Coelho I wondered with so much sentiment the value of my life. Though now I realize that Coelho is simply messianic. When I read Keller’s life story I  literally wanted to be a deaf-blind for a year so to see the beauty that Hellen saw and hear the wonderful music that resonated in her ears or even feel the touch of things; of flowers, of throats, and of canvasses. When I met Sheldon I feared for almost everything about my existence, the inevitable events that can happen in a split of a second or in a turning of the page as was the case. And when I met Charles Dickens with The Great Expectation I ceased talking to strangers and going to the cemetery.     Ironically though, I’ve learned about the theory of six degrees of separation from a character in a novel of AJ Holt who also happens to have learned the theory by having read it from a specific book as well.

Books have also allowed me to create new worlds in between laid pages. I read because the world is too daunting, to precarious, too chaotic. I have been trying to run away from the world where people do not know the concept of serenity, of peace, and of substance. My life has been battered with too much warfare; tongues flapping and flipping faster than a speeding bullet, hands waving with so much contemplating force only to hit the ones they once loved, papers buoyed by thick air with reverberating sobs and plates thrown at perfect precision. I have gone tired of living in a world of whelming ignorance, indolence, and idiocy. Books have kept me sane by keeping me away from reality. Jon Winokur made me laugh when my father told me to stop schooling and live in like normal boys. Kahlil Gibran brought me to a place that is completely different from that which is governed by a lousy thin hair lined president who appears more on showbiz talk shows than on late night news. And Jane Austen gave me a head ache when my health was perfect, when I felt too well and when life was too kind. She withdrew me from a complete mental vertigo that I literally had to read some paragraphs twice. Books have been my escape, my solitary escape. These are my companions in a jeepney, in a coffee shop, in bed, and even along the hallway. This is actually the prime reason why I read. I feel secured from the wicked phantoms of reality. I deem myself invincible from the dark shadows of mockery and criticism. In a way, reading has helped me grip sullen shadows; holding total maneuver over them by making them vulnerable in the world I created. I have created a realm where I can experience sheer equanimity amidst confusion and malevolence. My heart throbs when the best friend of the protagonist turns out to be the murderer who killed the family of the latter five years before, and I call this the Sheldonic Providence. My eyes shed tears when Morrie died or when a mother pretends not to be blind to don a façade of strength and courage, the latter I call the Marquez Magic. I laugh at the irony of how a slum dog can be a millionaire. I feel motley emotions, regardless of reason, while I am reading paragraphs in thick pages. The better part is to be able to link one’s realm with that of greater mortals who have also created a shaft of ferocious air while writing books. It’s like being warped into a world of a contemporary creator (minus the holiness).    I also consider reading as a product of divine intervention, though I don’t believe in divinity at all. I have this governing principle to never unthink (if such word even exists) ever. I do not want a quarter of a second spent with no thought in my head, otherwise I can just wait for the heavens to fall, for the clouds to condense thick mud, or indict myself of idiocy, or even break my skull for its worthlessness. But most of the times I find my struggle to think and the consequences of “unthinking” equally hard, that’s what you get for over analyzing things. Hence the ultimate purpose of books: a salvation from my self-imposed struggle. Of course, when I read I no longer have to worry about the pragmatic oath I conceded with myself. I can therefore occupy my mind with stories, quotes and analysis, with doubts, emotions, and reflections. Books in themselves, whether read or unread, keep my neurons busy up till the verge of eruption. When I’m done with a book, I try to look deeper within the pages, digging each circumstance from every phenomenon. When I have not yet read a set of books, I devote 40 percent of my brain organizing which book should be read first and the remaining 60 percent thinking of means to pay for the book if it is not yet available in the library, which is usually the case.

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Honestly, reading books does not only make me feel but also look and talk smart and I do not think I have to even explain or justify this self-incriminating statement as much as I would justify why books with a sense of life attract the better part of me.

But perhaps the greatest of all reasons I have for loving books despite the short 12 hours before dawn turns to dusk is because authors have been the best politicians. What makes them better from usual politicians is that they tend to set their ideologies, critique life and justify a stature, claim hegemony, and provide another ideal world without obvious and hasty coercion. They do not change the system per se but rather influence the mind by breeding intellectual commercials while igniting inner revolution. Books do not promise a wealthy life but it makes you experience and think of one. And while common politicians deceive people by the sheer eloquence of repeated lies, authors lie with truths. They use real conditions to fabricate, create or exaggerate stories. Authors make life seem too complicated that I have learned to relinquish the fear of closing my eyes and exhaling for all eternity unless Superman decides to turn the world clockwise for the next 18 years (or make it 3 since I was never too fond of childhood) and this seems very unlikely. Neither do I still fear One hundred years of solitude nor the dark, The other side of midnight, and The stranger in the mirror. And although a book does not teach me to justify and practice immorality as the cosmogyral world does, it does provide a morsel of understanding human nature; our sins, our reasons, and our alibis, or the absence of them. Books provide a revelation of thoughts beyond actions, and principles beyond words. I personally love how an author can hide a character’s emotion with blithe words and motley descriptions, how a character conceals from the world the ideas manifested in his soliloquies.

I have begun public speaking when I was 5, writing when I was in the 6th grade and reading when I was old enough to pronounce pate de foie gras for our spelling quiz. I love writing over reading but prefer otherwise for the simple reason that I feel like a not so good writer after having read a lot of so good books. I even tried writing a book but it was a mere juvenile vanity that I had to bury with trivial times. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that after having done so much reading, I have learned to write on the premise that reading is more than a bottom-up process; it is an activity that merits life-changing circumstances. Hence it is only right that I bring to bear conscious effort for the same purpose.

If I were to choose a profession, regardless of salary or social status, I would choose to be a librarian in a National Library. But since economy would not permit me to be one, I can only dream of being a big guy with one of the world’s largest library. Paradoxical dream. I seem to have developed a curios attachment with books that makes me susceptible to their purpose. Sometimes I wish I can invent a machine that can store a book’s content from its pages to my brain at an incredible rate of 400 pages an hour.

It’s not reading that boils the best juices of reading in itself, it is the reasons why a person reads, it is the principle that accompanies each leaf, it is the real life that lives with each story. Not the title but the quintessence of each shelved book in every cerebral library.

Reading is not really idiosyncratic.

Books are. I am.

And so is everyone.