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Reading Matters

(By Virgilio Almario)

I read somewhere that at a ripe age of say, 50, the writer must stop reading. It is expected that by that time, the writer would have read a lot and imbibed enough to last until his last writing day. The age of "ripening" can happen much earlier or later than 50. What matters is that the writer reaches a level of confidence about his own development as a writer. He is so sure of himself that he does not need to read other writers.

I remembered this when I heard a senior writer unashamedly tell a gathering that he read rather limitedly and thus lacked critical sophistication. He then clarified that he was very poor and went into all sorts of menial jobs to finish college. But so did other underprivileged, provinciano writers who somehow managed to read.

Or would this senior writer like us to believe by his example that it pays to be illiterate? Or that perhaps at this time it is possible for someone born into the oral tradition to develop and blossom as a modern writer of the printed page?

Either case is dreadful. Specially when we consider the real amount of reading an average, educated and literate Filipino does. Or more specifically, the time that must be devoted to reading by an ordinary Filipino writer. The truth is, many writers stop reading before they "ripen" or many writers think they have "ripened" based on what they have already read. Many of them gain this "enlightenment" while still young and then die scornful of the society that fail to recognize their "genius."

Those of them who are still alive will not learn about this truth because they do not read.

Then again, depende rin sa binabasa. There are just too many books and journals. At the 2001 Philippine Book Fair, at least four publishers advertized 20 new titles. How can we find time to read even half of them every year? Who can guide us to at least the best contemporary literature? Most teachers are unreliable. The handful of critics in the country hardly publish to be of help to readers and writers-and we notice this now with our difficulty in soliciting articles for Bulawan.

Ang totoo, lagi akong nagpupuyos kapag narinig na: Hindi nagbabasa ang Filipino. Para bang hindi Filipino ang nagsabi o iba siya sa mayorya ng taumbayan sa Filipinas dahil nagbabasa siya. (Bagaman may suspeta akong hindi rin nagbabasa ang nagsasabi ng ganito kaya naiisip niyang kamukha niya ang lahat ng Filipino.)

May lahi bang natural na nagbabasa at natural na di-nagbabasa?

Isang ugali ang pagbabasa. Isang ugali itong nililinang at itinatanim sa isip ng tao. Ang ibig sabihin, kailangang ihilig ang isang tao sa gawaing ito mula pagkabata upang makamihasnan niya ito at ituring na bahagi ng buhay. Ibig sabihin din, kung tumanda ang tao na walang pagkakataong mag-enjoy sa pagbabasa ay mamamatay siyang ni hindi nangarap magbuklat ng aklat.

Ano ba ang ginagawa natin para maging ugali ng bawat Filipino ang pagbabasa?

Una, may babasahin ba? Nasa anyo ba ito at wikang magugustuhan ng karaniwang Filipino? Akma ba ang presyo sa kakayahang bumili ng Filipino ngayon? May mga tindahan ba sa bawat bayan at isla ng bansa?

Ikalawa, paano itinuturo ang pagbabasa? Siguradong bihirang mangyari ang pagtuturo sa tahanan. Pero sa paaralan, itinuturo ba ang pagbasa ng aklat sa paraang makakagawian ng bata? O bilang bahagi ng mga pahirap sa pag-aaral?

Ikatlo, ano ang mga kampanyang pangmadla para itaguyod ang pagbabasa? Ano ang ginagawa ng mga pablisher at tindahan ng aklat para ipagmalaki ang mga autor nilang Filipino? Gaano kalaking espasyo ang inilalalaan ng peryodiko, magasin, radyo, at TV para sa mga bago at mahalagang babasahin? Kumusta ang koleksiyon ng mga aklatang publiko at pampaaralan? Gumagawa ba mismo ng programa ang mga naturang aklatan para hikayatin ang mga bata at madla na magbasa o manghiram ng aklat?

Sinayang natin ang isang dantaon pagkatapos ng Himagsikang Filipino para maging ugali ng bawat Filipino ang pagbabasa. Sa halip, pinalaki natin sila sa mga bisyo't krimen, korupsiyon at politika, at mga dahilan para hindi nila lunggatiin ang mga pakinabang sa pagbuklat ng aklat.

How strange that someone who professes to be a non-reader would even dream of being a writer and being read by others.

**From Bulawan 3, a publication of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts

*VIRGILIO S. ALMARIO is a poet, critic, editor, and full professor at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He is the editor-in-chief for the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. He is also one of the country's National Artists in Literature.

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