Essay

About books

One of the benefits of growing up poor your family can’t even buy a TV set (yes, we were that poor and TV sets were that expensive before) is you are forced to find other ways of passing the time after dinner. I grew up thinking that a “normal” family (1) reads as a collective pastime; and (2) maintains their own library, even if it is composed of second-hand books and magazines.

It would not be a surprise that our mother, who was a public school teacher, reads. But our father, who only has an undergraduate degree from college and works as a farmer, also reads. It was a normal thing for us their children to see them both reading. We absorbed the habit by observation. There was no bedtime reading for children though – you read on your own, and if the book or magazine was so good you can’t put it down, you can bring it to your bed and read until you fall asleep. (Except when we would be in the farmhouse, because there was no electricity there then, and readings should only be while you are sitting on a chair, with the kerosene lamp on the table, for safety purposes. Each one of us had our own kerosene lamps to light our books – I guess our parents figured it would be cheaper to have the farmhouse connected to the electrical grid because that was one of the first things they did when the electric cooperative put up posts near the house.)

I remember when I was not yet in grade 1 and could not yet read the printed words on the paper. I envied my two elder sisters who by then could already read. Obviously the symbols on paper meant something – they would produce emotional reactions in their faces. I asked Inday Telyn, the second eldest sister, to teach me to read.

Regrettably, she taught me to do addition up to three digits instead – I guess teaching ten symbols, the concept of addition, and “carry over” is easier than teaching 26 letters (52 in all, because each could be lowercase or uppercase) which could represent so many sounds.

To compensate, I would make up stories in my mind, imagining what the comics were trying to tell. Later, when I learned how to read, it was a big surprise that my imagination was way too much crazier than what actually happened in the comics. I’ve been stuck with such crazy imagination since then.

The bulk of the material which constituted the family library was found in our house at Ibabao, Sogod, Cebu. A good number of books were also in Daanbantayan, Cebu, where we grew up because my mother was a public school teacher there. In 2009, Nanay retired from service, and we had the house in Daanbantayan rented out to another family. In the process, a lot of books had to be discarded because it was impractical to bring them to Sogod.

In 2016, the family transferred to the pink house I had constructed for our parents. The books in the old house were neglected for more than a year. The leaking roof contributed to the loss of more books. Bookworms did their fair share too. These natural causes destroyed more titles than my friends who through the years borrowed and never returned our books. The picture here is more or less the bulk of what constituted the family library, with some books at my Lapulapu residence. The books pictured are now in my room in Sogod. I transferred them right in front of my bed. I guess their presence in my room would be a very good way to test my compatibility with a possible partner – if she can’t get excited with these books as much as she’s excited with my naked body, we have nothing more to talk about.

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