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The value of reading..




by Tony Lopez

Today, I yield my column to my US-based daughter Ivy Lopez Cabaltica. She writes about reading:

Books have always been my best friends.  They are clever, creative, and vastly entertaining.  You can always rely on a good book to keep you company wherever you may be and resume your conversation at any point in time.

Beginning with the stilted words of Dick and Jane and the Dr. Seuss rhythm, I learned never to enter a gingerbread house from the gruesome brothers Grimm.

God always wins in the Bible, death ends the lives of saints, mythology is confusing, and Aesop has sour grapes.

Animals lead the way in Narnia, Oz, and Wonderland, Mrs. Whatsit is a neighbor, and 20 pages describe a hobbit’s feet and hands.

I searched for clues with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and elevated my game with Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

All the while, encyclopedias and unabridged dictionaries remained my ultimate sources.

Of course, no library would not be complete until you maneuver your way through the death of communication in Romeo and Juliet, wrestled with the arguments of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, then finished off your confusion with a thin illustrated book, The Little Prince.

Then there were the bulky books that riveted me with their provocative titles: what had Gone with the Wind ?;  why did it take a 100 years of Solitude?; what sprung from the Fountainhead?; what’s the deal with The Brothers Karamazov?; and the perennial question, who doesn’t have Pride and Prejudice?

My favorite characters are unconventional and strong— Atticus Finch, Jo March, Tom Sawyer, and my favorite lines are oxymorons “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.…” or the sage financial advice, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” (Shakespeare, “Hamlet”)

Books offered me a galaxy of worlds that I could live in and explore, characters that I could love or condemn then forgive, and ideas that seeded convictions.  All from the comforts of home.

Literature provides a unifying thought that traverses time and circumstance.  A reader joins the minds of fellow readers as they journey into the imagination of the author.  Harry Potter would still be the same wizard decades from now when it is read by our descendants.

Reading is such a prized ability that nations take pains to measure it.  The Philippine literacy is above 95 percent of the 107 million who are at least 10 years old and could read and write.  Could is far from would.  Just because you can read doesn’t mean you will pursue it at leisure.

Total readership of non-school books has steadily dropped in the past decade.  There are less Filipinos who read books, newspapers, magazines, and even comics.

Among readers, the Bible is a majority and consistent bestseller, followed equally by Love & Romance and Cookery.  Given the Catholic faith, none of these require much scrutiny to read.

Parents and teachers think teaching a child to read is enough.  It’s not.  It’s fostering the love of reading that makes the difference.  As with any relationship, love takes time and trust.  If the child is exposed to good literature that satisfies, then he will continue to seek further reading.  This develops into a lifelong habit.  But it is important to have access to a lot of good books.

In the Philippines, three kinds of books are published: textbooks, trade books, and academic books.  Textbooks are the most lucrative in all countries since they are sold to governments and schools.  But who enjoys reading a textbook?

Our 250 book publishers are very secretive about their profits.  Since textbook sales are ensured, they see no need to attend international book fairs to market Philippine authors and survey possible exports.  This greatly limits our publishing opportunities in a $151 billion global industry.  So far, we only export children’s picture books, drawing books, and coloring books to the US for about $2 Million.

Also, our absence in foreign fairs does not promote our country’s 92 percent English-speaking young populace, especially when only 32 percent of the world can converse in English as a foreign language.

Our source of recreational reading are trade books but only an average of 5,000 are published a year.  The bulk comes from imports worth $61 Million.  The Philippines and Singapore are among the top consumers of American books, particularly books on business, finance, commerce, technology, and young adult fiction.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) relates the volume of published books per million people as a measure of a nation’s status in the global commercial exchange of knowledge.  In Asia, Singapore leads with 1,843 new titles and re-editions, then Malaysia with 639, and Vietnam with 273.  The Philippines only has 70.

Globally, the top publishers according to rank are: the United States, China, Germany, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom.  The UK has the most titles and the most book exports.

IPA said there is a direct link between a country’s economic growth and the consumption of books.  A more developed market spurs the demand for books and educational materials.

Wealth affords the option of greater self-improvement and higher education, access to many resources, and the luxury of time to read, reflect, and create.



Courtesy of ‘Manila Standard’


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