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  • The love for reading is alive and well

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Friday, July 26th, 2013

    I am normally hostile to persistent e-mail messages that have not been detected as spam and are not totally in the junk genre. I actually feel a degree of accomplishment—the same high one experiences in clearing one’s desk—in deleting them without taking the trouble of reading them. Experience has proven that there is little to be lost in the process. It is these times that make me nostalgic for the days when we were young and innocent—and totally analog.

    Of late, however, I have been delighted by a daily Google alert on the love for reading. It is a strange-sounding label, but what an engrossing collection of news on initiatives from different countries to promote reading!

    A couple have decided to turn their mailbox into a free-for-all library, stocking it with books they were willing to part with. How thrilled they were on days when they noticed they had to replenish their inventory. There is Anessa Geise, the new director of the Lowell Public Library in Indiana in the United States, who credits her love for books to “a fantastic teacher who read to us every day.” Her commitment to her job leads her to say, “I just want to work with books for the rest of my life.” There is 12-year-old Isadora Dukehart, who has read 40 books in less than two months of the summer and picks her books off any random library shelf by closing her eyes and getting whatever is within reach. And the amusing and candid account of a mom who wrote in a New York Times blog: “I’m Tired of Reading Out Loud to My Son, OK?”

    It was easy in this month of July to get over my obvious envy at the access to books and the different summer incentives organized to keep the young reading with the realization that the past weeks have seen many literacy initiatives, stuff that could fall in this “love for reading” category.

    At the start of the month, a group of yuppies working with the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) took time off from their field work in installing a scorecard system in cities and state agencies for a monthly gathering for professional development called Out of the Cube (yes, cubicle and out-of-the-box imagery is deliberate). ISA executive director Christian Zaens, himself a bookworm, wanted a session to rekindle a love for reading in everyone. It was an easy yet challenging topic because the proselytizing is never easy. I knew I could just begin and end with: Reading (like vegetables) is good for you. A better job at marketing had to be conceptualized, so as to entice even the most reluctant. I called it: “To read or not to read: That is NOT the question.”

    After discussing the edge in the workaday world that good readers enjoy in the employable skills they manifest, the yuppies decided to organize a book discussion group—a need especially felt when they realized how little they knew of Philippine published titles. But the most difficult question raised was what library to go to for borrowing books. For that, I stammered a weak answer.

    * * *

    The overflow crowd at the NBS launch of “Manila Noir” edited by New York-based Jessica Hagedorn was overwhelming. It was unusual because it was a star-studded event with the lineup of featured authors. Karina Bolasco and Gwenn Galvez of Anvil Publishing, who released the Philippine edition, said that contributors Lourd de Veyra and Budjette Tan were definite crowd-drawers. Whatever it is, it is high time literary personalities turned into celebrities.

    Another visiting author from the United States, San Francisco-based Marivi Soliven, is in town for the launch of her Palanca Award-winning novel “The Mango Bride,” which has been released by Penguin. The launch is certain to be another major literary event. She will lecture at the University of Santo Tomas and University of the Philippines and be available for book-signing.

    On National Children’s Book Day, Save the Children launched its First Read Program in partnership with the Prudence Foundation and the National Book Development Board. Since it focuses on training parents on reading to their children aged 0-4 years, it was logical to have the parents and their young with them. While the ceremony was underway, the families were comfortably seated on mats with throw pillows, cloth toys, and Big Books for the children.

    A young mother was putting her infant son to sleep with a radio resting on his pillow (or was that a mobile phone?) playing continuous music. She proudly said that as long as there is music, the baby does not wake up.

    The most welcome news that morning was the announcement that the books from Adarna and Ilaw ng Tahanan that the program will adopt are going to be translated into the languages of the target community beneficiaries: T’boli, B’laan, and Tagakaulo. First Read really did some serious research.

    On that same day, several SM Malls, even those in China, held story readings. In Metro Manila, among the celebrity readers were Noel Cabangon, Lisa Macuja, and even members of the Azkals team.

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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