Saturday, September 13, 2014

On reading

"I've heard of people like you," I said. 

I was with Patrya, and we were two of the last few people who still stayed at the office, waiting for a scheduled call from Boston. The call was moved to an hour later than its usual schedule, so we had pretty much run out of ideas how to kill time until then. I guess that's why he asked me then for a recommendation for a fiction to read. 

Giving book recommendation to someone is a tricky business. You need to know his taste of reading, because otherwise you'll only be forcing your preference on him—and that's exactly what I did. I rattled off some of my favorites books and series, and if you know me, you won't be much surprised that fantasy is the prevailing genre. That was before I caught myself and asked him what fiction he liked reading. That was when he answered he don't really read fiction at all. 

"I've heard of people like you," I responded. "So how do you grow up?"
"Well, I guess," he said. 

It was such an outlandish notion that it took me some time to wrap my head around it. 

Book, stories, and fiction were such a large part of my upbringing that sometimes it's hard for me to imagine other people not having the same experience. How does one learn camaraderie without reading Enid Blyton's Five? How does one marvel at technology without having Doraemon whets one's appetite? How does one grow up without being enchanted by the wizardry (and learn about rewards for bravery) from the Harry Potter universe(1)?.

No, I did not grow up with a gang of friends who were as into books as I was. But as with my students in Banggai, I had always assumed it was a question of access—there weren't many public libraries(2) and most of my friends' parents were not as appreciative of literature as my parents were. 

In retrospect, though, I guess a lot of people think the same way when they make my acquaintance. I-ve-heard-of-people-like-you. Especially in Batui 5.  

"Kalau Pak Masyhur dulu bebaca terus ya Bu," my former students quipped to Ade, who dutifully passed along that comment to me every time we met. 

Well, I hope at least my habit encouraged them to pick up reading even after I left. 

"Pak Masyhur, pagi bebaca, siang bebaca, malam juga masih bebaca. Te capek, Pak?" said Bu Wati, who often passed my porch when she was walking Ian around. What can I say? It's the cornerstone of our civilization.

And hey, there was blessed little else to do after all. 

And with little else to do to wait, I observed Patrya started to sample Ayn Rand. Bereft of a recommendation from me that intrigued him, he tried exploring households names. 

I'll just crack open a Brandon Sanderson.

(1) Pair that to the fact that my reaction hearing Lee's crush has never read Harry Potter ("SHE HAS NEVER READ HARRY POTTER??") was for all purpose, identical to Karmen's and Kirana's you can see why growing up without Harry Potter was inconceivable. 

(2) the few book rentals that were around did have those ghastly religious comic book depicting scenes and stories of tortures in hell for sinners. I read those too, of course. How else do you develop an appreciation of propaganda based on fiction? I was too small to understand political propaganda. 

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