Today is my birthday so I guess this is as good a time as any to try something new and participate in the Literary Blog Hop over at The Blue Bookcase. I’ve been following this particular Blog Hop for a while now and I’ve always been fascinated by how much individual responses reveal about the bloggers. This week’s question is:
How do you find time to read, what’s your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society’s priorities?
When it comes to finding the time to read, I’m afraid I can’t be a good role model for other people. I have a job that forces me to look at words and correct other people’s writing for eight hours (or more) so there can be days when picking up a book at the end of the day is the last thing I want. Those little timesinks called TV and the Internet also tend to have a very powerful effect on my attention span. However, I do try to read at least 10 pages a day, which I can usually accomplish while riding the bus or sitting down in fast food as I wait out the rush hour so I can then ride a bus. Thank God for weekends, because I can catch up on my reading then.
In general, I don’t take down notes or highlight favorite passages when I’m reading books. I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s marginalia and I’ve tried in college to develop that kind of habit but it never really took. Pausing to take down notes, I found, often breaks the rhythm of my reading. When I read The Name of the Rose, however, I found that I couldn’t go forward without taking down the names and book titles that the characters would rattle off. I still have bits of paper stuck inside my copy of that book that are riddled with incomprehensible Latin titles.
I can be a pretty slow reader, particularly for dense books. I recently finished Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and that novel in particular demands to be read without any distractions, lest you miss out on something important amid the cacophony of its writing style.
The last part of the question, regarding the role of reading in a society, brings up a lot of conflicting opinions I have about the reading culture in the Philippines. I can’t, in good conscience, condemn people for not reading more because huge swathes of our population can barely earn enough money for food. Being a frequent reader requires a set of factors that the middle class often take for granted: not only do you need money to buy books or access to free ones (public libraries here are completely nonexistent) there is also a requisite amount of leisure time required for actual book reading. More often than not, that is an impossible luxury for people here.
But I’m reminded of a poem by Adrienne Rich called From an Atlas of the Difficult Word: I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove / warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your / hand / because life is short and you too are thirsty. There are many different ways of being starved, and a country that is starved of stories are vulnerable to people, countries, or corporations who impose narratives that can exploit them. I think that people who have the money and means to buy and read books but choose not to are beggaring themselves of a chance to experience moments of transcendence and empathy. Sure, you can get similar experiences while watching movies or television shows, but in my own experience, the batting average of books when it comes to this is pretty damn high.