One of the things my father related to the family over breakfast upon his return from a three-day trip to Taiwan is the Chinese island’s vibrant reading culture. As late as 10 o’clock in the evening, the bookshop he visited (which my father estimated to be slightly larger than the Power Books branch in SM Cebu) was still teeming with people. What’s more, the people he saw were not the old types that one usually imagines patronizing a bookstore, they were mostly young people – teenagers and twenty-somethings. The place was so packed with people reading or going agog over books that my father had difficulty navigating through the aisles, or at least that’s what he told us. Moreover, local titles were prominent in the shelves.
Now compare that to the state of reading here in the Philippines (or at least Cebu in particular). Bookshops close by 8 o’clock in the evening. Young people who do go out at night prefer to go to nightclubs, bars, discos and all the rest of those places that we can collectively categorize under the term “nightlife.” And when you see one of those younger people – highschool or even college types – holding a book in his hand in the jeepney, that book would either be a textbook (which is actually good) or that infantile book called Twilight (well, at least they’re reading something).
In an editorial, the United Arab Emirates-based paper The National lamented the diminishing literary culture in the Arab World. I believe the editorial’s proposal for reinvigorating their own literary tradition applies to the Philippines as well:
Literary tradition does not start in university classes: it begins with a culture of reading that is first cultivated in the home. One of the most important things schools can do in reforming education – and engaging parents in the process – is to have parents read to and with their children. ■