on reading

One of the aunts said that I learned to read from tv commercials. I used to mimic the commercial voiceovers when they present the product brand and/or name. These moments where part of the daily game with the sisters competing to be the first to identify the product during the first few seconds of the commercial.

One of my aunts worked at the public school learning centre. They had old books in there. I remember taking home this old beaten book of old tales, none of the fairy tales kids today have access to. In hindsight, the stories were really not for kids as the plot included murder, theft, envy, and of course, complicated relationships between couples and among family members. I learned to love the smell of old books. It felt like I was getting wiser with every book I read – which does not necessarily mean I understood their contents.

I chanced upon some children’s encyclopedia which were illustrated. It was such a good find – not that there were other students I had to compete with to get the book. These books had great colours and illustrated stories. I read about a kid’s first airplane ride, a hamster pet, The 12 Dancing Princesses, a story about a stone soup, and more stories than I can remember.

It was during my elementary years when classmates would bring to school these big illustrated fairy tales and thick compilation of biblical and other tales. We didn’t have that at home and I wouldn’t dare ask the aunts for one. It’s a good thing that my classmates were willing to share these books. Some were kind enough to allow me to take them home. Others would require me to read it within the school grounds. I think I read most of today’s fairy tales that way.

Going back to encyclopedias, only the wealthy families had a complete set in their homes. It amazes me that one of our relatives can still recall how I always paid them a visit during the weekends so I can read their encyclopedia. The aunt mentioned that I may have been the only one who read the set as her children never really paid much attention to the books. they were very kind in letting me read their books which helped a lot especially when we were discussing the different body systems in school. I had a complete set of encyclopedia I could base my assignments on and the illustrations were really nice.

Come high school and the romance pocketbook craze reached our household. The sisters were crazy about them. They were way cheaper than VHS rental (PhP 20 – PhP 25). Every weekend, we would pool our money to rent these new pocketbook releases. We were such good customers that the new arrivals were sent to our house so we’d get first dibs on the novels we want. They would deliver the pocketbooks say at 1pm and return at 3pm to collect the ones we opted not to rent. That was when we learned how to speed read. At a time, I could finish one pocketbook in an hour. That meant, I can save on three pocketbooks rental by the time the unselected books are collected. I think the rent was PhP 5 per book and you get to keep it for a week.

Once the story in the Filipino pocketbooks became redundant, I started trying the aunts’ Mills and Boons and Harlequin novels. They had quite a large collection of these. They were reading the thicker – like two-inch thick – novels during this time. These pocketbooks had winters and were set in such exotic locations with descriptions of food I’ve never heard before. If it was sweltering hot during a summer afternoon, I’d re-read a pocketbook in a winter setting and a book set in summer or the tropics when the monsoons arrive.

I’d attempt to slip some of the words in our English class when the teachers asks us to write sample sentences on the board. Tete-a-tete, soiree, and facade – these weren’t common words for us at the time. Whenever there’s an interesting word in the pages, I’d look it up in our beaten and coverless dictionary then try to use them in sentences.

Once I’ve read all the Mills and Boons and Harlequin novels inter separate bookshelves, I started working on thick novels. By the end of high school, I have read almost all the thick novels. I had a lot of time for reading since I seldom go out on weekends and I stayed up late at night. There were several nights when one of the aunts would remind me that it’s late and that I need to go to sleep. So I kept a flashlight just in case I needed to pretend to sleep and turn off the table lamp.

During college, I frequented bookstall stalls/shops for cheap used books. PhP 88 was already considered expensive. Cheap included books prices Php 5 – Php 50. It was only when I started working when I could buy PhP 88 – PhP 100 books.

Sadly, the stores and stalls I frequented to get the week’s supply of books are now closed. Even the book prices have increased so there’s really not much fun in looking for cheap books.

Now I content myself with downloading ebooks because they’re (free!) cheaper.

Still, nothing would beat holding a book or folding a corner to mark the last page you’ve read or studying the book spine to look for the page where you fell asleep in.


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