Two Links On Books And Reading
As a writer, I owe much to reading books.
In fact, writing, for me, was a result of an accident. As a youngster, I was obsessed with art and sports. My first ever published work was for the Ateneo Grade School publication, The Eaglet, and it is something that I didn’t even pen. My best friend added my name to the credits and so my name got printed. I do have a copy of it.
In fourth year high school, I crammed one time for an essay and when I got it back it had been marked it red ink with an “F.” There was a note attached to it that said, “See the Prefect of Discipline.” Puzzled, I asked her why and she told me that there was no way that someone my age could write something like that and I must have plagiarized it. I told her that I only wrote it some 10 minutes before class and that if she verified the veracity of what I wrote she would find out that nothing was factual. I had completely fabricated everything. She changed my grade to an “A+” and I never let her forget that.
That was when I had inkling that I could write some.
Nowadays, because of writing I get a ton of assignments and opportunities and one of the most frequently asked questions of me is, “where did I learn to write like that?”
Before I answer that, let me just say that all the opportunities and accolades that have come my way are flattering. And I must say that there are many more others out there who are better than I am and who I look up to. Nevertheless, I am most grateful.
Back to the question -- the answer to that is the sum of several factors. The first of which is advertising that completely changed my verbose and highbrow style to something more with a hook that reels the reader in. The second is because of a myriad of experiences that I am able to communicate and translate to my topics. And the last one is simply because of reading.
And reading has a lot to do with my skill. My father thought that I read too many comic books as a kid and that I needed to expand my horizons. So he forced me to read the newspaper and he would give me pop quizzes at home to check if I was I was in tune with the day’s reports.
I must admit that I hated it and my dad plummeted in the Father of the Year polls. When I didn’t understand something I read, his reply was, “look it up in the dictionary or encyclopedia.” That was his way of teaching me to be resourceful. It was something I didn’t understand then but today, I thank him for that because it has really helped in my mania for research and detail.
Nowadays, resourcefulness is wikipedia and googling things and cutting and pasting them with re-writes here and there. One Ateneo professor told me that their way of checking if reports were plagiarized was to paste it and google it.
Ah, the price of progress.
I also read Reader’s Digest and took the Word Power tests with all the seriousness of a school exam. After a while, my parents didn’t need to prod, threaten, or bribe me to read.
The first ever books that I purchased were using the money that was given to me after my graduation from grade school. In the blissful summer between elementary and secondary school, I purchased JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (the 60th anniversary of their publication). They collectively cost PhP 75 then and that was quite a princely sum. But it was money well spent and it did much to expand my horizons. Tolkien’s masterpiece was my gateway to new world. Soon, I began buying books as much as I did vinyl records since music was a huge passion.
From comic books to newspapers to hardbound novels to advertising and design collections, reading has become a staple of my life. I devoured books and I saw it change my way of thinking, the way I wrote, and my thought process.
Today reading is still an indelible part of my life. I read everything from biographies to sports to science fiction to design to fiction and non-fiction. When I learned about the influences and inspirations of certain writers, I checked them out and that took me into different genres further widening my tastes and knowledge.
The second is A Dangerous Book. An excerpt:
History is said to be written by the victors of conflicts.
It’s mostly true.
We’ve seen Korea, China, the Philippines, and other Asian countries protest the striking out of Japan’s wartime atrocities in schoolbooks in the Land of the Rising Sun; a blatant attempt at revisionist history that doesn’t sit well with many.
The world may have come a long way from World War II and we like to think that we are more civilized in this homogenously global village, but something’s can never be forgotten.
Such is the power of books because they can be perceived as the gospel truth.
There’s another book, not written incredibly by the victorious Americans who claimed Philippines in their war against Spain.
At the time that the Philippine Islands were ceded by Spain to the United States, American historians James A. Robertson and Emma H. Blair produced a massive tome on the history of the country – The Philippine Islands 1493-1898 -- that served as a propaganda tool in drumming up support for the war against the Spanish crown.
As America took over the country and filled key positions in the nation’s infrastructure, there was an overhaul in systems and methodologies. One of which was the use of English as the medium of instruction. As the American Jesuits took over the Ateneo, Fr. Thomas A. Becker S.J. translated Fr. Jose Burniol’s The History of the Philippines that emphasized Spain’s role in the country’s history.
Fr. Jose S. Arcilla S.J. who is the caretaker of the Jesuit Archives, related how Fr. Francis Byrne S.J., the first American Ateneo rector, informed his superiors at the New York-Maryland Province that the American administrators of the University of the Philippines sought to correct entries in Fr. Burniol’s book that were inaccurate and the product of misinformation. The book was reviewed but only in the presence of Fr. Byrne who disapproved the change of any of the texts that were markedly different from what would later appear in the works of Gregorio Zaide and Teodoro Agoncillo.
And almost the entire country was educated on the basis of those two historians’ work that in the opinion of Fr. Arcilla, does not tell the whole story. Fr. Burniol was a Spanish Jesuit who taught history at the Ateneo in 1908 to be exact (that was the year the University of the Philippines was founded) and fills in gaps in our history. The works of Zaide and Agoncillo took on greater importance as nationalism swept the country right before World War II and after the American’s granted the Philippines independence.
Fr. Arcilla, however underscores that when writing about history, it is always important not just to look at one book of “facts” but everything else including the culture of the times. “Lots of things have to be taken into context when writing history because it can be dangerous. There’s the sin of omission.”